TUSCALOOSA, Alabama -- Jarrod Shoemaker succumbed to a second surge by Australian Brendan Sexton but prevailed over all his countrymen, and Laura Bennett outran Sarah Groff to win the USA Triathlon elite nationals at Tuscaloosa.
On a steamy, swampy third day of autumn that left dozens of competitors immersed in ice baths to lower their overheated core temperatures, Bennett used a race-best 37:32 10k run to dominate the women's field and Shoemaker managed a US-best 33:04 to carve out a second place overall to Sexton and a 10-second margin over national elite runner-up Timothy O'Donnell.
"It's been a long, tough season," said Shoemaker, who is coming off a shocking back-of-the pack finish at the ITU World Championship Series finale at Budapest two weeks ago. "I've never done well at this race before, so it is really nice to finish off the season with a win over a really great field of Americans. I tried to fight off Sexton, but he was running too well at the end and I had nothing left in the tank."
"It's been seven years since I won one of these," said an elated Bennett at the finish. "So I'll take it!"
Unlike the women's race, where five women swam and biked ran away from the field, 17 of the ultimate 25 finishers finished the swim in 80-degree waters of the Black Warrior River in a crowded stampede between Kalen Darling's 17:46 and Ethan Brown's 18:04. By the time the bike got organized, the lead pack swelled to 22 going into the last of eight 5k laps.
"I was a little surprised at how big the pack was," said Tim O'Donnell. "But no country has a bigger or better core group of swimmers than the United States. And we have a lot of great swimmer-bikers. I know there were too many great swimmer-bikers for anyone to truly get away."
Still, the memory of Matt Reed's upset victory here at the 2008 US Olympic Trials motivated a half dozen men to make a last lap move reminiscent of Reed's 2008 charge to seize an edge starting the run. "We managed to get a gap on the last lap," said O'Donnell. "Look at the guys in that group -- Greg Bennett, Matt Reed, [defending champion] Matt Chrabot and myself -- all great non-drafting racers. It was a great way to get a little lead. The only problem was we could not drop Jarrod Shoemaker. I had planned to win but knew I had to break away from Jarrod -- and we could not do it."
Not to forget 26-year-old Brendan Sexton of Australia, whose best day in the sport was his second place at the 2007 Under 23 ITU World Championship. The 2010 model Sexton was a forgotten factor. Only he was encouraged by his recent 26th place finish at Budapest. "I planed to take it out hard for the first 2 kilometers," said Sexton, who was as good as his word and took a 50 meter lead halfway through the first of four laps of the 10k run. Just 1k into the run, Shoemaker made a charge and breezed by Sexton with what looked like a definitive move.
"I pretty much conceded myself to second after he caught me and opened a 50-meter gap," recalled Sexton. "He maintained that for two laps, then all of a sudden I was right behind him again. My plan had been to push hard the first lap and settle in, but it was tough to maintain in those conditions. It was really hot out there."
"I tried really hard to go with him, but I didn’t have anything else in the tank," said Shoemaker. He just kind of slowly reeled me in and there was nothing I could do. I didn’t feel as strong as I thought I would at the end."
Both Shoemaker and O'Donnell felt a sense of redemption with their podium finishes.
"Budapest was a great disappointment for me," said Shoemaker, who finished 51st. "I was in great shape, but the course was just awful. It was unsafe - potholes, bumps, railroad tracks. It was unsafe when it was dry - but then it was raining. But that's triathlon. You just have to come back and work hard."
O'Donnell has been frustrated throughout 2010 after deciding to focus on making the 2012 US Olympic team. After making his mark with a 2009 ITU long course World Championship and earning a series of wins at the Ironman 70.3 distance, O'Donnell found himself unable to get USAT to give him starts at World Cups because his focus had been on non-drafting and long course races.
"It's hard," said O'Donnell. "In the United States most of us make our careers in non-drafting races. You need to find a balance between representing our country and being able to make a living. This year I wasn't able to get an entry to the World Cup at Huatulco. Today I beat a lot of very good American men. I just hope USAT recognizes my ability at the Olympic distance and gives me some leeway to get back into some ITU races."
Bennett, who was the most consistently excellent US woman on the ITU World
Championship Series this year, joined Sarah Groff, Sara McLarty, Annabel Luxford and Sarah Haskins on a five-woman swim-bike breakaway that took the rest of the field out of contention. When Haskins dropped out due to a lingering injury, Bennett put her stamp on the race with a run that left Groff 3:29 back at the wire.
""It was really hot out there," said Bennett. "Maybe the rest of them were slowing down at the end. I was slowing down too, for sure. It was going to be tough no matter what."
Bennett was particularly pleased to have been part of an old-fashioned (like the days of Barb Lindquist, Sheila Taormina, Loretta Harrop, Nicole Hackett ) swim-bike breakaway. "It was nice to win off the bike today," said Bennett, a four-time ITU World Championship medalist (2003-4-5 and 2007), winner of the $200,000 first prize at Hy-Vee, and 4th place finisher at the 2008 Beijing Olympic triathlon. "It was a tight group and we did a good job working well together."
Bennett was also pleased with her 2010 season where she averaged 8th place finishes on the ultra-competitive ITU World Championship Series. "This year is not the time to hit my peak and dig a hole preparing for races," she said. "I won’t be doing that until it's time to medal at the London Olympic Games."
USA Triathlon Elite National Championship
September 25, 2010
S 1.5k/ B 40k/ R 10k
1. Brendan Sexton (AUS) 1:53:48
2. Jarrod Shoemaker (Maynard MA) 1:54:13
3. Timothy O'Donnell (Boulder CO) 1:54:23
4. Matt Chrabot (Virginia Beach VA) 1:55:04
5. Matt Reed (Boulder CO) 1:55:22
6. Steven Sexton (Pilot Hill CA) 1:55:27
7. Kevin Collington (Orlando FL) 1:56:24
8. Andrew Russell (CAN) 1:57:23
9. Ethan Brown (Lowell MA) 1:58:01
10. Brian Lamar (Whittier CA) 18:19
1. Laura Bennett (Boulder CO) 2:04:13
2. Sarah Groff (Hanover NH) 2:07:42
3. Annabel Luxford (AUS) 2:09:10
4. Nicole Kelleher (Charlottesville VA) 2:10:09
5. Chantelle Widney (CAN) 2:11:00
6. Jillian Petersen (Colorado Springs CO) 2::11:38
7. Tenille Hoogland (CAN) 2:12:19
8. Gwen Jorgenson (Milwaukee WI) 2:12:53
9. Lauren Goss (Mt. Pleasant SO) 2:13:14
10. Jessica Broderick (Middlebury CT) 2:14:05
1. Kalen Darling (Spokane WA) 1:58:58
2. Nicholas Vandam (Colorado Springs CO) 2:00:24
3. Derek Oskutis (Niceville FL) 2:04;48
4. Nicholas Sterghos (Killeen TX) 2:15:32
1. Lauren Goss (Mt. Pleasant SO) 2:13:14
2. Jessica Broderick (Middlebury CT) 2:14:05
3. Lauren Goldstein-Kral (Williamstown MA) 2:15:24
4. D'Ann Arthur (Dallas TX) 2:17:06