COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - With 11 combined men's and women's top-10 finishers returning from last year and a talented crop of newcomers in the field, Saturday's 2012 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is expected to be one of the most competitive editions of the event in recent memory.
A field of nearly 1,300 collegiate triathletes will vie for individual and team national titles in the Olympic-distance championship event, which features a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike and 10-kilometer run starting and finishing at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. The women's race will start at 7:30 a.m. Central, followed by the men at 10:30 a.m.
New for 2012 is the mixed team relay, which will begin at 4 p.m. Each four-person team must consist of two females and two males who will complete a super-sprint triathlon before tagging their teammate. The first athlete will race a 275m swim, 6k bike and 1.6k run; the three remaining athletes will complete a 250m swim, 6k bike and 1.6k run.
Led by men's national champion Rudy Kahsar, Colorado repeated as the combined team champion in 2011. CU also won the men's team title a year ago, while the U.S. Naval Academy won the women's team crown.
Joining Kahsar in the men's field is 2011 runner-up Dustin McLarty of UC Irvine, as well as five other top-10 finishers from a year ago - Colorado's Chris Braden (fifth), University of Colorado Colorado Springs' Ryan Bice (sixth), Auburn's James McCurdy (seventh), Louisiana Tech's Ben Hall (ninth) and Florida State's Colin Riley (10th).
Newcomers Ben Kanute of Arizona, a two-time USA Triathlon Junior Elite National Championship winner, and 2010 ITU Junior World Championships and 2010 Youth Olympic Games medalist Kevin McDowell and Luke Farkas of UCCS will compete in their first-ever Collegiate Nationals.
Cal's Erika Erickson, who was fifth a year ago, is the top returning women's finisher from 2011. She also won the 25-29 age group at the 2011 ITU World Championships in Beijing, China. Alabama-Birmingham's Hallie Blunck, UC Santa Barbara's Kathrine Warren and Colorado's Tess Amer placed sixth, seventh and eighth a year ago, respectively.
Kelly Whitley of UCCS will make her Collegiate Nationals debut after a decorated junior career. She was named USA Triathlon's Junior Athlete of the Year and Rookie of the Year for 2011.
USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruitment Program athletes slated to compete include Delaware's Dan Feeney, Alex Russeau of Michigan State, UC San Diego's Bill Jones and Stanford's Marissa Ferrante.
The USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship has been a springboard to success for some of the nation's top up-and-coming triathletes in recent years, including current elite athletes Kaitlin Shiver, Caitlin Snow, Barrett Brandon, Kevin Collington, Amanda Felder, Ben Hoffman, Nicole Kelleher and Steve Sexton, who all captured individual collegiate titles.
The 2012 Collegiate National Championship marks the sixth consecutive year that USA Triathlon has held one of its major championship events in Tuscaloosa. Collegiate Nationals also was held in Tuscaloosa in 2007, 2008 and 2011.
Photo Credit: USA Triathlon (Mario Cantu)