Justin Lippert (Middletown, N.J.), 23, and Makena Gates (Canton, Ga.), 17, ran away with national titles on Saturday at the Draft-Legal Sprint Duathlon National Championships, kicking off an exciting weekend of racing at the USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships in Greenville, South Carolina.
The win is Lippert’s fourth national title in the past year at USA Triathlon championship events, while Gates’ title is her second straight in the Draft-Legal Sprint Duathlon National Championships.
Twenty-eight national champions were crowned in their age groups on an overcast morning at Lakeside Park. In total, 272 athletes finished the sprint-distance course, which featured a 5-kilometer run, 18-kilometer bike and 2.85-kilometer run.
The men’s race featured fast and furious racing from the onset, as a six-deep group of Lippert, defending champion Todd Buckingham (Big Rapids, Mich.), Ryan Giuliano (Oakwood Hills, Ill.), Nicholas Holmes (Glendale, Wis.), Rob Sorrell (Columbia, S.C.) and Joshua Brickell (Lawrenceville, Ga.) pushed the pace to sub-5-minute miles. The group stormed into transition together after the first run and they formed a hard-charging lead pack on the bike. It was the 17-year-old Holmes who emerged as the leader off the bike.
The podiums would come down to the final run, as the top five men were separated by just 11 seconds out of transition. Lippert took the win with a time of 54 minutes, 6 seconds — pulling away in the final half mile to close with a race-leading 9:02 run split. Lippert earned the men’s age 20-24 title in the process and picked up his fourth national title, adding to the Sprint- and Olympic-Distance titles he won at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Cleveland last August and the Long-Distance championship he claimed in November at the USA Triathlon Multisport National Championships in Miami.
Earlier this month, the Queens University of Charlotte graduate student took third place at the USA Triathlon Collegiate Club National Championships in Tempe, Arizona.
“I wasn’t happy with how I raced last weekend at Collegiate Nationals. I mean, I got third. But, I didn’t do as well as I had hoped to, personally,” said Lippert, who was a late registrant for the Duathlon National Championships and made the 100-mile drive from Charlotte, North Carolina, on Thursday. “I feel like I left something out there. It was a little redemption this week.”
Buckingham, 30, last year’s champion, sprinted to second place in 54:16, taking the 30-34 title, while the 35-year-old Giuliano placed third, winning his age group title in 54:17.
Buckingham relished the opportunity to race Lippert and the rest of the talented field in a draft-legal format that encourages riding in packs and working together.
“It was so much fun. I love the draft-legal nature. There’s not a lot of draft-legal races around, so anytime I get the chance to do one it’s awesome, especially with a duathlon,” Buckingham said. “I never thought I would say this, but the run becomes my weakness, because these other guys are better runners than I am. It was a blast. I had a great time. It’s so much fun.”
The women’s race followed a similar script to last year’s race: Gates and fellow high school phenom, Cassidy Hickey (Parker, Colo.), duking it out with longtime age-group extraordinaire Kirsten Sass (McKenzie, Tenn.). Gates ripped through the first 5k run in 19:15, followed seconds later by 16-year-old Hope Frost (Suffolk, Va.), Sass and Hickey.
Sass, 40, showed her prowess and power on the bike, averaging 22.58 mph during the 18-kilometer ride, but Hickey finished right on her shoulder heading into transition. The pair had built a 39-second lead over Gates, but the Georgia high school state champion cross-country runner was able to run them both down, finishing with a race-leading 10:47 run split. She broke the tape in a time of 1:02:15, claiming back-to-back national championships. Hickey, who won the High School National Championship title in Tempe earlier this month, finished second in 1:02:19, and Sass took third in 1:02:38, winning the Masters title.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s so exciting. Coming here, I didn’t know what to expect, because of such good (competition),” Gates said. “I was not expecting to win. And after, I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ This is a lot of excitement.”
Gates also got quite the thrill racing against Sass, a veteran of the sport and multi-time USA Triathlon Duathlete of the Year.
“I look up to her. She’s so fast. Every time I see her I think, ‘That’s what I want to be when I grow up. I want to keep doing this sport as long as I’m alive,’” Gates said.
In addition to Gates, three athletes successfully defended their 2018 draft-legal duathlon titles in their age groups, Ute Nestler (F45-49, Plano, Texas), Sharon Gerl (F70-74, Springfield, Ore.) and Kenneth Fleischhacker (M80-84, Littleton, Colo.). Buckingham and Sass both aged-up to new age groups.
The racing action continues Sunday with the Non-Draft Standard and Non-Draft Sprint National Championships. The standard-distance race, which covers a 8.45k run, 39k bike and 4.5k run, is set for 7:30 a.m. ET. The sprint race follows at 1:05 p.m. ET, and features a 5k run, 18.2k bike and 2.85k run. More than 950 athletes are expected to compete throughout the weekend, and about 200 are participating in more than one race.
For complete information, live tracking and final results from the USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships, visit usatriathlon.org/du2019.
Participants, media, family and friends can follow the action throughout the weekend at @USATLive on Twitter. Live tracking is also available on the USA Triathlon Events App, free to download on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
Draft-Legal Sprint Duathlon National Championships
5k run, 18k bike, 2.85k run
Male Overall: Justin Lippert (Middletown, N.J.) 54:06
Female Overall: Makena Gates (Canton, GA) 1:02:15
Male Masters: Stephen Eles (Houghton, Mich.) 57:54
Female Masters: Kirsten Sass (McKenzie, Tenn.) 1:02:38
Male Grand Masters: Greg Pelican (Estero, Fla.) 1:04:04
Female Grand Masters: Jocelyn Shilling (Saylorsburg, Pa.) 1:12:48
M15-19: Nicholas Holmes (Glendale, Wis.) 54:18
F15-19: Makena Gates (Canton, Ga.) 1:02:15
M20-24: Justin Lippert (Middletown, N.J.) 54:06
F20-24: Sierra Winters (Yadkinville, N.C.) 1:14:17
M25-29: Joshua Brickell (Lawrenceville, Ga.) 55:03
F25-29: Paige Orcutt (Morrison Colo.) 1:08:15
M30-34: Todd Buckingham (Big Rapids, Mich.) 54:16
F30-34: Charity Fluharty (Lees Summit, Mo.) 1:05:13
M35-39: Ryan Giuliano (Oakwood Hills, Ill.) 54:17
F35-39: Yelena Maloney (Tampa, Fla.) 1:06:22
M40-44: Stephen Eles (Houghton, Mich.) 57:54
F40-44: Kirsten Sass (McKenzie, Tenn.) 1:02:38
M45-49: Jon Noland (Tampa, Fla.) 58:28
F45-49: Ute Nestler (Plano, Texas) 1:08:44
M50-54: David Engstrom (Beaverton, Ore.) 58:46
F50-54: Cortney Martin (Blacksburg, Va.) 1:12:45
M55-59: Mark Hecox (Salem, N.H.) 1:02:05
F55-59: Jocelyn Shilling (Saylorsburg, Pa.) 1:12:48
M60-64: Greg Pelican (Estero, Fla.) 1:04:04
F60-64: Gail Waldman (Vienna, Va.) 1:16:57
M65-69: John McCarthy (Branford, Conn.) 1:09:35
F65-69: Diane Travis (Clermont, Fla.) 1:20:29
M70-74: Steve Polley (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) 1:19:55
F70-74: Sharon Gerl (Springfield, Ore.) 1:20:26
M75-79: Tony Marshall (Carlsbard, Calif.) 1:08:24
F75-79: Heysoon Lee (Stuart, Fla.) 1:45:17
M80-84: Kenneth Fleischhacker (Littleton, Colo.)1:31:20
F80-84: Sharon Roggenbuck (Hillsborough, N.C.) 2:00:17
M85-89: Wayne Fong (Chatsworth, Calif.) 2:37:53