It's already been quite a year for Manuel Huerta. Then again, it's difficult to downplay a year in which you add the title "Olympian" to your resume. But his season didn't end in London, and there's plenty of work to do - including today in Buffalo.
The 28-year-old Huerta is looking for his first elite national title win today as the 2012 USA Triathlon Elite National Championship comes to Gallagher Beach. The women's elite race begins at noon with the men starting at 2:30.
This marks the second year that the ITU series has made a stop in Buffalo in conjunction with the Nickel City Triathlon.
"We got great support from the City of Buffalo and Eclipse Multisport did a great job organizing the event," said John Martin, the communications and media relations manager for USA Triathlon. "The event last year was well-supported and well-run."
USA Triathlon returns bringing elite level athletes to a spectator-friendly course. The ITU series is draft legal, meaning spectators will see a fast race with lots of action. The race begins with a 1500-meter swim followed by a 40-kilometer (24 mile) bike ride (with multiple loops) and a 10K run.
"It will be fast racing from the start," Martin said. "You need to have a good swim to make it into the lead bike pack. You'll see the athletes working together on the bike then laying it out over the 10K run to decide the podium. You'll be able to see the athletes come by a number of times and be able to see the flow of the race and how it unfolds."
Huerta will challenge for the men's title. Born in Cuba, he moved to Miami in 1997 and was a swimmer and runner at Florida Atlantic University.
Last year he was one of the most consistent performers on the U.S. Olympic-distance scene, ending his season with a silver medal at the 2011 Pan American Games.
Among his competition will be Jarrod Shoemaker, who is looking for his second Elite Nationals title. He won the event in 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and placed third in Buffalo last year. Defending champ Hunter Kemper is not in the field this year.
On the women's side, Sarah Haskins leads the pack having won five non-drafting events this season. A member of the U.S. National Team, she just missed out on qualifying for the London Games. She makes her first ITU start since an eighth-place finish at the 2012 ITU World Triathlon in San Diego in May. She won the Elite Nationals in 2006 and was second in 2007 and 2008.
Last year's champ Laura Bennett is not in the field this year.
Along with established triathlon names are a number of up-and-comers on the scene, including those competing in the Under-23 National Championship and those who are part of USA Triathlon's Collegiate Recruitment Program.
"That's a program which has been around the past three or four years and USA Triathlon is already starting to see the benefits of it," said Martin, noting that U.S. Olympian Gwen Jorgensen was part of the program. "The aim is to find athletes who are talented college swimmers and runners and also have potential in the bike. There are certain benchmarks they need to meet to be part of the program. The aim is finding some athletes who are a good fit for the Olympic pipeline."
Among the collegiate recruits competing today are last year's runner-up Kaleb VanOrt, a former runner at Notre Dame, and 2011 Under-23 national champion Kaitlin Shiver, a former runner at Florida.
The national events continue on Sunday as Buffalo hosts the final race in the 2012 USA Paratriathlon Race Series. As of Tuesday, 18 paratriathletes were scheduled to compete in the sprint-distance race. Triathlon will be added to the Paralympic Games in 2016.
Today begins with age-group intermediate distance and aquabike races followed by the ITU elite race. Sunday begins with an age-group sprint distance triathlon followed by the USA Triathlon Paratriathlon Race Series and an NFL Play 60 Kids Triathlon.