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Collegiate Triathletes Relish Team Competition at Nationals

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Collegiate athletes from around the country have landed in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the 2012 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship, ­set to begin Saturday with the women’s race at 7:30 a.m. Collegiate Nationals is a unique event, allowing athletes to pursue both individual and team titles while connecting with other clubs and having a little fun. From team traditions and cheers to a wide assortment of costumes worn both at packet pick-up and the award ceremony, collegiate triathletes will bring a new level of excitement and enthusiasm to the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater.  

Scoring for the event is similar to cross country running — the four highest-placing individual finishers earn points for their team and the lowest overall score claims the team title. The University of Colorado has claimed the overall team title for the past two years, but a tough competitive field — and what may be the most competitive men’s race in the history of the event — may challenge the reigning champions. CU also won the men’s team title in 2011, while the United States Naval Academy Triathlon Team claimed win on the women’s side.

“I absolutely love the team competition,” said Ian King, from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. “It's definitely something I'll miss after I graduate in a few weeks, training and racing with a team regularly.  It's a great feeling to have a group of people you're so close with and can share that bond with over racing.”

New to the event this year is the Mixed Team Relay, which will be held Saturday afternoon after the Olympic-distance national championship event has ended. This draft-legal relay won’t factor in to the team scoring, but it will expose athletes to a new format of racing.

“The fact that it is draft legal will be really neat, but I am also excited to get tagged and sprint toward the water,” said James Krahula from the University of North Texas. “Plus it will be neat to sit on the sidelines after my leg and cheer for the rest of my teammates.”

Each team will have two men and two women, who will complete a 250-meter swim, 6-kilometer bike and a 1.6-kilometer run before tagging the next athlete. The lead-off athlete will swim an extra 25 meters due to the layout of the course.

“I see this style of racing catching on quickly in the U.S.,” said Justin Freyermuth of Colorado State University. “The sport has grown tremendously in just the past few years and as is the typical nature of triathletes, we are always looking for a new challenge. Adding a drafting element will make the race more of a mental challenge as the focus of the race shifts to who has the best strategy.”

Some teams are composed of athletes from different schools who belong to the same collegiate conference. Lee Gedney from Clemson University is on a mixed team for the Southeast Collegiate Triathlon Conference, which includes two of her teammates from Clemson as well as an athlete from Coastal Carolina University.

“The relay is going to be crazy fast,” Gedney said. “It'll just be fun being on a team with people from other schools.  Everyone will be sprinting their hearts out and it's going to be exciting to see everyone work together as a team.”

From start to finish, Saturday’s races are sure to be a terrific show of athleticism, sportsmanship and teamwork, and no matter the outcome, these athletes can be proud of what they accomplish.

“I’m really excited to watch both of our nationals teams race at their true potential,” said University of Colorado’s Leigh Dodd. “This is a really great group of genuinely good and interesting people, beyond being incredible athletes, and I love watching them perform.”

For more from the 2012 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship, visit the event coverage page.

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