Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Feeling Elite: The Collective Effervescence of Team USA at the 2012 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Feeling Elite: The Collective Effervescence of Team USA at the 2012 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final

Article excerpt


At the Olympic Games, nationalistic feelings peak among athletes (Kersting, 2007; Sullivan, 2009). Team members chosen by their respective National Olympic Committee to participate in the Games are recognized as not only the best in their sport but also as ambassadors of their respective nations. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the Frenchman responsible for the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896 said, "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well" (International Olympic Committee, 2012, p. 2). All nations, large or small, strong or weak, are encouraged to participate, not for the purpose of gaining national honors, but in the spirit of friendly rivalry and respect for the ability of the individual athlete. For de Coubertin, the focus of the Olympic Games was not on nationalism but rather on unbridled internationalism.

Few athletes earn the opportunity compete at the Olympic Games. In the sport of triathlon, it's even rarer. There are more than 140,000 athletes that hold membership in the sport's National Governing Body (NGB) in the United States, USA Triathlon. Of those, only five earned the right to compete at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The International Triathlon Union (ITU) oversees international elite competition outside of the Olympiads. For seven races each year in locations spread across the globe, the ITU assembles the world's top triathletes for head-to-head competition. The series ends with the Grand Final, where the world champions for each gender are crowned. It is at this venue that age groupers, or amateur athletes who compete against other amateurs in five-year age increments, are invited to feel elite:

For the age group athletes, this is their Olympics. It really is.... We believe that Team USA is one of the most critical programs we have within the organization. We believe that because what it does is inspire people. People here will go home from this event and they'll talk to others about this experience and what they had the opportunity to do and the people they had the opportunity to meet and others will be inspired to go to the qualifier and, perhaps, represent their country, too, on this world stage. We believe in that so much that we put the personnel behind it...[and] continue to nurture this philosophy that amateur athletes can be Olympians in a unique way, as well. They are not, per se, actual Olympic athletes, but they have a stage where they can race and put everything on the line. (Tim Yount, personal communication, October 20, 2012)

The 2012 World Triathlon Grand Final featured more than 3,000 age group athletes. The United States was one of 45 countries represented. Three hundred fifty-six athletes represented the United States of America on Team USA by participating in either the sprint distance (1000m swim, 24k cycle and 5k run) or Olympic distance (2000m swim, 40k cycle, and 10k run) race. Each participating country was allowed to enter no more than twenty athletes in each age group, per gender, per race distance. USA Triathlon relied on its National Championship events to guide the highly selective process of choosing Team USA members for this world championship event. To be invited to the team, triathletes in the United States must have placed in the top 18 in their respective age group at USA Triathlon's National Championship race the previous year, or they must have been ranked in the top 20 in their age group in the USAT Official Rankings at the close of the previous season (USA Triathlon, 2012). Once chosen, Team USA athletes represented their country in common national colors and wore race suits emblazoned with the letters USA across the chest, much like the nation's elite athletes do during their own international competition, including at the Olympic Games.

The triathlon race was the culmination of a week's worth of activities the ITU had planned for the athletes. …

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