2003 Collegiate Triathlon Championships
By Ryan Ignatz
Photos by Nicole Gibson
April 26, 2003 (Puerto Penasco, Mexico) – As tall saguaro cacti captured the early morning sun casting shadows across the hilly desert landscape of Arizona, the sound of random tent zippers broke the silence. For the University of Colorado Triathlon Team, the low 60-degree weather was a treat from the previous week of cool rainy weather back home. With the high of reclaiming the National Championship last season, the Buffs were ready for another team title. The team overcame numerous obstacles throughout the season, but that was not about to stop them from accomplishing their goals.
Last years leading scorers, Chris Valenti, Blake Ottersberg, Sara Tarkington, and Jamie Sizzler have since moved on to pursue other avenues in their lives and were greatly missed. In addition to last year’s scorers, Justin Caskey battled a knee injury keeping him on the sidelines further throwing off dynamics of the previous year. Sunny Gilbert, the only remaining scorer from the 2002 team, is ready to race this year and has a great chance of taking the overall women’s title.
Another obstacle the team encountered was the loss of Head Coach Bettina Younge. Faced with the opportunity to run the junior development program at the Olympic Training Center, Bettina struggled with the decision to continue coaching the team but realized her role at the OTC would consume too much of her time. Moving up in the ranks from his assistant coaching position, Ryan Ignatz was ready for the challenge of taking over as head coach.
As head coach, Ignatz tried to keep the athletes focused through all the adversity while getting the team ready for Nationals with some early season racing. To start out the spring season, the team held their own aquathon to compete against the CU club swim team. Even with the wet snow coming down, everyone who raced enjoyed themselves and had a good starting point. With bad weather as a central theme, the team’s Olympic distance practice triathlon turned into another aquathon along with the triathlon event hosted by the Air Force Academy.
In hopes of remedying the issues of cold weather, over 30 Buffs made the 20 plus hour drive south of the border to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico for the 8th annual Rocky Point Traithlon. Once again, Mother Nature took control and high winds caused a cancellation of the 1500m-ocean swim in the Sea of Cortez. With a 2k beach run replacing the swim, the new course proved challenging, but black and gold prevailed with Ryan Ignatz winning the overall standings as well as the collegiate division. Replacing some of the strong men from last year’s team, Davin Anderson placed 2nd in the collegiate race with J.P. Henry (4th) playing a role in the overall men’s victory. For the women, Mary Dishman held her own, placing 4th. Followed closely behind were teammates Laura Freeman (5th) and Nicole Gibson (7th) helping the CU women to a first place finish with University of California Santa Barbara and UC San Diego rounding out the top standings.
With Nationals approaching, only one returning scorer and early season mishaps, CU’s team was still looking strong. On the men’s side, the depth seamed endless. J.P. Henry, Davin Anderson, Will Kelsay, Lance Panigutti and Christian Cravens were some of last year’s team members with scoring potential along with newcomer Micah Howard. The front-runners for the women consisted of returning members Sunny Gilbert, Hailey Garside, Mary Dishman and Susan Einberger while Kendra Snyder, Laura Freeman, Rachel Klein and Cindy Rosenberg rounded out the stronger new women.
Once at Nationals, just north of Phoenix, AZ at Lake Pleasant, the 56-member team started the beautiful spring morning with their game faces on. After a good warm-up to the venue, the hustle and bustle of the transition area began. Glances were being exchanged in every direction from team to team. Some of the top teams looking to snatch the Championship from CU were 2001 winners Montana, long time rivals Cal Poly, Stanford, and Navy.
As the 7:45am start time approached, the competition was already getting warmed up as teams began chanting their cheers before heading down the boat ramp to the chilly spring water. When the horn sounded the first men’s wave churned up the water, kicking off the event. Three minutes later, the first female wave battled for position around the diamond shaped swim course.
Amongst the front-runners out of the water, CU’s J.P. Henry exited in a time of 18:42 and was already a couple minutes off the blistering pace set by the Navy boys who completed the 1500 meter swim around 16:45. Shortly behind for the Buff’s were Lance Panigutti and in the following wave things were heated up by CU’s Davin Anderson, Ted Romero, Micah Howard and a list of others in black and gold. On the women’s side, the pace was set high by NAU’s Annie Warner who posted a 20:08 swim split. CU’s Sunny Gilbert was in the first chase pack about a minute back and ready for action once on land. Some of the other quick swimmers from the CU women were Rachel Klein, Kendra Snyder, Mary Dishman, Susan Eignberger, and Laura Freeman just to name a few.
With temperatures starting to rise, things began to heat up as the racers tackled the hilly landscape over the 40-kilometer bike course. Putting a gap on his next competitor, Stanford’s Erik Bean was first off the bike after posting a blistering 58:33 bike split on the rough pavement. Also making up lots of time on the swimmers, Anderson squeaked into the top ten while Micah Howard pulled ahead of teammate J.P. Henry. The women’s race saw a similar change in the first place spot as Univ. of Virginia’s Andrea Dvorak entered transition alone. Not far behind for CU was Sunny Gilbert looking fresh for the run. A bit off the pace but still making up ground were CU’s Cindy Rosenberg and Hailey Garside.
Bikes racked and shoes on, the competitors set off on the extremely hilly and exposed10k run course of mixed pavement and dirt roads. Holding his lead, Eric Bean posted the fastest time of the day in scorching 1:54:50 and set a new course record. Just over three minutes back O’Donnell crossed while still under 2 hours Virginia Tech’s Dan Peairs rounded out the top three men for the day. CU’s top male scorers were Davin Anderson (9th), Micah Howard (24th), and J.P. Henry (29th).
For the women, Dvorak also held onto her 1st place spot finishing in a quick time of 2:11:52. Making up lots of time with the fastest run split was Sunny Gilbert coming in just two minutes back for another second place finish like the previous season. Rounding out the women’s top scorers were Cindy Rosenberg (7th), and Hailey Garside (12th). Overall on the day, CU’s team showed dominance in numbers and everyone on the team seemed to have great individual performances.
While the buffaloes cleaned up and packed the trailers to get ready for the long haul back, results were being tallied and the western themed banquet was being set up. The final results put CU’s men in 4th behind Navy (1st), Univ. of Hawaii (2nd), and Stanford (3rd) while the women’s team cleaned up for another first place title followed by Cal Poly and Stanford. For the label of the 2003 National Collegiate Champions, CU once again prevailed with the depth of the female squad, making this the 8th National Championship in CU history. The competition was again close putting Cal Poly right behind in second and Stanford in third.
For a first time collegiate race site, Jonathan Grinder of Tucson Racing, Inc. was pleased with how the event as a whole turned out and should be hosting the event next year as well.