The University of Colorado’s triathlon team formed 20 years ago, and since then has won 13 national championships.
In other words, they win more often than not.
On Saturday, the team won its 13th title at the 2012 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The overall team competitions are scored on a points system based on the finishing place of the team’s top four male and female competitors. CU’s points total put them in a commanding lead — CU finished with 100 points overall, while the second place U.S. Naval Academy scored 259, and third place California scored 267.
“I think Arizona’s men had 123 points,” said CU head coach Mike Ricci of the second place men’s team. “So our whole team had less points than their men. I don’t think other teams have the depth.”
Also, Ricci said: “I think there’s so many good people on the team, it just raises everyone’s level up.”
Last year, CU’s Rudy Kahsar won the men’s race after University of California-Irvine’s Dustin McLarty crossed the line first, but was given a two-minute penalty. In this year’s race, McLarty dusted the competition in the swim and never looked back. Meanwhile, Kahsar was kicked in the face in the water.
“Around the second turn, I got kicked really hard in the face,” he said. “I have a black eye. I lost my goggles and had to stop for a minute.”
Going into the run, Kahsar was chasing University of Arizona’s Ben Kanute, who ended the race in third place.
“Right about mile 4.5 or so, Dave Scott, Drew’s dad — who is this amazing triathlete — was like, ‘you’re looking good, Rudy, he’s dying, go for it!’ So I was like, alright, and then I dropped Ben,” Kahsar said. He laughed and added that it was unbelievable to have Scott, who won six Ironman world championships in the ‘80s, cheer him on mid-race.
(Drew Scott took fifth in the race, followed immediately by teammate Chris Baden in sixth.)
In the end, Kahsar couldn’t catch McLarty and took second, 26 seconds behind McLarty, despite improving his time on the nationals course by more than two minutes this year.
“For me, going into this race, I wasn’t very nervous or anything,” Kahsar said. “Honestly, I was just kind of calm about it. I felt really good — I think being on the CU team is a really big confidence booster, because our team is so good that you know a lot of people have your back no matter what. I also felt confident because I knew I’d improved since last year.”
“I ended up getting second, but I probably had the best race of my life,” Kahsar added. “So I can’t complain too much, but it did sting a little.”
For the women, CU’s Tess Amer placed 12th, followed by Bryn Morales in 16th and Courtney Clark in 18th. Caryn Maconi, 35th, rounded out the women’s team’s first-place finish.
“Personally, I’m really proud of the whole team, but the girls especially,” Ricci said. “They rose up and met the challenge head on, and more important than that, they’re just really good kids.”
Ricci said the team is well-known, but for the athletes who hadn’t been to nationals before, it’s strange to have the other competitors staring at them, “like they’re Elvis or something,” he said with a chuckle.
“A kid from another team came up and said, ‘you have the nicest team’” Ricci said. “I tell the kids, winning is the icing on the cake — it’s being good people, doing community service.”
Sophomore Jesse Frank said the team tries to go into the championships weekend with a balanced mindset — somewhat laid back, but also focused on the competition.
“We try not to look at any of the press or blog, we just kind of do our own thing,” Frank said. “We know our strengths, believe in ourselves. For me personally, the best way to do that is stay loose and laugh about stuff and not psych myself out.”
“Being on the CU team is a whole experience in itself,” said Kahsar, who is a second-year doctoral student and might return to competition next year. “It’s so much fun, there’s so much talent on the team and everyone is so passionate about going hard and doing well, and they’re all my friends.”
“It’s the kind of weekend that you don’t ever want it to end.”