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Athletes stop by packet pick-up in the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater Friday.
Athletes stop by packet pick-up in the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater Friday.
photo: MARIOC

Collegiate Athletes Soak in Sun, Team Spirit in Alabama

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. ­­– A steady stream of student-athletes passed through the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater on Friday leading up to the 2011 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship presented by Saucony. More than 120 collegiate clubs will be represented in what may be the largest field the event has ever seen.

With partly sunny skies and a slight breeze, Saturday’s conditions look to be much more favorable than years past. Regardless of weather, athletes are fired up and looking forward to seeing how they stack up against their competition. 

“The best part last year was having all the other colleges there,” said Audrey Ford, a junior at Northern Arizona University. “It’s super fun to have the collegiate team thing going and see all the other schools here running by.”

Ford and her 14 teammates traveled to Tuscaloosa late this week in two groups, with half of the team taking on the challenge of the long drive from Flagstaff, Ariz. A number of teams opted to drive and bring their bikes with them, instead of shipping their bikes ahead of time. 

Friday was jam-packed with pre-race activities, including packet pick-up and the expo. Athletes were able to take part in a swim warm-up in the Black Warrior River in the morning, and many participants strolled through the finish chute, mentally preparing for the real race finish.

Though some teams have a long-standing tradition of attending Collegiate Nationals, others have made the trip to this for the first time in school history. The triathlon club at Gonzaga became an official club just last week.

“We founded the club specifically to come to this event – this is our first year here,” said Brian Carriker, who was part of a three-man team that made the trip from Washington. “We’re hoping to gather more people and start being like these teams that are bringing 20-plus athletes to the event and really get the camaraderie that they’re experiencing.”

Friday evening is a time for most teams to wind down and focus on their plan of attack for the race. 

“Now that we’re here, we might do a light jog,” Ford said. “Basically we’re just getting mentally prepared, getting rested and recovering from the trip.”

The Olympic-distance championship event is comprised of a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike and 10-kilometer run starting and finishing at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, and the first wave of athletes takes off at 7:30 a.m. The 750m swim, 20k bike and 5k run sprint-distance race is set to start at 12:30 p.m.

Nearly 1,600 athletes are vying for podium spots in the men’s, women’s and team competitions. Teams are also aiming for spirit awards, which will be announced at the award ceremony Saturday evening. 

The event, presented by Saucony, will be televised on CBS Sports Network later this month. The men’s and women’s races will be shown April 29 in separate one-hour broadcasts, with the women’s race airing at 10 p.m. ET, followed by the men at 11 p.m. ET.

Family, friends and fans of multisport can follow the action on race day with USA Triathlon's live blog. Full coverage of the event, including pre-event features and press releases, is available on the Collegiate Nationals page at usatriathlon.org.

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