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Sarah Haskins, Sara McLarty and Gwen Jorgensen (USA Triathlon)

Pan Am Games Notebook

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PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico — USA Triathlon’s six-athlete squad for the 2011 Pan American Games has enjoyed a productive first 24 hours in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, getting settled in their accommodations for the weekend, meeting some U.S. athletes from other sports and familiarizing themselves with the course for Sunday’s race.

After arriving Thursday afternoon, the three women’s athletes — Gwen Jorgensen, Sarah Haskins and Sara McLarty — got in a 25-minute ocean swim before having a chance to preview the racecourse Friday morning.

“The course preview is so essential for our athletes to be able to check out the environment they’re going to be racing in on the course,” said Andy Schmitz, USA Triathlon High Performance Senior Manager.

At today’s course familiarization, athletes had a police escort for a four-lap preview of the bike course and followed that up with a look at the two-lap swim course. Much of the bike and run routes will be contested on the busiest street in Puerto Vallarta, which will be closed down.   

“For the bike, understanding any technical turns and any hazards on the course is important,” Schmitz added. “With it being protected and closed and with police escorts, they were able to take it at speed, which is pretty important because if you’re looking to take technical turns at speed, you want to do so in practice before the race.”

The 2010 PATCO Championships were held in the same venue as a Pan Am Games test event, but the routes for all three disciplines have changed, making the course preview especially key.

Standout cyclist Matt Chrabot enjoyed the lengthy bike preview. Known for his prowess in warm-weather racing, Chrabot is looking forward to what is expected to be a hot, humid race day.

“I just like hard races. Being a little bit smaller helps [with the heat],” said Chrabot, who won the Huatulco ITU World Cup earlier this month. “Being from the East Coast — Virginia Beach — I’m used to hot summers, so when I started training for triathlons and running it was 95 degrees out. I like racing in humidity, too.”

Prior to arriving in Mexico, the six athletes and staff members went through the U.S. Olympic Committee’s team processing in Houston.

“We had great food and stayed in an awesome hotel. They gave us a bunch of clothes and kind of walked us through what was going to happen,” said Jorgensen, a first-time Pan Am Games participant. “They just really made us feel like we were part of a team.”

For Jorgensen, who has already qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team, this weekend can serve as a dry run of sorts for next year’s London Games.

“I think the Pan Am Games is a great experience for the Olympics,” Jorgensen said. “It’s on a smaller scale, but still being able to experience the processing and the team atmosphere, everything that’s just a part of the Games, is pretty exciting.”

Haskins, who was a silver medalist at the 2007 Pan Am Games and a member of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Team, agreed. “This has definitely has a different feel. It’s almost like a mini, downscaled Olympic Games, because there is much more of a team atmosphere,” Haskins said.

This weekend’s event is extra special for Manuel Huerta, who was born in Cuba and lived there as a child before moving to the States.

“The Pan Ams are a big thing back on my island,” Huerta said. “I grew up watching every Pan American Games, so it’s very special for me.”

In addition to racing to continue USA Triathlon’s legacy of medal-winning performances at the Pan Am Games, the U.S. athletes are looking to lock up a country slot for next year’s Olympic Games. The winning athlete in each event earns an Olympic spot for their federation.

“There’s a lot at stake here, and the athletes are taking it incredibly seriously and are working hard to deliver for Team USA,” Schmitz said.

Action will begin Sunday with the women’s race at 8 a.m. CT, followed by the men at 11 a.m. Follow @USATLive on Twitter for updates. 

Related Topics

Pan American Games

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