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Lukas Verzbicas captured the gold medal he was determined to win in convincing fashion Sunday at the ITU Junior World Championships.
Verzbicas (Orland Hills, Ill.) posted a time of 56 minutes, 21 seconds in the sprint-distance event to finish more than 30 seconds clear of the field and make good on a promise to win gold and honor fellow standout junior triathlete and teammate Kevin McDowell (Geneva, Ill.), who recently completed his final treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma after being diagnosed in March.
“I had him in my mind the whole time in this race and I knew I was doing it for him,” said Verzbicas, who finished fourth at last year’s World Championships, just behind McDowell. “It just drove me and motivated me a whole lot more than if I was just doing this race by myself and just for myself – it’s really helped me a lot. I did what I set out to do, and it’s an amazing feeling.”
Tony Smoragiewicz (Rapid City, S.D.) joined Verzbicas on the podium by running his way to a third-place finish in 56:59. Ben Kanute (Geneva, Ill.) gave the U.S. three top finishers by placing 13th in 57:43.
The gold-medal performance from Verzbicas earns the U.S. its second junior world title and first since 2005.
Verzbicas used a strong swim effort to come out of the water in the top 10 and catch onto the lead pack of the bike with Kanute and six others. The leaders held a 22-second gap over the chase pack following the first of three bike laps and continued to build that margin over the 20-kilometer ride. “It’s hilly and has a lot of turns and it’s tough, but that suited me very well,” said Verzbicas. “I was training just for this kind of course.”
After entering T2 with the leaders, Verzbicas sat on the back of the front pack to open the run. He surged to a six-second advantage at the turnaround on the first 2.5k run lap and slowly extended the margin to a comfortable 33-second victory.
With an American flag draped on his shoulders, Verzbicas was met by McDowell at the finish line. “It couldn’t have been a better day. It was the perfect ending,” said McDowell, who will return to training in the near future. “I truly believed he could do it, and he made it happen. The whole ride and journey through this entire thing has been incredible. I will never trade it for anything.”
With Verzbicas ahead by a comfortable margin, Smoragiewicz recorded the day’s fastest 5k split – 15:31 – as he chased the bronze medal. “Coming into this last stretch I was in fifth, and I said I’d be thinking of this race for the rest of the year and wouldn’t be happy with it if I finished fifth,” said Smoragiewicz. “That gave me the extra energy to get up there.”
By earning bronze, Smoragiewicz gives the U.S. a pair of podium finishers for the first time at the Junior World Championships.
Race Report Provided by USA Triathlon.
1. Lukas Verzbicas (Orland Hills, Ill.), 56:21
2. Justus Nieschlag (GER), 56:54
3. Tony Smoragiewicz (Rapid City, S.D.), 56:59
13. Ben Kanute (Geneva, Ill.), 57:43