By Adam Hodges
Photos by Ryan Bentley
ISSUE #11, June/July 2001 – The University of Colorado triathlon team showed up at the Wildflower Triathlon on May 6 with one goal in mind, to win another championship. The race featured tough competition between several teams, including Colorado’s traditional rival Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, UC-Berkeley, UC-Santa Barbara, Stanford, and a fledgling team from the University of Montana. At the end of the day, the CU team left the awards ceremony with the championship trophy in hand, UC-Berkeley in second.
However, CU’s sixth straight victory was not to be. As it turned out, it was an illusion that gradually slipped away over the next week after the Buffs had returned to Boulder for final exams. The spectacular performance by a tough Montana squad proved to be all it had appeared to be on the morning of May 6. The only problem was that the results failed to register it.
A statement from Creighton Meade, the race official in charge of timing for Tri-California Events, explained the mishap, "Due to a clerical error race day, University of Montana’s scores were not included in the collegiate club scores. Once we returned to the office, I was alerted to this fact and spent a week reviewing the scores… I apologize for any confusion and inconvenience this may have caused."
On May 11, the University of Montana was declared the official winner of the collegiate triathlon championships with a bewildered Colorado team in the runner-up spot, mere minutes behind. Due to drafting penalties and more clerical errors, the final margin of victory of Montana wasn’t officially registered for another week. In the end, the University of Montana edged out the defending champions, the University of Colorado, by one minute thirty-five seconds.
The end of CU’s streak
Ever since the Wildflower Triathlon was officially designated as the collegiate championships in the early ’90s, the University of Colorado triathlon team has dominated the race. CU is the owner of six titles since 1994, the last five in consecutive years.
The last team to beat the Buffs was Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo in 1995. That was the year Rick Ellison took over as head coach of the CU program. Due to Ellison’s efforts and the success of the small 1994 team, the program built itself into the dynasty that went on to sweep the collegiate championships over the next five years.
Ironically, Ellison is now the coach of CU’s traditional rival, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. He left Boulder after the 1998 championship to take an administrative job at Cal Poly. Unable to stay away from coaching, he joined Cal Poly’s program last year.
Ever since CU took back the title from Cal Poly in 1996, they have been an always-present challenge for the Buffs at Wildflower. In fact, early in this year’s race, it appeared that Cal Poly might possibly end CU’s streak and claim another victory. The closeness of Cal Poly and CU athletes in both the men and women’s races provided an exciting contest in the early going. However, after the run sorted things out, contenders UC-Berkeley and Stanford made their presence known. And then there was the tough Montana squad.
With four men and four women entrants, Montana met the requirements for a scoring team (three men and three women from a school are required.) Although their small numbers didn’t make them as visible as teams like CU with 76 athletes or the California schools, the Montana athletes proved they had the most important asset for any school hoping to challenge for the title-top-placing triathletes.
Brandon Fuller’s 2:08:34, good for second place in the men’s race, led Montana to a total team score of 14:41:55.
CU’s top women were Kerrie Wlad, eighth in 2:35:15, Amber Hofstad, thirteenth in 2:39:32, and Susan Einberger, seventeenth in 2:42:10. Men’s scorers were Ryan Ignatz, sixth in 2:13:14, Justin Murray, seventh in 2:13:19, and Keith Jackson, thirty-seventh in 2:20:00. This gave CU a total team score of 14:43:30, a minute and thirty-five seconds behind Montana.
UC-Berkeley finished third with a time of 14:47:19.
The making of a race
"The team competition was tight," said CU athlete and swim coach Andy Feeney. "The women pulled it together for us."
It was the strong performance by the CU women that kept the team in close contention throughout the race. The men lost several athletes to pre-race injuries and the heat on race day. Temperatures rose into the 90’s and caused many to experience a painful meltdown.
Tim Smith was forced to pullout a week before Wildflower due to a knee injury. Junior team member Blake Ottersberg ended up in the med tent with heat exhaustion, along with Will Smith and Erin Huck. Armando Galaragga flatted during the bike, which took him out of contention.
The day started off with a tough swim start. A crowded field of athletes all vied for position in the tightly packed starting area.
"It was the roughest swim I’ve ever been in," said Jackson.
But once the race was under way, swimmers had calm water for the 1.5K swim in Lake San Antonio. Brandon Fuller of Montana exited the water first in 19:12. CU’s Feeney led his team in the swim with a 19:56 split. For the women, eventual winner Sara McLarty, from the University of Florida, swam the fasted split of the day in 18:18.
Out on the 40K bike course, penalties dotted the landscape along with the rolling hills of central California.
Wlad of CU posted a strong bike split, 1:19:51, in the women’s competition. In the men’s race, CU’s Ignatz used the bike as a time to relax and gear up for the run.
"I took it a bit easier on the bike this year," said Ignatz. "I didn’t want to blow up on the hills."
Avoiding the bonk, Ignatz paced himself to one of the top bike splits of the day in 1:09:03. Teammate Justin Murray matched his mark with a 1:09:08 split, although Ignatz had already started the run and was out of site when Murray entered T2.
Murray, a runner-turned-triathlete, left his stamp on the race with the fastest run split of the day, 34:58, nearly catching Ignatz at the finish line. The two finished 6-7 in the men’s race, with only a five second separation between them.
CU’s third man across the line was Lucas Llado, but due to a drafting penalty Llado fell back in the final results. Keith Jackson stepped in to fill the third scoring spot for the CU men.
In the women’s race, Wlad of CU ran to a 40:58 split. Only one woman was faster on foot for the day, Montana’s Kari Peterson who ran to 38:37 for the 10K.
Amber Hofstad and Susan Einberger both added top twenty performances to aid the team’s effort.
Talking about the team’s performance, CU coach Bettina Younge said, "I was quite pleased overall. The men’s team had a strong showing and the women’s team, as we are rebuilding it, is showing great promise for the next year."
Younge added, "It was exciting to see the team competition heat up a bit. Berkeley, Stanford and, needless to say, U of M have done a great job coming pretty much out of nowhere."
And next year, the Buffs will be as hungry as ever, with a strong team of returning athletes focused on regaining the championship trophy and starting a new streak for the new millennium.
The CU triathlon team would like to thank their sponsors: Runners Choice, Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, Pearl Izumi, Power Bar, Rudy Project, Louisville Cyclery, Mickey C’s Bagels, Louis Garneau, and Atlas Snowshoes.