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Verzbicas, Whitley Claim Junior Elite National Titles
CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Lukas Verzbicas and Kelly Whitley captured USA Triathlon Junior Elite National titles Saturday while Tamara Gorman successfully defended her Youth Elite title. Sawyer Willingham won the Youth Elite race for the men.
The 16- to 19-year-old junior elites covered a 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bike and a 5-kilometer run while the 13-15-year-old youth elites did a 375m swim, 10k bike and 2.5k run at the Chula Vista Harbor.
In his final stateside triathlon before shifting his focus to running this fall at the University of Oregon, Verzbicas made up for a rough T1 by not allowing the leaders, including Luke Farkas and defending national champion Ben Kanute to get too far ahead on the bike. After staying with Kanute for the first of two run laps, Verzbicas showed his speed with a race-best 15:18 run split en route to a finish time of 55 minutes, 3 seconds. Verzbicas’ target race this year is the ITU Junior World Championship in Beijing, where he will aim to win a medal for teammate and friend Kevin McDowell, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma earlier this year.
“My prep for Beijing is going great and it showed here,” Verzbicas said. “I was able to time trial the whole bike and then to take it out on the run like I did shows that I’m in good shape. I have to work on the little things like the transition, which cost me the lead bike pack."
Whitley, who will join USA Triathlon’s new Elite Triathlon Academy in Colorado Springs in the fall, stepped back down to the sprint distance after racing Olympic-distance events earlier this season. She closed with an 18:09 5k split to win in 1 hour, 2 minutes — nearly two minutes faster than the rest of the field.
“It was a really competitive field today,” Whitley said. “Me and Breanna [Hemming] worked together on the bike and pushed each other the whole way. I felt good coming off the bike and my coach wanted me to practice my run for worlds.”
Verzbicas and Whitley, in addition to Hemming and Tony Smoragiewicz, had already earned spots for Junior Worlds this September. Kanute and Johanna Gartman, the top two athletes not already qualified for worlds, earned spots Saturday.
“We saw some really consistent performances today in the youth elite races. People like Sawyer and Tamara really came in as the favorites and they defended that position,” said Steve Kelley, USA Triathlon’s Athlete Development Coordinator. “In both junior elite races we saw the depth of the fields with large packs and very aggressive riding. That transfers to good racing throughout the field, not just in the top 10.”
While the junior elite fields featured tough competition, the youth elite fields also showcased top-notch competition. “It was definitely really competitive,” said Willingham. “I went to the Seattle race and Des Moines and this was the most competitive.”
Gorman, the only repeat winner on the elite side, summed up her day succinctly: “It feels really good to be a national champion again,” she said.
On Sunday, a draft-legal team relay will be held at 8 a.m. for athletes ages 13-19. All athletes — in teams of three with at least one female competitor — will complete a 250m swim, a 5k bike and a 1.2k run.
2011 USA Triathlon Junior & Youth National Championship, Chula Vista, Calif.
Junior Elite Women
1. Kelly Whitley (Geneva, Ill.) 1:02:00
2. Breanna Hemming (Kiowa, Colo.) 1:03:57
3. Johanna Gartman (Chattanooga, Tenn.) 1:04:33
Junior Elite Men
1. Lukas Verzbicas (Orland Hills, Ill.) 55:03
2. Ben Kanute (Geneva, Ill.) 56:18
3. Luke Farkas (Franklin, Tenn.) 56:22
Youth Elite Women
1. Tamara Gorman (Rapid City, S.D.) 31:49
2. Stephanie Jenks (Aurora, Iowa) 32:30
3. Rachel Mann (Homer Glen, Ill.) 32:46
Youth Elite Men
1. Sawyer Willingham (Simpsonville, S.C.) 30:29
2. Neilson Powless (Roseville, Calif.) 30:53
3. Matthew Stanley (Acworth, Ga.) 30:59