What USA Triathlon Collegiate Nationals Is Like

Here’s a story: At nationals, there was a Snapchat that everyone used. It wasn’t official. Just some guy from one of the colleges had made an account. All 1,200 athletes friended him, sent in snaps, which he screenshot-ed and then added to the nationals story. And then everyone clicked through all thousands of snaps. It was The Thing in Clemson. Most of it was selfies with funny captions or random pictures of people. There were poop jokes, a few bare asses, party plans, basically anything that was sort of ridiculous and fun. USAT must have gotten word of how all the kids were into the Snapchat, because then they made an official one. It was only official-like stuff of the actual races, nothing untoward or crazy. And no one used it. No one.

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Here are some observations and things that happened:

  • The official type people said at the awards ceremony that the nationals club championship has been happening since the early 1990s. Um, yeah. I dunno about that. Not unless you’re counting all those years Wildflower declared itself “the national college championships.” The first USAT-produced nationals was in 2007, I’m pretty sure.
  • The official type people also talked a lot about the sport becoming NCAA and the future of draft-legal racing. But I’m not sure they’ve actually talked to all the college students they’re supposedly speaking for. Because everyone I talked to didn’t really know too much about what the official people were talking about.
  • Another thing that happened at the awards ceremony: one team dressed up in horse heads staged an impromptu horse race around the gym.
  • When it came time to compete for the spirit award (which we should have won, by the way), the Santa Barbara team got up and did a song dressed as Pac-Man and whatever those things are that Pac-Man eats. Halfway through the song there was a turn and they stripped off their pants and started running around as underwear Pac-Man. The USAT official people didn’t seem to quite know what to do with that either.
  • Everyone shows up for nationals a few days early. Lots of driving overnight and long-distance bus trips. Then the hotels all get overrun with college triathletes.
  • There are more parents and friends that come to watch too than there used to be.
  • The main race (the non-drafting Olympic) is also much more serious than it used to be. There is seeding and a set number of spots for each team for each of the waves. There’s a gap between the men’s and women’s races. Transition closes early and there’s tons of USAT officials. It is very legit.
  • It is also very competitive.
  • Arguably, the top 3-5 were always pretty competitive. But now it’s competitive all the way through the top 100 or something. The depth has evolved. Especially on the women’s side—a development that I think you can see across the sport actually. Here are two charts The Kids made (I’m not 100% sure what analysis is suggested by these charts or what conclusions can be made in a broader sense, so let me know if you have analysis thoughts):

  • The swim is the most brutal part. There’s so many fast swimmers collegiately. But that’s not true in the age groups, so where do they all go? Do they forget how to swim?
  • Colorado always has really good bikers.
  • Surprisingly, I don’t think there were any bad accidents. Even in the rain.
  • And, then, as is the custom, mostly everyone goes out after the awards ceremony and has a huge party that is sort of just declared a party wherever there happen to be triathletes in the same place. I felt kind of bad for the regular Clemson students who were confused by all these people wandering around their bars. And, then, everyone has to start the overnight bus rides and early morning cross-country flights back…

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