Nearly 2,000 amateur triathletes cross the finish line at Omaha’s Levi Carter Park
OMAHA, Neb. — Nearly 2,000 of the nation’s top amateur triathletes competed for national titles on Saturday at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships, with Kirsten Sass and Bill Jones taking home their first-ever overall Olympic-distance national titles.
The race, which is USA Triathlon’s largest and longest-running National Championships event, featured a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike and 10-kilometer run course centered around Omaha’s Levi Carter Park.
Sass (McKenzie, Tenn.), the overall women’s champion, broke the tape in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 47 seconds. Sass owns several national and world titles in her age group and was last year’s overall champion in the sprint-distance race, but today earned her first-ever overall Olympic-distance national title.
“I’m really happy with my race,” Sass said. “The bike is always my strong suit — my problem is usually going too hard on the bike and killing myself on the run, but then to a certain extent, you just have to lay it all out there. I feel like I was able to balance the two pretty well today. I gave it all I had, so I’m happy with the result.”
Jacqueline Godbe (Chicago, Ill.) took second overall in 2:10:17, winning the women’s 25-29 age group in the process, and Danielle Dingman (Branson, Mo.) rounded out the overall podium in third in 2:11:47.
Jones (San Diego, Calif.) took home the overall men’s title, crossing the line with a time of 1:56:19. Racing at his first-ever Age Group Nationals, Jones also collected the men’s 30-34 crown.
Jones had to wait and see if he would hold onto his national title for about an hour and a half after he finished, as younger athletes starting in the later waves had yet to come through the finish. He would ultimately hold onto the top spot, with Ian Hoover-Grinde (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) taking second in 1:57:51 and 2016 overall champion Todd Buckingham (East Lansing, Mich.) taking third in 1:58:08.
“The bike went extremely well for me. All of my training came through, and I really felt great,” Jones said. “On the run, I had an idea of where I was overall. I had looked at previous years’ times, so I knew I was going to be in contention. But I also knew there was a lot of competition in the 29 and under age group.”
In addition to their overall podiums, Hoover-Grinde earned the men’s 17-19 age group national title and Buckingham earned the men’s 25-29 crown.
“You don’t always get to test yourself against the best in the nation,” Buckingham said. “You have to qualify for this race, so not everybody can show up like at your average local tri. Having all of these awesome athletes out here, it makes you push yourself. It brings out the best in me, and I hope that I bring out the best in them too.”
In total, 28 national champions were crowned in their respective age groups on Saturday, 10 of whom defended their titles from 2016. Defending champions included Hoover-Grinde (M17-19), Buckingham (M25-29), Sass (F35-39), Tim Hola (Highlands Ranch, Colo., M40-44), Adrienne Leblanc (Scottsdale, Ariz., F45-49), Lee Walther (Oklahoma City, Okla., M55-59), Kathryn Wiberg (West Boylston, Mass., F70-74), Elizabeth Brackett (Chicago, Ill., F75-79), William Marshall (Santa Rosa, Calif., M75-79) and Madonna Buder (Spokane, Wash., F85+).
The top 18 finishers in each age group and gender (rolling down to 25th place) earned the opportunity to represent Team USA at the 2018 ITU Age Group Triathlon World Championships in Gold Coast, Australia.
“You put in all that training, and you just want to be able to race to the potential that you have in you. I feel like I did that today,” said Ryan Bickerstaff, who took home the men’s 35-39 national title. “I’ve been doing triathlons since 1990 — my ninth birthday was my first triathlon — and I represented the U.S. at Junior Worlds a few times, so to be able to do that again at Age Group Worlds will be really awesome.”
For some athletes, like men’s 50-54 champion Robert Skaggs, just making it to the start line was the biggest accomplishment of the day.
“I’ve been trying to get here for 17 years,” Skaggs (Solana Beach, Calif.), said. “I signed up multiple times and never made it because of various injuries, so this is my first Age Group Nationals since 1998. I’ve had four Achilles tendon surgeries, so this was the first year I’ve gone through a training block with no injuries. I got no sleep last night thinking about the race, just thinking, ‘I can’t believe I made it here. I can’t believe I’m really going to start.’”
For Ellen Hart (Denver, Colo.), a longtime Age Group Nationals competitor, returning to this race is an annual celebration.
“The experience was amazing, just getting to see all my friends who I maybe only see once a year,” Hart, who placed fourth for women 55-59, said. “This is one of those days I look forward to every year. When somebody asks me, ‘Why do you do this when it’s so hard and takes so much time?” It’s like, ‘This is when we get to dance on our stage. This is when we get to play a symphony together. This is when we get to show what it is that’s inside of us and put it all out there.’”
Original article from USAT here
Complete results here