Olympians Laura Bennett and Jarrod Shoemaker outlasted a top-notch field of Americans and overcame steamy race conditions Saturday to win the USA Triathlon Elite National Championship at Manderson Landing.

Bennett (Boulder, Colo.) captured her second career USAT elite title and first since 2003 by covering the Olympic-distance course (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run) in 2 hours, 4 minutes, 13 seconds, which was more than 2 minutes clear of the field.

Shoemaker (Maynard, Mass.) earned his first career USAT elite crown in 1:54:13. Australia’s Brendan Sexton was the top finisher in the men’s race in 1:53:48 to win the Tuscaloosa ITU Premium Pan American Cup, which was held in conjunction with USAT Elite Nationals. Shoemaker claimed the national championship as the top American.

“I don’t have a national title, so I’m really excited to have this on my résumé. It’s something I hope to do a couple of times in my career, but it’s tough to get one of these,” said Shoemaker.

Sarah Groff (Hanover, N.H.), who crossed the line in 2:07:42, and Aussie Annabel Luxford rounded out the women’s ITU podium, while 2010 USAT collegiate national champion Nicole Kelleher (Charlottesville, Va.) was the No. 3 American and fourth overall in 2:10:09.

Timothy O’Donnell (Boulder, Colo.) and 2009 champion Matt Chrabot (Colorado Springs, Colo.) were the second and third U.S. finishers on the men’s side in 1:54:23 and 1:55:04, respectively.

Lauren Goss (Mt. Pleasant, S.C.) and Kalen Darling (Honolulu, Hawaii) earned the under-23 national titles just two weeks after competing at the ITU U23 World Championship in Budapest, Hungary.

After more than 1,300 age-groupers competed Saturday morning, the elite women hit the Black Warrior River at high noon. With some of the world’s top multisport swimmers in the field, Hayley Peirsol (Los Angeles, Calif.) led a lead pack of six women out of the water with a 10-second advantage on the field.

The group of six quickly dwindled to four – Bennett, Groff, Luxford and Sara McLarty (Clermont, Fla.) – who built an advantage of more than 2 minutes on the field entering T2 and the run.

Bennett quickly took charge on the run, building a 30-second lead on Groff after the first of four laps, and she was never threatened as she stretched the lead to more than 2 minutes with the day’s top run split of 37:32. “I just went out fast out of transition and tried to hold that,” said Bennett, who wrapped up the ITU World Championship Series two weeks ago in Budapest as the top-ranked American.

“It’s my first national championship as Bennett,” said Bennett, who won the title in 2003 as Laura Reback, her maiden name. “It always means something for a win … and it’s great to be the national champion.”

Kelleher closed strong with a 38:56 run split to move from 10th overall to the U.S podium over the 10k run. “I didn’t get anxious, I just settled into my pace and I knew that people would come back to me up front if I was just conservative and respected the heat,” said Kelleher.

The subsequent men’s event was tightly contested from the start, as Darling, who posted a swim split of 17:46, led a group of 23 men out of the water within 19 seconds of the lead. That pack held for much of the bike despite a handful of breakaway attempts. “I just felt really good, and I wanted to make sure I was in the front group on the bike,” Darling said about his strong swim effort en route to the U23 title.

Shoemaker, who closed with a 33:04 10k run, grabbed the overall lead on the first 2.5k lap, but was unable to hold off Sexton down the stretch for the ITU win. His run was 14 seconds better than the long-distance standout O’Donnell, who showed his speed with the day’s third-fastest run of 33:18, and good enough to secure the U.S. title.

“It was a tough race. Everybody who’s everybody was here today for the U.S. – some great foreign competitors. I’m really happy with how I did. I felt strong,” said Shoemaker.

While Bennett and Shoemaker added titles Saturday to an extensive list of accomplishments, Goss earned the first major title of her young career. “It’s a huge accomplishment,” Goss, who completed her first triathlon in August 2009, said about her U23 win. “Last year I did my first local sprit triathlon race … I never thought I would make it here in one year, so I’m excited.”

2010 USA Triathlon Elite National Championship, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
(Tuscaloosa ITU Premium Pan American Cup)

Women’s Results

1. Laura Bennett (Boulder, Colo.), 2:04:13
2. Sarah Groff (Hanover, N.H.), 2:07:42
3. Annabel Luxford (AUS), 2:09:10
4. Nicole Kelleher (Charlottesville, Va.), 2:10:09
5. Chantell Widney (CAN), 2:11:00
6. Jillian Petersen (St. Louis, Mo.), 2:11:38
7. Tenille Hoogland (CAN), 2:12:19
8. Gwen Jorgensen (Milwaukee, Wis.), 2:12:53
9. Lauren Goss (Mount Pleasant, S.C.), 2:13:14
10. Jessica Broderick (Middlebury, Conn.), 2:14:05

Men’s Results

1. Brendon Sexton (AUS), 1:53:48
2. Jarrod Shoemaker (Maynard, Mass.), 1:54:13
3. Timothy O’Donnell (Boulder, Colo.), 1:54:23
4. Matt Chrabot (Colorado Springs, Colo.), 1:55:04
5. Matt Reed (Boulder, Colo.), 1:55:22
6. Steven Sexton (Pilot Hill, Calif.), 1:55:27
7. Kevin Collington (Orlando, Fla.), 1:56:24
8. Andrew Russell (CAN), 1:57:23
9. Ethan Brown (Lowell, Mass.), 1:58:01
10. Brian Lamar (Wittier, Calif.), 1:58:19

Race recap provided USAT.