Olympic Hopefuls Head to Pan American Games

Pan Am Games-bound Andy Potts celebrates a victory in New Zealand in 2006.<br><br><strong>Photo: David Fairey/Getty Images</strong>

For many athletes, the dream of reaching the Olympics is one that is far out of reach. However, for several athletes based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado, that dream just got much closer to reality.

A team of six American triathletes, including Sarah Haskins, Sara McLarty, Andy Potts and Brian Fleischmann from Colorado Springs, will be representing the United States at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on July 15.

"I think it is going to be a great experience. It was a goal of mine for along time," said Haskins, 26. "I started about three years ago as a professional, and I have just been progressing each year."

It hasn't been as easy as it sounds for Haskins or any of her teammates. They regularly train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs with coach Cliff English and have worked on a variety of skills during their run to the Pan American Games.

"I have just been taking small steps in my improvement in the swim, bike and run areas. Getting experience in the world last year by doing a lot of world cups and by racing international events has helped and I have progressed forward," said Haskins. After all of the preparation that these athletes have put in, one would think that such success is expected. But, even after reaching such a lofty goal, Haskins demonstrates the driving force behind successful world-class athletes.

"It's pretty unbelievable when I think about it. I am very happy with how my season is going so far," said Haskins. "This is just the step forward in my progress. I want to continue to progress, farther and reach my bigger goals, like qualifying for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China."

Sacrificing for the team

One of the more interesting twists to the story of these athletes is that Laura Bennett, not McLarty, was actually selected for the team. But like any true team player, Bennett gave up her spot to McLarty for the better of the team.

"I feel honored because Laura qualified and gave up her spot so I could go," said McLarty, 24. "I guess I better go down there and do my thing." Haskins was actually willing to let McLarty take her spot as well, but instead will join her in Rio de Janeiro.

"Laura and I had talked about it, because one of us was going to give up our spot to Sara because Sara is a key teammate in a race like this. She is a very strong swimmer, and she creates situations where we have a gap in the swim and we can work together on the bike and then come off the bike and have a lead on the run," said Haskins.

"It was great that Laura and I were willing to step up and focus on teamwork, which will ultimately get medals for the U.S. at the Pan Ams and ultimately the Olympic Games."

For the next two weeks, Haskins and the rest of the members of the U.S. Triathlon Pan Ams team will train in Colorado Springs before traveling to Washington, D.C. on July 10 and then to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on July 11. Haskins says training in Colorado definitely has its advantages.

"It's beautiful here, but I definitely think the altitude has helped me and I notice when I go down to sea level, I feel stronger cardiovascularly, but you do have to be smart about it," she said. "If you haven't been at altitude for a while, a couple of weeks before an event is not always the best timing because it takes a few weeks to adjust. Fortunately at the training center we can use supplemental oxygen which helps us reach the key speeds we need to hit."

Poised for success

The athletes were selected based on performances at the USA Triathlon Elite National Championship in Honolulu, Hawaii and at the Hy-Vee World Cup in Des Moines, Iowa. The top American athlete at each event earned a spot, with the second two spots going to athletes based on their average performances over the two races.

"This is great international experience for athletes who are potential Olympians," said USAT Sport Performance Director Scott Schnitzspahn. "I'm excited about the team we have. Depending on the tactics we use, any of our athletes can win."

For the men, national champion Potts has to be the early favorite after producing a number of wins against strong competition early this season, but both Jarrod Shoemaker and Fleischmann have had consistent performances and will do their part to medal at this international event. Canadians Paul Tichelar, Kyle Jones, and Brent McMahon should provide strong competition.

Julie Swail, who earned her first national title in Honolulu in May, has been running well and will look to work with Haskins and McLarty, who use a strong swim leg to regularly get the American athletes in the lead pack on the bike. The biggest competition for the team will come from Canada and Brazil.

"Looking at the competition, the way we can get an American on the podium is to break away on the swim, work it on the bike and then have a fast runner go and do her thing," said McLarty. "For us, I think we would feel that we accomplished out goal if we bring home the gold medal."

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