2011 was a standout year for USA Triathlon on a number of fronts. The organization reached all-time highs in members, eclipsing the 150,000 mark and over 4,000 sanctioned events. In addition, two U.S. women qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games at the ITU London World Championship Series event and the United States won two medals at the Pan American Games — gold in the women’s event and silver in the men’s event.
Check out our list of the top moments of 2011 and be sure to add your own top moments in the comments section.
Success at World Cups
U.S. athletes won four ITU World Cups in 2011 — the highest total for the U.S. since 2003. Hunter Kemper posted three podium finishes, including his win at Ishigaki on April 17 — his first on the ITU World Cup circuit since 2005. Matt Chrabot, Sarah Haskins and Gwen Jorgensen also won World Cups in 2011.
U.S. Athletes Win Three of Six Medals at ITU Cross Triathlon Worlds
American athletes took three of the six elite podium spots at the first-ever ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships. In a race featuring some of the top XTERRA athletes in the world, Americans Shonny Vanlandingham (Durango, Colo.) and Emma Garrard (Park City, Utah) placed second and third, respectively, in the women’s race behind Canadian winner Melanie McQuaid. For the men, Seth Wealing (Boulder, Colo.) claimed silver behind South Africa’s Conrad Stoltz.
Elite Triathlon Academy Launches
The Elite Triathlon Academy, a landmark program that will provide the United States’ top up-and-coming triathletes the opportunity to receive a top-notch college education while benefitting from a full-time coach and the nation’s best training resources, was announced at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs with national-level support from USA Triathlon and the United States Olympic Committee.
The ultimate goal of the program — directed by Keith Dickson, the founder of the Illinois-based Multisport Madness Triathlon Team — is to develop potential Olympic triathletes into medal contenders on the sport’s biggest stage.
Prior to the formation of this program, the top junior triathletes in the U.S. often chose to pursue running and swimming at the collegiate level due to the availability of scholarships. The Elite Triathlon Academy will identify potential Olympians and allow them to continue their multisport development throughout their college years with the potential to earn a collegiate scholarship.
June 19 & September 11
Sarah Groff Breaks New Ground for U.S. Women
USA Triathlon National Team member Sarah Groff earned the first-ever podium finish for an American woman in the ITU World Championship Series by racing to the bronze medal in Kitzbuhel, Austria, on June 19. Then, in the 2011 WCS finale, Groff placed 10th overall to help her finish the series on the podium — another first for an American.
Jorgensen, Groff Claim Spots on 2012 U.S. Olympic Team
Less than two years after completing her first competitive triathlon, Gwen Jorgensen placed second to post the best finish by an American woman in the history of the International Triathlon Union World Championship Series and claim a spot on the 2012 United States Olympic Triathlon Team. Sarah Groff also earned an Olympic berth with a seventh-place finish.
USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship Boasts Largest Field Ever
In all, nearly 2,500 of the nation’s top amateur triathletes were in action in sold-out Olympic-distance and sprint-distance events in Burlington, Vt. Olympic bronze medalist Susan Williams and reigning collegiate national champion Rudy Kahsar outlasted an extremely competitive field to earn the overall titles.
Paratriathlon in the Spotlight
After earning Paralympics status at the end of 2010, the sport of paratriathlon wasted no time taking center stage in the multisport community.
In addition to continued U.S. success at the ITU Paratriathlon World Championship (eight medals), USA Triathlon was awarded a $12,000 grant from the USOC to fund its Veterans to Victors program.
Athlete Development Pipeline Success at Worlds
Lukas Verzbicas (Colorado Springs, Colo.) captured the gold medal he was determined to win in convincing fashion at the ITU Junior World Championships. Verzbicas finished more than 30 seconds clear of the field in the sprint-distance event and made good on a promise to win gold and honor fellow standout junior triathlete and teammate Kevin McDowell (Colorado Springs, Colo.), who had recently completed his final treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma after being diagnosed in March. Tony Smoragiewicz (Rapid City, S.D.) joined Verzbicas on the podium by running his way to a third-place finish.
In addition to the top finishes in the junior men’s race, U.S. athletes also posted top-five showings in the women’s U23 race (Kaitlin Shiver, fourth place), the junior women’s race (Kelly Whitley, fifth) and the men’s U23 race (Greg Billington, fourth).
September 24 & October 9
Elite Race Series
Three-time Olympian Hunter Kemper won a record seventh career men’s elite national title, and Beijing Olympian Laura Bennett earned her third women’s crown Sept. 24 at the USA Triathlon Elite National Championship in Buffalo, the next-to-last stop on the 2011 USA Triathlon Elite Race Series.
At the Elite Race Series finale, 2012 Olympic qualifier Gwen Jorgensen and Olympian Jarrod Shoemaker led the competition Oct. 9 to win and clinch overall series titles.
The USA Triathlon Elite Race Series is a domestic, five-event series that delivers an opportunity for the nation’s top Olympic-distance triathletes to compete for $275,000 in prize money and a series title — all while honing the draft-legal racing skills necessary to challenge for the podium at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Pan American Games
USA Triathlon National Team member Sarah Haskins struck gold in convincing fashion, while Manuel Huerta raced his way to silver in the Pan American Games triathlon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. With the two medals, the U.S. is now tied for the top spot with Canada with 10 all-time Pan American Games medals, including five gold, since triathlon made its debut in 1995. In addition, a win on the women’s side secured a country slot for the U.S. at the 2012 Olympic Games.
Rapp wins Long Course Worlds on Home Soil
After being injured when struck by a car while cycling in March 2010, Jordan Rapp (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) added to his comeback story by claiming the ITU Long Distance world title Henderson, Nev. Cold water and air temperatures led to the cancellation of the swim, and athletes competed on a 120-kilometer bike and 30-kilometer run course after a time-trial start. Rapp lifted the tape with a time of 5 hours, 15 seconds — nearly three minutes faster than his next closest competitor.
Continued growth of membership and events
USA Triathlon hit an all-time high of 150,000 annual members in August. Membership surpassed 135,000 annual members in 2010. To put the sport’s growth into perspective, annual membership hovered between 15,000 and 21,000 from 1993-2000.
The organization also surpassed 4,000 sanctioned events for the first time in 2011.