Two of triathlon’s most promising young stars won Junior Elite titles Saturday as Tony Smoragiewicz and Tamara Gorman, both from Rapid City, S.D., broke away on the run at the USA Triathlon Youth & Junior National Championships at Voice of America Park. Also on Day 1 of the two-day event, Darr Smith (Atlanta, Ga.) won his second straight Youth Elite title while Audrey Ernst (South Elgin, Ill.) stormed through the field to win the women’s Youth Elite championship in only her second appearance at Nationals.
Smoragiewicz, who won the bronze medal at the ITU World Junior Championships in 2011 and runs for the University of Michigan, earned his first national title by breaking away from Brent Demarest (Charleston, S.C.), Hunter Honeycutt (Tifton, Ga.) and Dillon Nobbs (La Verne, Calif.) on the second lap of the run in the sprint-distance event (750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike and 5-kilometer run). He finished in 57 minutes, 15 seconds while Demarest followed in 57:26 and Honeycutt was third in 57:32.
“It helps having a really good run, but I’ve been working on my swim, and it’s really my swim that affects the whole race,” Smoragiewicz said. “If I have a good swim, then I have a good race. If I have a bad swim then I have an OK race.”
In the Junior Elite women’s race, Gorman and Devon Dabney (Atlanta, Ga.) pulled away on the swim, overcame a crash by Gorman on the damp roads and started the run together before the South Dakotan pulled away to win her first Junior Elite title in 1:02:31. Gorman, who won bronze at the 2012 ITU World Junior Championships, will be returning to worlds in 2013, along with Dabney, who qualified with her 1:03:42 second-place finish in Ohio. Stephanie Jenks (Aurora, Iowa) rounded out the podium with a time of 1:04:09.
The 13-15-year-old Youth Elites covered a 375m swim, 10k bike and 2.5k run course that had dried out after rain overnight and early in the morning.
Smith and Austin Hindman (Wildwood, Mo.) produced the best finish of the day, with Smith edging Hindman in the chute – both finishing in 29:57. Benjamin Dingman (Colorado Springs, Colo.) finished third in 30:32.
While Smith repeating as national champion was no surprise, relative newcomer Ernst announced her arrival on the national scene with her first major podium finish — a national championship. At the 2012 event, Ernst finished 44th out of 57 Youth Elite women. This year, her time of 33:35 put her ahead of Kyleigh Spearing of Frankfort, Ill., (33:51) and Grace Obando of Herndon, Va., who finished in 33:55.
“I was just trying to keep up with all the great athletes out there,” Ernst said. “I was trying to be like them and push it until the end. I never thought I’d be able to win, but this is so exciting for me. I have all these people supporting me and helping me get through it.”
Athletes competing Saturday have multiple draft-legal races to their credit and it showed as the level of competition continues to progress.
“This season, we’ve noticed it from the first race of the year, that the skill level has improved quite a bit over the past two to three years. That’s attributed to the high performance coaches working with their athletes at home,” said Steve Kelley, USA Triathlon’s athlete development coordinator. “The bike packs have been larger and more tactical. We’ve seen more aggressive racing and all of that is producing at the end quality teams when we go to international races.”
The following athletes will represent the U.S. at the ITU World Junior Championships in London next month: Gorman, Dabney, Jenks, Smoragiewicz, Demarest and Eli Hemming of Kiowa, Colo., who did not compete Saturday.
Sunday features the Mixed Team Relay and youth age-group races. The relay begins at 8 a.m. ET. Visit www.usatriathlon.org/youthnationals for more information.
2013 USA Triathlon Junior and Youth National Championships Results
Youth Elites: 375m swim, 10k bike, 2.5k run
3. Grace Obando (Herndon, Va.), 33:55
3. Benjamin Dingman (Colorado Springs, Colo.), 30:32