The Triathlon: London Calling |

The Triathlon: London Calling

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of triathlons. The triathlon was born in San Diego, which is where I grew up. Friday, I went down to see one of the races in the ITU World Triathlon championship series. The race was important because the best female triathletes would be competing and because the final spot on the United States Olympic team for the women’s triathlon at the 2012 London Games would be determined by the race.

So yes, Bachelor fans, even though neither Matt Grant nor Shayne Lamas were at the race, in a very real sense for these athletes, “London [was] Calling.”

I also went to to the race to support and cheer for Sarah Haskins. Sarah competed in the 2008 Beijing Games for the United States and was trying to qualify for her second straight Olympics. Even though I had never met Sarah before, she is a friend of a friend and I have been a fan of Sarah’s since I got into triathlons about a year and a half ago (Sarah has an awesome blog with race recaps that can be found here…).

I had a bit of a drive to get to the race. You would think that I would know my way around San Diego, but I missed a turn and ended up stuck on the wrong side of Mission Bay. I had to backtrack and go all the way around just as the race was about to start!

Then I hit traffic and was afraid that I would miss a huge chunk of the race. These athletes are so fast that I didn’t think I could risk waiting for traffic to clear or hitting even more road closures due to the event. My GPS told me that I was 2 miles or so from the starting line…that was good enough for me! I parked down a side street and started hoofing it.

I figured a good brisk 2 mile jog was doable–especially following my Ironman ordeal of last week. Plus I figured that 2 miles was nothing compared to what these athletes were about to do! My 2 mile or so jog ended up being a good workout and I showed up just in time to see the athletes start lap 2 of the swim.

The race itself was exciting. Sarah was great. She was second out of the water (as far as I could tell) and was in the lead group of riders on the bike. She pushed and pushed during the bike portion of the run–unwilling to simply hold back or play it safe.

Sarah made several attacks on the bike but was unable to get any other riders to break away with her. The bike portion was tense because Sarah was locked in a duel with Laura Bennett–another top American–for the final spot on the U.S. team. Only one of them would make the team and both of them were neck and neck during the bike.

The bike portion was 25 miles–8 laps–and the riders would come whizzing through the transition area where they were cheered on by the fans in the grandstands.

Coming out of the transition between the bike and the run, Sarah had to make up some ground to catch Laura Bennett. But Sarah did it. Amazingly, she managed to close the gap and hung in 4th place–just off Laura’s shoulder for the first 2 (out of 3 laps) on the run.I actually have video of them coming through on the bell lap, but I can’t post it because some loud mouth holding the camera (i.e. me) is yelling way too loud! Trust me, I can’t embarrass myself by posting it here, but I make no apologies for trying to cheer Sarah on.

In the end, Sarah finished less than a minute behind Laura Bennett. She would not receive the final slot fo the U.S. Ollympic team. But Sarah’s post-race reaction showed that she had the true heart of a champion.

Despite having worked, sacrificed, and shed blood sweat, and tears for four years to try and make the Olympic team, one of the first things that I heard Sarah talk about after the race was to congratulate Laura Bennett on Laura’s race. Sarah then spent some time talking to her parents and to the rest of her supporters that had showed up at the race.
I’m sure that the last thing that Sarah wanted to do was to have to visit and chat with new people. But she took the time to meet and shake hands with every single person that had come to cheer her on–whether she had met them before or not. I was thrilled when I was actually introduced to her and got a chance to shake her hand.But Sarah didn’t just make time for her supporters (i.e. the people like me in the great t-shirts!). I personally saw her graciously sign autographs and pose for pictures with at least 2-3 young girls who came to watch the race. These girls could not have been more than 11 or 12 years old and they clearly had stars in their eyes to be in the presence of these amazing professional athletes like Sarah.

And Sarah did more than just merely scribble her name on a piece of paper. She actually took time to talk to these young girls, to ask them if they did triathlons themselves, and to express an interest in the girls themselves. I’m sure that those young fans will probably always remember that moment.
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Keep in mind that Sarah did all of this before she really had even had a chance to sit down and rest following the race. And she had to be still mentally processing the inevitable disappointment that she must have felt over not making the Olympic team.Following the race, I got a chance to be a fly on the wall as Sarah “talked shop” and discussed some of her strategy for the race. We were in a pretty small group that included Sarah’s husband/coach and a couple of other people that Sarah already knew. It wasn’t lost on me that, even though she had only met me a few minutes before, Sarah made an effort to include me in the conversation and even answered a couple of questions that I asked. I hope I didn’t embarrass myself too much by doing so, but I appreciated how incredibly gracious she was.

Regardless of whether she came in first or last in this race or the next, Sarah Haskins has the heart of a champion. She never quit during race and she didn’t “save anything for the swim back.” I hope that Sarah still gets the chance to be a part of the Olympic team. But whether she goes “London Calling” or not, she embodies the Olympic ideals and represents what is best and most virtuous (and increasingly rare!) about sports these days. What a pleasure to be able to rub shoulders (if ever so briefly) with someone like that!

Good luck Sarah! We’re still cheering for you!

For more on this story, click here.

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