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Notable: Searching For U.S. Olympic Stars

  • By Kim McDonald
  • Published Jan 6, 2014
  • Updated Feb 20, 2014 at 9:55 PM UTC
Photo: John Segesta

This article was originally published in the Nov./Dec. 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.

For the past five years, Barb Lindquist has invited college swimmers and runners she thinks have the potential to switch to triathlon and make it on the ITU circuit to a week-long camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. They get a taste of what being an Olympian is all about. In return, Lindquist, a former standout swimmer from Stanford University who represented the U.S. in triathlon in the 2004 Olympics, gets a closer look at the dozen or so swimmers and runners she handpicks each summer for her USA Triathlon-sponsored Collegiate Recruitment Camp.

While cycling may be the longest discipline in triathlon, cyclists need not apply. “Swimming and running are so much more skill-based than cycling,” she explains while USA Triathlon running coach Bobby McGee guides the athletes through their running drills. “Our theory is that if you have a motor from swimming or running, we can teach you how to bike.”

No one argues with that approach, not after Lindquist brought a walk-on swimmer and runner from the University of Wisconsin at Madison named Gwen Jorgensen to her 2010 camp and helped launch her as the fastest-rising star on Team USA. In two short years, Jorgensen went from a total novice to representing the U.S. at the 2012 London Games. She also won the 2013 USA Triathlon Elite National Championship and this year became the first U.S. woman ever to win an ITU World Triathlon Series race, a feat she accomplished three times in 2013.

“With Gwen, I saw quite quickly that on paper she had more draft-legal potential than I did,” Lindquist says. “Gwen was an interesting case, because initially she was a little reluctant. She wasn’t like, ‘I’m all in.’ She was working and she had a career [as a CPA] and we kind of approached her and said, ‘Here’s another option.’ So with every success in triathlon she had, she cut back on her hours at work.” Jorgensen was able to quit her job entirely last winter.

RELATED: Jorgensen’s Rise To No. 1

Lindquist isn’t expecting to find another Jorgensen anytime soon. “Gwen was definitely a special case,” she says. “But the level of athletes I have at this camp has been raised each year. When I look back at some of the athletes I’ve brought in the first year of this program, they wouldn’t have made the cut.”

Some of the others who have emerged from her program include Kaleb VanOrt, a track and cross-country standout from the University of Notre Dame, and Katie Hursey, a runner at Syracuse University who, in August, won her second straight ITU World Cup in only her first year as a professional triathlete.

Not only does Lindquist fly the athletes to her camp, but she also brings their coaches, who provide coaching pro bono for the selected athlete for the following year under a coaching mentorship agreement with Lindquist. “We set up a call once a month to review the training and see how everything is going,” she says.

Many of the coaches are repeat performers. Cindi Bannink, a Madison, Wis., triathlon coach and the 2011 USAT Coach of the Year, accompanied Jorgensen to the camp in 2010 and came to this year’s camp with another one of her potential stars she wanted Lindquist to check out. “The sport is growing, so kids are more aware that triathlon is out there,” Bannink says. “When Gwen was offered the opportunity to try triathlon, she had sort of done one, but didn’t realize that was something you could do as part of an Olympic movement. Now with more triathlons popping up across the country, the exposure is there for people to be aware that it’s a sport they could participate in.” And with Lindquist’s guidance, maybe some will get the chance, like Jorgensen, to do it full-time while representing the U.S.

RELATED: Inside the London Olympics Athletes’ Village

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