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It was a year to remember—in more ways than one. Whether it was super-fast performances or shocking tragedies, here’s a list of some of the top triathlon stories to spark headlines in 2011. Have another story in mind? Head over to our Facebook page and tell us about it!
1. Crowie and Chrissie Dominate in Kona
Experience is everything when it comes to Ironman, and Australia’s Craig “Crowie” Alexander and Great Britain’s Chrissie Wellington each drew on past successes to pull out wins in October’s Ford Ironman World Championship. While Crowie showed unrelenting strength on the bike and run for his 8:03:56 win (his third in Kona; in a new course record, no less), Wellington—visibly bruised and battered from a bike crash just two weeks before—made up a more than ten-minute deficit on the run to claim her fourth title over hard-charging Mirinda Carfare.
PHOTOS: 2011 Ironman World Championship
2. Jorgensen and Groff Earn Olympic Berths
The London Games are still seven months away, but two American women have already added the Olympic triathlon to their 2012 race schedule. At August’s ITU World Championship Series in London’s Hyde Park, Gwen Jorgensen and Sarah Groff stunned the stacked field—and many in the triathlon world—by earning automatic Olympic berths with their second- and seventh-place finishes, respectively. Jorgensen’s come-from-behind performance was especially remarkable considering the 25-year-old was competing in just her second season as a pro. The pair will have to wait to find out who will be joining them in the red, white and blue next August: The third female member—as well as the entire men’s Olympic squad—will be determined in early 2012.
PHOTOS: Team USA In London
3. A Year of Ironman Records
Though Kona reigns as king of all Ironmans, other races nabbed their share of buzz this season. Jaws dropped when Belgian triathlete Marion Vanhoenacker lowered the iron-distance world record time to a staggering 7:45:58 at Ironman Austria in July. Just one week later, Germany’s Andreas Raelert wowed in his native country, further dropping the record to 7:41:33 at Challenge Roth. Something was definitely in Roth’s waters that day; Wellington lowered her own mark by over a minute to 8:18:13 at the same race. Meanwhile, Mary Beth Ellis left little doubt that she’ll be one to watch in the future after winning Ironman Austria, Regensburg, and Canada in a just an eight-week time span—the former being the fastest Ironman debut ever by a woman (8:43:35).
PHOTOS: Challenge Roth
4. Lance Armstrong Races XTERRA
To great fanfare and anticipation around the tri world, Lance Armstrong returned to his multisport roots by joining the field at the XTERRA World Championship in Kapalua, Hawaii last October (he qualified with a fifth-place finish at XTERRA USA Champs one month prior, his first triathlon 22 years). Online commenters debated just how fast the seven-time Tour de France champ could go—and how badly he’d punish his competitors on the bike. In what would wind up as a letdown for both Armstrong and his legions of fans, the 40-year-old crashed in the final stretch of the 18.3-mile mountain bike ride and, despite getting back on the bike, ultimately faded from second place to 23rd.
PHOTOS: 2011 XTERRA USA Championship
5. Swimming Deaths Spark Safety Concerns
Triathlon made national news for all the wrong reasons in July when two swimmers tragically died during the swim portion of the Nautica New York City Triathlon. These incidents—although rare—were not isolated: There were two ensuing deaths in the swim at Ironman Louisville and at a sprint triathlon in Maine. As a result, USA Triathlon spearheaded a committee on swimming safety, and the organizers of the NYC Triathlon will now require all participants to sign an open-water swimming waiver indicating that they have swum at least a half-mile in open water prior to race day. “We want this to be fun, but this also requires training,” NYC race director John Korff recently told Bloomberg News. “Before you go out and try to be Superman, don’t forget to put on your cape.”
These are just five of our picks for the top stories of 2011. Head over to our Facebook page and tell us what you think was the top news story of the year.