With the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in the rearview mirror, USA Triathlon (USAT) has turned its attention to London, England and finding those athletes who will be on the starting line at the Games in 2012.
To increase the depth and quality of the pool of potential U.S. Olympians, USAT has turned its attention to the collegiate ranks with the launch of the Collegiate Recruitment Program.
The program's goal is to expose current collegiate swimmers and runners to the possibility of making a career out of triathlon, educating them on the steps and decisions needed to becoming a professional triathlete, and encouraging them through mentorship relationships.
Olympian Barb Lindquist, who had previously served as USAT U23 and Elite Development Coach, has been named the Collegiate Recruitment Coordinator and will direct the program.
"USAT has waited for talented athletes to find us for far too long," said USAT Sport Performance Director Scott Schnitzspahn. "If we are going to win medals in 2012, we have to innovate. This program will reap huge rewards in talent identification and I can't think of a better person to head up this initiative than Barb Lindquist."
Before making the 2004 Olympic Team and becoming the No. 1 triathlete in the world, Lindquist enjoyed a fulfilling collegiate swim career at Stanford University, winning an NCAA Team Championship in 1989. She also excelled as a high school distance runner in Wyoming and continued running recreationally in college. After graduation it took Lindquist three years to find triathlon and another two to turn professional.
"I know that if someone from USAT would have taken me under their wing, I could have turned pro within a year of graduation and added another three to four years on to the front end of my career," said Lindquist. "It is my hope to provide a post-graduation competitive alternative for athletes who feel they have maximized their potential in their single sport, but who still feel like they are not done competing at an international level."
The Recruitment Program will have three phases: contact with collegiate coaches, contact with the referred athletes, and development of mentor relationships with the athletes.
USAT has already begun to contact collegiate coaches from the top distance running and swimming programs in the country and has instituted a referral network that will include regular communication with college coaches. An incentive program will be available for coaches who provide athletes to the program and for those whose athletes succeed in the professional ranks.
The USAT Sport Performance staff is currently finalizing qualification criteria and benchmark times for athletes to be considered for the program.
As the athletes are identified, Lindquist will follow up and gauge their interest in triathlon. "I will have many hats on my head at this point. I will be a salesman, convincing the athlete how much fun the challenge of triathlon can be and encouraging the athlete to try a triathlon; a resource, connecting a local USAT Certified coach with the athlete and arming the athlete with information on the 101 of competing in their first triathlon season; a motivator, encouraging the athlete through the learning curve of trying a new sport; a mentor, being an experienced asset to share my knowledge of the sport; and a facilitator, fitting the athlete into the USAT pipeline which can include camps and testing."
That mentorship process will continue in the program's third phase as the athletes begin their professional racing careers and seek guidance and development to reach their fullest potential.
"It is still hard for me to believe that I was a better triathlete than I ever was a swimmer," said Lindquist. "My dream is for countless athletes coming through our Recruitment Program to say the same thing in their future."
USAT will have a presence at the National Track and Field/Cross Country Coaches Association Convention in Phoenix, December 15-17. Plans are also in place to connect with coaches, athletes, and parents at NCAA championship events.
Any collegiate coach who would like to partner with USAT on the program or receive more details about the athlete criteria should contact Barb Lindquist at 719-237-9986 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.