It’s called a triathlon for a reason, and, unfortunately, the USA Triathlon Collegiate Club & High School Nationals events in Tuscaloosa on Friday and Saturday will not fit that description.
Heightened volume in the Black Warrior River due to rainwater has forced the Holt Dam spillway gates to remain open through race weekend, resulting in strong currents deemed unsafe for swimming by USA Triathlon. Without swimming, the athletes will have to participate in duathlons instead.
Duathlon races remain divided into three sections — running, biking, then running again — but contain different strategies and pacing than a normal triathlon. The changes were disappointing to make for USA Triathlon, but teamwork with Tuscaloosa city officials has made for a smoother transition.
“We keep coming back to Tuscaloosa, and a lot of that is really just cooperation from the city,” USA Triathlon communications manager Caryn Maconi said. “They have been really supportive of us working on road closures and promoting the event. … Just in general they have been really welcoming in helping us work out all the logistics. So that’s always huge when trying to set up these events.”
Tuscaloosa hosted the Collegiate Club & High School Nationals last year, as well as in 2011 and 2012. The start and finish inside of the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, paired with the convenience of the Black Warrior River and the Tuscaloosa Riverwalk make the city the perfect place to host triathlon events.
Friday’s events will include the Draft-Legal National Championship for college athletes beginning at 8:15 a.m., and the High School National Championships at noon. Friday’s field of high school athletes will be the largest number of participants to ever compete in a USA Triathlon race.
“The high school nationals is really just the future of the sport,” Maconi said. ‘So that’s really cool to see those kids coming out, and they are super talented. If you want to see who is going to be the big name in five or 10 years it would be those athletes.”
Saturday will feature the Olympic-distance races for collegiate men and women beginning at 7:30 and 10:10 a.m., as well as the mixed-team relay at 4:15 p.m.
“The Olympic-distance race is kind of the marquee race of the whole event weekend,” Maconi said. “It started as the Olympic-distance race and we added events from there. We’ve had athletes win the Olympic-distance nationals that have gone on to become professional athletes, even Olympians.”
The mixed-team relay consists of two men and two women who each complete a mini triathlon before passing off to the next teammate. USA Triathlon will be including the mixed-team relay finishes in the final team scoring for the first time this year, following the lead of the Olympic Games, which added mixed-team triathlon relay to its program in 2020.
“The ability to see the (mixed-team relay) race format happen is really unique and that’s not something you would get to see every day,” Maconi said. “If you’re going to come out to one event I would even think the mixed-team relay would be the most fun to spectate.”