TEMPE, Arizona — Colorado State University’s Hayley Belles, Meghan Smith and Katrina Lems earned the first podium sweep in USA Triathlon Collegiate Club National Championships history on Saturday afternoon in Tempe, Arizona. The Rams dominated the women’s Olympic-distance race, while Queens University of Charlotte was unstoppable in the men’s race, led by individual champion Jack Felix.
About 1,200 collegiate athletes from more than 100 club teams competed in the marquee event of Collegiate Club Nationals weekend. The Olympic-distance course was centered at Tempe Beach Park and featured a 1,500-meter swim, 41-kilometer bike and 10-kilometer run.
Rachel Zilinskas of the University of Minnesota had the top women’s swim of the day, exiting the water in 19 minutes, 2 seconds. The University of Florida’s Nicole Stafford was not far behind though, overtaking the Minnesota athlete in transition.
Stafford stayed out front for the first half of the bike course, before the University of California at Berkeley’s Anna Belk overtook her around the 20k mark. Belk held her lead for the rest of the bike, but three CSU athletes — Kiley Dindinger, Lems and Smith — were hot on her heels in the second-through-fourth positions heading onto the run.
While Dindinger’s pace slowed as the temperature warmed to nearly 80 degrees during the run, her teammate Belles was there to make up the ground. Belles started the run in eighth place and gradually moved through the field, ultimately passing Belk, Smith and Lems to take the win in 2 hours, 18 minutes, 6 seconds. Smith worked her way into the second position with a time of 2:18:21, and Lems outsprinted Belk by just six seconds to complete the podium sweep in 2:18:59.
“We’ve been working hard together all season,” Belles said. “We really push each other on our strengths and weaknesses, and we pulled it together last-minute. There were some bumps in the road (during the season), and it all came together today. Seeing each other 1-2-3, especially on the turnarounds was awesome. I think it just encouraged us all to keep going.”
CSU’s sweep was not the only historic moment in the women’s race. Grace Norman of Cedarville University, who won a gold medal in paratriathlon (PT4 division) at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, became just the second adaptive athlete ever to compete in the able-bodied field at Collegiate Club Nationals. She joins Allysa Seely, also a 2016 Paralympic gold medalist (PT2 division), who raced for Arizona State University in 2011.
In the men’s race, two Queens athletes — Felix and Justin Lippert — finished first and third respectively, with Roy Madrid of the University of Colorado splitting them up in second place. Queens dominated the men’s field as a team, landing six finishers in the top 20.
The University of Arizona’s David Conger led the first wave out of the water, just as he did in Friday’s collegiate draft-legal race. He was followed closely by Tyler Andree of Cal Poly, Maximillian Sperl of Queens, Bear Schickel of Cal Berkeley, and Felix.
Felix moved into the lead early on the bike, but the rest of the frontrunners — Sperl, Schickel, Madrid, Queens’ Joel-Tyler Rodgers, CSU’s Shea Mielke, Colorado’s Seth Kurtz and the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Gordon Williams — were all still in contention and trading places throughout the 41k ride.
With a few kilometers left on the bike, Felix was overtaken by Williams and Rogers. He didn’t let up for long though, reclaiming the lead by the 3k mark on the run course.
Schickel, Madrid and Sperl continued to battle on the run, all less than 90 seconds behind Felix — but another Queens athlete, Lippert, was gaining on the field. In the final kilometers, Lippert made his move and established himself in podium position.
Felix ultimately broke the tape with a time of 1:55:18. Madrid of Colorado crossed the line 40 seconds later in 1:55:59, and Lippert came through for third in 1:57:21.
“This is what we wanted after last year. Everything went wrong last year,” Felix said. “We had one goal not to mess anything up this year, and we knew it would go well. We just knew we wanted to control the race and have as many guys as possible toward the front to use our numbers. When we have so many guys together, it’s so easy for us to work off each other. We knew if we could get that group of guys at the front of the race, we’d be able to work off each other better than any of the other teams.”
Racing at Collegiate Club Nationals wraps up Saturday afternoon with the Mixed Team Relay event, showcasing the fast-paced race format that will debut as a medal event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Relay teams are comprised of four athletes (two men, two women), with each one covering a 250m swim, 5k bike and 1.2k run before handing off to the next teammate.
The Collegiate Club Nationals team titles — men’s, women’s and overall — will be announced after the Awards Ceremony, set for Saturday at 8 p.m. PT. Results from both the draft-legal and Olympic-distance races will factor into the men’s and women’s team scores, while the Mixed Team Relay will factor into overall (combined men’s and women’s) team scoring.
USA Triathlon Collegiate Club Olympic-Distance National Championships
1,500m swim, 41k bike, 10k run
Collegiate Men — Complete Results
1. Jack Felix (Queens University of Charlotte), 1:55:18
2. Roy Madrid (University of Colorado, Boulder), 1:55:59
3. Justin Lippert (Queens University of Charlotte), 1:57:21
4. Maximillian Sperl (Queens University of Charlotte), 1:57:29
5. Bear Schickel (University of California, Berkeley), 1:57:43
Collegiate Women — Complete Results
1. Hayley Belles (Colorado State University), 2:18:06
2. Meghan Smith (Colorado State University), 2:18:21
3. Katrina Lems (Colorado State University), 2:18:59
4. Annika McBride (University of California at Berkeley), 2:19:05
5. Anna Belk (University of California at Berkeley), 2:19:26