Triathlon combine looking for NCAA athletes

Triathlon combine will take place Aug. 17 at Cheyenne Mountain High School

The idea to have a combine — the showcase event that has been made widely popular by the NFL over the years — but to have it for the sport of triathlon, was the brainchild of Tim Yount, the chief operating officer for USA Triathlon.

The idea percolated December of 2018 during a long bike ride outside triathlon’s national headquarters located in Colorado Springs. When Yount returned from it, he got it on paper, and six months later — in a sport that is rapidly growing on the collegiate scene across the country — he said the board of directors approved the idea and funded it with $50,000 for the next two years.

“It’s fun when you get to create the genesis of a program doing something you’re already enjoying,” Yount cracked. “And I love to bike ride.”

The national governing body for triathlons has wedged itself into the college scene over the last five years and it’s clear that their pursuit to grow into a household-name sport is only getting started.

Approved as a female sport by the NCAA in 2014 and deemed an “emerging sport” (a program created in 1994 by the association’s gender equity task force), women’s triathlon can next establish itself into a full-status, championship sport if they reach 40 programs by 2024.

Currently, there are 30 women’s programs in the country, including one at Colorado Mesa University. Men’s triathlon at the NCAA level, meanwhile, is still several years away due to equity reasons.

“The NCAA program has been a really high priority by USA Triathlon since it was accepted by the NCAA,” Yount said. “The idea of a combine is to really put ourselves in position to give the institutions engaged with us a chance to recruit athletes. And at the same time we’re doing a combine for the NCAA programs, we figure, why not have a combine that also allows the collegiate club system to be part of that recruitment process as well, (which include programs at CU, CSU and Air Force).”

USA triathlon is hoping for 10 combines around the nation this year. Colorado Springs will be hosting one of them Aug. 17 from 8 a.m. until noon at Cheyenne Mountain High School for females ages 12-18. The focus of the showcase is to connect junior high and high school athletes with NCAA programs or possibly one of the various other collegiate club teams.

Athletes will be timed in the 100-meter swim and 1,600-meter run. The event will also include discussion about the sport and its future in the NCAA.

In front of it, USA Triathlon is hoping to persuade single-sport athletes to attend. During their short run in the NCAA, various programs have already proven successful in pursuing single-sport swimmers and runners out of high school. Yount said the back-to-back D-III championship program at North Central College (Illinois) is one of these programs to have adopted this thinking.

“We don’t care if you have any experience in triathlon,” Yount said. “It’s not really ultimately intended for the triathlete. It’s intended for that single-sport athlete, that person that might have done a little swimming and running growing up. Maybe they’re a high school sophomore who is currently in track and field but they were a youth swimmer. Maybe they’re currently swimming in high school, but they were part of some running club growing up as a kid.

“We could care less about cycling. You can teach anybody to cycle … We had an Olympic gold medalist, Gwen Jorgensen, she’d never been on a bike six years before she won Olympic gold in Rio.”

The combine welcomes all competitive levels of athlete. Times for the swim and run will be entered as a baseline into a database that can be searched by collegiate coaches and can be updated as they improve.

Gary Weston, a former longtime track and field and cross country coach at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs, is ahead of the combine. The event is free and currently limited to 30 participants — however, Yount said a wait list will be created if the demand is high enough.