The USA’s Lukas Verzbicas kept his promise to training partner and friend Kevin McDowell when he turned in a world class performance to win the ITU Junior Men’s World Championship on the final race in Beijing on Sunday.
Verzbicas made a statement, he would return to triathlon for one more year to win the gold medal he was sure McDowell would have won had he not been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in March.
The prodigious runner did just that in Beijing, beating junior men’s European Champion Justus Nieschlag (GER) and another American, Tony Smoragiewicz over the line.
“It’s a big relief, I finally did it. It all just came together. It’s a great feeling,” said Verzbicas. “I was holding back tears on the podium, hearing the national anthem, it really meant a lot to me.”
Youth Olympic Games gold medallist Aaron Barclay (NZL) and bronze medallist Alois Knabl (AUT) were first out of the swim and joined by six other athletes. They formed two small groups leading onto the bike.
The chase pack which included Verzbicas, quickly caught the leaders on the first uphill and then rode together for the rest of the 20 kilometres pulling further away from the rest of field all the way into T2.
Nieschlag was the leader coming out of the transition, but Verzbicas’ world class running prowess came to the fore as he flew to the front rounding the first bend and stayed there to win by 34 seconds, in a total time of 56 minutes and 21 seconds.
“It’s just so amazing, that’s the best way to describe it, I’m just truly speechless, it’s hard to believe, coming into triathlon so late and be able to do this,” said Verzbicas.
“I really enjoyed the race, the swim was great,” said Nielschlag. “On the bike I was at the front, but it was very hard with the hills and the second transition was great too, I ran out first. I knew Verzbicas is very strong on the run, so I didn’t try to go with him and just tried to defend the second place.”
“I saw the group weren’t too far ahead coming out of T2, so that gave me hope for the run,” said Smoragiewicz. “I had worked really hard on the bike so I didn’t know if I was going to run that fast, but coming up to the last stretch I was in fifth and I said that I’d be thinking about this race for the rest of the year and not be happy with it if I finished fifth so I had to think of a strategy to get up there and I gave it another kick.”
The Junior Men’s World Championship decided over a sprint distance of a 750m swim, 20km bike and a 5km run, wraps up the week of racing in Beijing.
Final Results – ITU Triathlon World Championships
Junior Men – 750km swim, 20km bike, 5km run
1. Lukas Verzbicas USA 56:21
2. Justus Nieschlag GER 56:54
3. Tony Smoragiewicz USA 56:59
4. Ron Darmon ISR 57:06
5. Matt Brown AUS 57:11
6. Matthias Steinwandter ITA 57:19
7. Alois Knabl AUT 57:28
8. David Pap HUN 57:30
9. Raphael MONTOYA FRA 57:35
10. Gordon Benson GBR 57:37
19. Tyler Mislawchuk CAN 57:55
20. Francis Lefebvre CAN 57:58
22. Tristan Woodfine CAN 58:08
26. Marc-Antoine Christin CAN 58:34