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The Triathlete.com crew has grown accustomed to reporting on events filled with, well, grown-ups, so we were thrilled to cover this year’s USAT Collegiate National Championship in Tempe, Ariz., to witness the rumored college shenanigans and fanatical team spirit first-hand. Judging by our weekend spent observing the up-and-comers in our sport, we think it’s safe to say the future of triathlon looks bright. Here are five reasons we loved the event.
The team camaraderie. Even if you train with buddies or a tri club on a frequent basis, you’ll be hard-pressed to create the tight bonds these athletes have by virtue of spending hours training (and in some cases studying) together day in and day out. Add to that the college-kid penchant for over-the-top costumes (did you see the horsehead Speedo?), school chants and general love of screaming, and you get a level of spectatorship not found at your usual age group race. Teams come dressed alike—like the University of Santa “Barbies” in black tanks with hot pink sunglasses or the University of Southern California with Trojan capes and helmets—and support each other loudly throughout the weekend.
The exciting race formats. Friday’s inaugural draft-legal race started the weekend, showcasing some of the best college athletes on a looped ITU-style course with lots of technical turns. Then the highly competitive Olympic-distance race took place on Saturday, where both individuals and teams battled for the top spots, followed by (possibly our favorite) mixed team relay. A team of two males and two females each raced a super sprint (250K swim, 5K bike, 1.2K run) before passing off to the next teammate, who had to dive into the water and follow suit. The crowd was amped up watching the fast-paced race, making it easy to see why the International Triathlon Union is looking at the mixed relay as a potential inclusion in the 2016 Olympic games. While watching, USAT CEO Rob Urbach said that making this kind of relay available to age groupers would be a fantastic idea.
The impressive athleticism. Among the college crowd are some athletes with impressive pedigrees—some are pros already, such as the University of Arizona’s Ben Kanute, who took both the draft-legal and Olympic-distance wins; others have single-sport accolades, such as NCAA All-American swimmer Shelley Harper (who also happens to be the daughter of the first Wildflower Triathlon champion Dean Harper). The athletes racing for the University of Colorado Colorado Springs were such studs that they were selected to be a part of the Elite Triathlon Academy, a USAT and U.S. Olympic Committee program devoted to developing future Olympians. They shined through their impressive performances at the various distances, especially when winning the mixed relay (can’t say we were surprised that the future Olympic potentials had a strong team). All the top teams—University of Colorado, University of California-Berkeley and UCLA—have incredibly deep fields of talent.
The resilience and positive attitudes. On Friday afternoon, we met a couple triathletes from the Texas Tech team who had driven all the way to Tempe, an adventure projected to take 12 hours. But after a semi truck’s brakes went out and crashed into one team member’s SUV (five times in a row!), both the car and a few of their bikes were totaled and some of the athletes experienced whiplash, extending their road trip to 19 hours. Although the accident ruled out competing for some of them, their spirits remained high as they stood on the sidelines cheering on their teammates.
USAT’s dedication to the event. As someone leading the charge from a major position in our sport, it was refreshing to see Urbach at every race finish line, eagerly anticipating the crossing of the winner and slapping high fives. He sees potential in the draft-legal distance as a viable format for televised races, which USAT is pushing this year in both San Diego and Las Vegas.
– UC Colorado Springs Wins Collegiate Mixed Team Relay
– Michelle Mehnert Collegiate Women’s Winner In Tempe
– Ben Kanute Wins Collegiate Nationals
– Ben Kanute, Erin Jones Take Collegiate Draft-Legal Wins
– Colorado Takess Fourth Consecutive Collegiate Nationals Team Title