Matt Reed and Julie Ertel each used a strong run leg to pull away from the competition and win USA Triathlon Elite National titles on Saturday, an event that doubled as an ITU Triathlon Pan American Cup.
It was the second national title for each athlete. Reed won his first in 2004, while Ertel defended her 2007 crown. The wins also guaranteed Reed and Ertel the overall titles in the 2008 USAT Haul to the Great Elite Series.
The elites had a built-in crowd for their races, thanks to more than 1,000 age-groupers who had competed on the 1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike, 10-kilometer run course for their national championship earlier in the day. It’s the first time the age-groupers and elites have raced for national titles at the same venue since 1992 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Just 17 women were on the start list, but it was a star-studded field. Olympians Sarah Haskins and Ertel led the competitors out of the water, with current U.S. number one Sarah Groff, and two-time U23 world championships silver medallist Jasmine Oeinck close behind. Former junior national champion Jennifer Spieldenner was also in that front group, with Olympian Laura Bennett, Olympic team alternate Becky Lavelle, and Mary Beth Ellis forming the chase pack 30 seconds behind.
By the time the first of eight bike loops was completed, the front pack was down to Haskins, Ertel, Groff and Oeinck, with Lavelle, Bennett and Ellis chasing hard close to a minute back. That spread remained steady throughout the remaining bike laps, but once the run started, the two Olympians up front controlled the pace and steadily put distance between themselves and their competitors.
Haskins and Ertel had been in these head-to-head matchups with each other before and Ertel always seemed to find the little bit extra that put her one top. This race was no different, as the 2007 champ began a strong push as the fourth lap began to pull away from Haskins and claimed the win.
“I really liked this course. I liked the rolling hills. There was really no flat section where anyone can rest. Everyone in the group was having to work,” Ertel said. “Sarah fell off on the third lap, so I went by her and realized at that point that I could go faster. So I took off, made a bit of a gap and put a little more time on the fourth lap.”
Haskins finished ten seconds back, with Groff grabbing third another 30 seconds behind. Bennett made a hard charge for fourth and Lavelle was fifth, 2:30 back.
Oeinck finished sixth to grab her first U23 National title.
Ertel had taken more than two weeks off from training after Beijing and was even contemplating not competing at nationals, but once she got on the course, she knew she had made the right decision.
“It was really hard for me to rally after the Olympics coming off that high,” said Ertel. “I just decided to go out and have fun. The thing that really fuelled me today was having so many supportive spectators on the course. Every time we came around, there were at least four or five massive packs of people cheering us on. That was really special to all of us. We haven’t had that for the past couple of years at nationals. These guys [age-groupers] are troopers out here. They race this morning and then stuck around to support us.
She was also impressed with the venue centered among the hills and trees of the Pacific Northwest.
“It was absolutely gorgeous scenery. It was one of the most beautiful races I’ve ever done,” she said.
Heading into the men’s race, Olympians Matt Reed and Jarrod Shoemaker had to be considered the favourites among the 39 racers, especially after Hunter Kemper and Andy Potts pulled out late in the week. But when Shoemaker failed to make it out of T1 on Saturday, it set the stage for the powerful Reed to grab the title and he didn’t disappoint.
The 2008 Olympic Trials champion was with a group of four, including Matt Chrabot, Joe Umphenour and Brian Fleischmann, early on the bike, but Reed and Chrabot pulled ahead and easily distanced themselves from the chasers for the remaining bike laps.
“I wanted to do the first part of the bike hard and see if we could break it up a bit. I saw Matt Chrabot, who’s probably the best biker in the field - apart from myself,” said Reed. “Once I saw him in there, I knew we were going to get away.”
Farther back, a large pack that included Tim O’Donnell, Brian Lavelle, John Dahlz, Matt Seymour, Dave Kuendig, Ethan Brown and Steve Sexton was in pursuit but couldn’t make up much time on the two leaders.
Out on the run, Reed made it clear that this was his race, putting more time onto Chrabot and the rest of the field each of the four laps. By the time the 6-foot-5 Reed neared the finish and grabbed the American flag, he had more than a minute on his nearest competitor. He took his time over the final few meters and savoured the finish after a frustrating last month.
“I kind of lost motivation after the Olympics, but I’ve got a family to support. I love to race and I wasn’t going to stop after the Olympics,” said Reed, when asked if he considered not racing after a 32nd place finish in Beijing in August.
“It’s the national championship and I’m not going to let a chance for a national title go to waste. I won the title in 2004 and I wanted another one. I wasn’t going to miss it for the world. In a way, it means you are the best in the U.S. It was important to have a solid race today and show everyone that the Olympics weren’t normally how I race. I’ve had a great year, and I just want to continue it.”
In a great performance, 39-year-old Joe Umphenour made a phenomenal last-lap kick to earn second - his first national championship podium in his 12 years of elite competition.
“It’s nice to finally get on the podium at nationals. I was kind of disappointed I couldn’t go with the front pack on the bike,” said Umphenour. “But maybe sitting in that pack was what allowed me to catch up. I was redlining it the whole way, good in water, good on the bike, good on the run. Age-wise I’m 39, but I still feel like I’m 25.”
Ethan Brown also closed hard to finish third and capture his second straight U23 National title. Chrabot held on for fourth and Fleischmann finished fifth.
More than 1,000 triathletes competed in the pinnacle event of the season - the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship on Saturday September 20th at Hagg Lake.
The age-groupers shared the spotlight with the elites, who competed in the USA Triathlon Elite National Championship later Saturday.
The first of 17 waves jumped into Hagg Lake at 7:15 a.m. and the action didn’t stop all day. The weather was ideal for endurance sports with temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to low 60s with cloudy skies and little to no wind. Jason Schott, 37, of Dahlonega, Ga., was the overall male winner with a time of 1:54:08. Brooke Davison, 37, of Boulder, Colo., finished in 2:05:52 to win the women’s overall championship.
The athletes soaked up the atmosphere in the post- race zone and later in the expo tent for vendor presentations and contests, the awards ceremony and the post-race dinner.
The event, USA Triathlon’s version of the “Super Bowl,” attracted athletes from 45 states ranging in age from 18 to 78. Many of these athletes have trained all season in preparation for the event, some hoping to earn a spot on Team USA by finishing in the top 16 in their age group.
With the top talent present at Hagg Lake, prestigious age group and overall honors were on the athletes’ minds.
“This is the best of the best - that’s why it’s nationals, said Adam Webber, who finished second overall. “I put a lot of focus into preparing for this race, and the goal was to be the national champion overall.”
Steven Smith of Granger, Ind., defended his grandmasters title with a win in the 60-64 age group. Though he had a substantial gap on second place, Smith said there was nothing easy about the race.
“This is the most challenging Olympic distance course I’ve ever done. There’s nothing flat on it - it’s just one hill right after another.”
Despite winning another national title, Smith isn’t ready to rest - yet. He’ll compete at Kona and in Clearwater and says that the challenge is what keeps him going.
“Seeing if you can beat the calendar is part of the challenge. Every October the calendar clicks over another year and I’m just trying to get my times back to what they were the year before.”
Former elite marathoners Lauren Binder (F60-64) and Ellen Hart (F50-54) knew from experience what type of effort it would take to be successful. The two know a lot about being successful on the national stage. After all, they finished second and third to Joan Benoit-Samuelson when she set an American record in the marathon.
Now, they’ve embraced a new sport. “To give us the opportunity to race competitively at this level at this time in our lives is the greatest gift,” Hart said. “Even though we’re so into the competitive part, there were times out there that I was just plain old having fun.”
Hart also talked about the draw of triathlon.
“I’m new to the sport and I just feel so lucky to have this second chance at trying to push my limits as an athlete and pushing my comfort zone - I don’t like being wet and I don’t like being cold,” Hart said. “Some aspects of the sport are not that comfortable, but it makes me try to be more brave.”
1. Jason Schott 1:54:08
2. Adam Webber 1:54:58
3. Nathan White 1:56:03
1. Brooke Davison 2:05:52
2. Cathy Yndestad 2:09:37
3. Stacey Richardson 2:09:51
Age Group Winners
F19 Under: Kelsey Markham (Collierville, Tenn.)
M19 Under: Eric Lagerstrom (Gresham, Ore.)
F20-24: Chris Tommerdahl (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
M20-24: Brian Duffy, Jr. (West Chester, Pa.)
F25-29: Lindsey Whalen (Chicago, Ill.)
M25-29: Adam Webber (Denver, Pa.)
F30-34: Cathy Yndestad (St. Paul, Minn.)
M30-34: Mark Harms (Madison, Wis.)
F35-39: Brooke Davison (Boulder, Colo.)
M35-39: Jason Schott (Dahlonega, Ga.)
F40-44: Steph Popelar (Parker, Colo.)
M40-44: Doug Clark (Morristown, N.J.)
F45-49: Judyann Cummings (Denver, Colo.)
M45-49: Pete Kain (Cupertino, Calif.)
F50-54: Kelly Molaski (Bellingham, Wash.)
M50-54: Steve Pyle (Boulder, Colo.)
F55-59: Karen McKeachie (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
M55-59: Dean Harper (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
F60-64: Lauren Binder (Portland, Ore.)
M60-64: Steven Smith (Granger, Ind.)
F65-69: Elizabeth Brackett (Chicago, Ill.)
M65-69: Robert Plant (Woodside, Calif.)
F70-74: Jan Miller (Green Valley, Ariz.)
M70-74: Jon Adamson (Alpharetta, Ga.)
F75-79: Madonna Buder (Spokane, Wash.)
Female: Steph Popelar
Male: Doug Clark
Female: Lauren Binder
Male: Steven Smith
CEO Challenge: Aaron Wallen (Honolulu, Hawaii)
|Results: Elite Women|
|5.||Becky Gibbs Lavelle||USA||02:08:19|