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photo: USA Triathlon/Timothy Carlson
The Olympic Spirit and Age Group Triathletes
One year from today on July 27, 2012, more than 10,000 athletes from countries around the world will gather for the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games. People of the world will unite under the ideals of Olympism — respect, excellence and friendship — ideals that supersede language barriers, and often cultural barriers.
The Olympic spirit is not contained in two weeks of sporting events. First-year triathlete Brett Ciancanelli (Raleigh, N.C.) summed it up by saying, “The Olympic ideals do not begin with the Opening Ceremony and last until the flame is extinguished at the Closing Ceremony. These ideals go with us into our everyday lives. We all strive for excellence but at the same time we have respect for the sport, respect for our fellow competitors and develop friendships that will last a lifetime.”
Age group athletes will not face the same level of competition as their elite counterparts, but in the end, all competitors prove that they possess the Olympic ideals in addition to their athletic prowess. In some cases, athletes show that they are capable of much more than swimming, biking and running.
“In my experience with age-group racing, I definitely see the spirit and ideals of the Olympics on display, maybe sometimes to even greater extents,” said Justin Gundelach (Rochester, Minn.), who has competed in triathlon for nine years. “I remember the first race I participated in this season… After the race, a story emerged that out on the course one racer stopped and sacrificed his race to help another racer (a complete stranger) with a flat tire. I think that's the true representation of friendship and respect.”
Age-grouper Jason Maloy (Carrolton, Texas) has been participating in triathlon for four years, and finds that the sport is an important part of his life. “Competing in triathlons gives me a sense of unity, a sense of purpose and most importantly a sense of accomplishment that most Olympic athletes share,” he said. “Triathlon is a wonderful way to make friends and stay in shape. I can only imagine that Olympic triathletes have as much fun as I do when I am competing in my local weekend triathlon.”
Winning a medal at the Olympic Games is a dream many children have, especially when they start competing in a sport, but clinching an Olympic spot is not easy. In triathlon, each country is allowed a maximum of six athletes — three men and three women — and even those spots must be earned leading up to the Olympic Games. However, there are other opportunities to represent Team USA.
“Ever since I was a little boy, I always dreamed of being in the Olympics,” said second-year triathlete Scott Huntley (West Palm Beach, Fla.) “Competing in triathlons has sparked that flame again. Now I understand I'm never going to be an Olympian, but perhaps one day I can participate in the World Championships in my age group.”
Age-groupers can qualify for Team USA by participating in one of USA Triathlon’s national championship events, offered in sprint, Olympic-distance and long-course triathlon as well as duathlon, aquathlon and off-road triathlon.
Veteran age group athlete Bob Jones (Bartlett, Ill.) has been competing in multisport since 1992 and recently competed at the USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championship this past April in Tucson, Ariz.
“For me it felt like an Olympic Trials. The age-group talent there was amazing, and all very supportive of each other. I plan on going back, because the experience was great, and I am hoping to be able represent the U.S. at worlds. It would be an honor and a dream to wear the Team USA uniform.”
The possibilities to succeed in triathlon as an age-grouper are open to everyone. Some triathletes may start competing as early as 7 and will continue to participate in the sport well into their 80s and 90s.
Flori Doyle (Cortland Manor, N.Y.) competed in her first triathlon in 2003, just four days before her 50th birthday. Eight years later, she’s still going strong.
“To feel excellent at the age of 58 is pretty cool,” she said. “I follow a training plan, listen to my body and try my best, hoping to accept my results with joy and gratitude. As long as I maintain the right attitude with regard to triathlon, excellence is always present. An attitude of gratitude is a means I follow.”
Triathlon has only been part of the Olympic program since 2000, but it has been contested in some format since the 1970s. Newcomers to the sport are inspired by the actions of motivated age-groupers who have overcome outstanding odds just the same as they are inspired by the world’s best triathletes vying for gold on the world’s stage. Triathlon is still considered the fastest-growing sport in the Olympic Movement, and this is mostly due to age group participation.
When it comes to crossing the finish line, besting a rival or conquering an injury, age group athletes feel joy in the pursuit of victory, similar to elite athletes who are up against the best in the world. Gundelach believes this helps age-groupers relate to the task facing elite athletes next summer, saying, “I think familiarity with that feeling of personal satisfaction from accomplishing one's goals, whether those goals are to win overall, place in a age division, set a PR, or just finish the race is what helps us as racers better appreciate the excitement of the Olympics.”
No matter how many times you race in the next year, no matter where you place, the Olympic spirit is in you. Whether you compete in a local sprint or the Ironman World Championships, you are contributing to the sport of triathlon and to the Olympic Movement, even when the Olympic Games are one year away.