Series Attracts the Elite to D.C.

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 21, 2009

The world's best triathletes will gather at West Potomac Park this morning for the Dextro Energy Triathlon - ITU World Championship Series. The triathlon will take them through the Potomac River, the Tidal Basin, the National Mall and Capitol Hill and, for some, to the 2012 Olympics.

The International Triathlon Union championship series features eight races around the globe. More than 100 elite triathletes, including 10 of the top finishers from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, will swim, bike and run in the D.C. leg today. It is the series's only stop in North America, and the race will have a hometown feel for some of the participants.

"With the race in South Korea [in Tongyeong, the first leg of the series], going there and not knowing the language or what to eat or anything was difficult," said triathlete Rebeccah Wassner, a Watkins Mill High graduate. "That's all eliminated here, so I can just focus on my race."

Wassner has been running since her days at the Gaithersburg school.

"I'm very excited because I've done so many runs in this area," she said. "I have memories to think about at every monument."

George Mason University graduate Matt Chrabot agreed. "I'm familiar with the bars in Adams Morgan from college," he joked.

"Having family and friends come to watch me in a race of this magnitude, with the caliber of competition, is pretty amazing," he said.

Holding an international triathlon event in Washington has been a longtime goal for Melissa Merson, a member of the ITU Executive Board.

"I've always had a dream to have flags of different nations down Pennsylvania Avenue at the finish line," she said.

She discussed the idea with Nation's Triathlon founder Charles Brodsky. After a joint trip to Beijing to watch the Olympic triathlon, Brodsky was sold and the two convinced the ITU to hold a race here.

"They wanted cities that had iconic monuments that were instantly recognizable to people on television," Merson said. "Obviously, the White House and the Washington Monument are, so we made it happen."

There are two competition groups: the age group and elite group. The age group races on either the Olympic course or the sprint course, and gives athletes not in the ITU series the opportunity to compete in USA Triathlon-sanctioned races. The Olympic track is a 1.5-kilometer swim, 40K bike and 10K run, while the sprint is a 750-meter swim, 20K bike and 5K run. The elite group features the ITU competitors and follows Olympic race standards.

Spots in the 2012 Olympics are at stake for the ITU athletes, so the competition will be fierce. Participants win points in the Olympic qualifying system depending on their finishes in the championship series races, something that is in the back of everyone's mind.

"I definitely have my eyes on 2012," Chrabot said. "No question about that."

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