The four men at the top of USAT’s Objective Ranking System for Olympic Qualification will be going head to head in San Diego this weekend.

The informal college race will boast a field that likely contains at least one 2016 Olympian.

This weekend’s Tritonman Triathlon hosted by the University of California San Diego Triathlon Team is not just your average college race. It addition to becoming popular among collegiate athletes living near the west coast, it also attracts a competitive field of elite ITU athletes. The lineup at Saturday’s draft-legal race—held in Mission Bay, the location of the first triathlon in 1974—boasts a start line that could very well include multiple athletes who will make it to the Olympics in Rio this August.

Saturday’s race will feature a mix of elites and collegiate athletes looking to improve pack skills for the draft-legal event at Nationals or a future in ITU racing, capped at 75 athletes per gender. The race also serves as a U-25 Elite Development Race, which means the first three amateur U.S. athletes will become eligible for an elite license if they finish within five percent of the winner’s time. Sunday’s race is open to collegiate and age group athletes with a half-Olympic distance race (fun fact: 1982 Ironman World Champion Kathleen McCartney will be racing).

The four men at the top of USAT’s Objective Ranking System for Olympic Qualification will be going head to head, including Greg Billington, returning Tritonman winner Joe Maloy, Eric Lagerstrom and 2014 winner Ben Kanute. (Note: The U.S. men’s team has not yet been decided, and if no one qualifies at the ITU World Triathlon Yokohama in May, it will come down to these rankings.)

The race provides a way for the high-level athletes to do a race simulation in an informal yet competitive environment that doesn’t require extensive globetrotting.

“This more casual ‘hit out’ is great since I race so many times around the world every year and everything is so high pressure, so it’s fun to reconnect with why I picked up triathlon in the first place—for the fun and the community,” Lagerstrom says.

Billington agrees, saying that the friendly and spirited race is ideal because he can put in a full effort without the risk of a bad result. “I can go all out, maybe blow up, maybe mess up my tactics a bit and I won’t have wasted thousands of dollars or screwed up my ITU ranking,” he says.

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Maloy made a college analogy when describing the event: “If competing on the World Triathlon Series is attending a banquet-style party, then racing Tritonman is skipping class and playing beer pong on the lawn,” he says. “It’s a relaxed atmosphere that’s focused on fun, camaraderie and banter between the competitors.”

The female field includes 2015 winner Summer Cook, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Erin Densham, Lindsey Jerdonek, Kirsten Kasper, Taylor Spivey, Renee Tomlin and more women who have been climbing up the ITU professional ranks.

For Cook, who was brought up through the Collegiate Recruitment Program and is now coached by Paulo Sousa, last year’s win provided some affirmation. “Winning against some of the biggest names in the sport was to me a sign that I’m headed in the right direction,” she says. “I knew that I still had a lot of work to do to replicate that result in a high level ITU race … but despite this, last year’s race was still a huge confidence boost because I realized that such results can be attainable in the future if I keep focusing on making small progressions on a race-to-race basis.”

Another reason the elites enjoy racing Tritonman is because their involvement helps to raise money that will offset the triathlon team’s funds. Every dollar that goes towards race feeds goes directly back to the team, and the event is completely run by student volunteers. Find out more about Tritonman here.

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