Zeiger's 2nd earns berth in Olympics

`I'm at a loss for words'

Pagon finishes 11th

Triathlon

May 28, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Second place carried a first-rate feeling for Joanna Zeiger yesterday.

Zeiger, a doctoral student at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, comforted herself with second-place finishes in the national pro triathlon championships the previous two years. She was a runner-up again yesterday, but this time that gave her the final U.S. berth in the 2000 Olympics.

Zeiger was second in the U.S. Olympic trials in Dallas, earning herself a September trip to Sydney, Australia. She'll be a part of history, as the triathlon will be a medal sport at the Olympics for the first time.

"Let me tell you, I am pretty thrilled," Zeiger said during a phone interview from her hotel room a few hours after a competition that included high drama, heat and humidity. "For once in my life, I'm at a loss for words. I feel euphoria, excitement. I'm still a little shocked."

Zeiger covered the .9-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike ride and 6.2-mile run in 2 hours, 6 minutes and 17 seconds. She was beaten only by Sheila Taormina, a gold medallist in a swim relay at the 1996 Olympics, who was clocked in 2:05:27.

Fifth-place finisher Barb Gutierrez had qualified for the U.S. contingent last month, when she was the first American finisher at a World Cup race in Sydney.

Mandy Pagon, The Sun's Female Athlete of the Year in 1992 and '93 as a track standout at Dulaney High, finished 11th in 2:10:45.

Taormina and Barb Lindquist, the top American in the International Triathlon Union rankings, were the first women out of the water, more than a minute ahead of Zeiger. She tucked in with a large chase pack during the cycle, and passed Lindquist on the second of three loops on a hilly running course.

Lindquist later dropped out, while the 5-foot-5, 115-pound Zeiger covered the 10K run in 38 minutes flat, the fastest split in the 28-woman field.

"When I got off the bike, I was very frustrated," Zeiger said. "Our pack wasn't organized well, people weren't working that hard, and I thought we were here to leave it all out there.

"When I got to the run, I wasn't thinking that I was going to run them [Taormina and Lindquist] down, but I told myself, `I'm going to work as hard as I can.' I knew it was down to me at the end.

"I was picking up quite a bit of time on Barb [Lindquist], but when I passed her I didn't tell myself I had made it. There were so many strong people behind me, I didn't start celebrating until the last quarter mile."

Born in Baltimore and raised in San Diego, Zeiger has been studying birth defects in general and cleft palates in particular at Hopkins since 1995. Before she entered Brown University, where she received her psychology degree, she competed in the 1988 Olympic swim trials in Austin, Texas.

"I told my sister, Laurie, `Can you believe it's been 12 years?' This is absolutely amazing," Zeiger said. "I never got into this sport because of the Olympics. I didn't even know about this process until two years ago. Now that I'm actually going to go, it's unbelievable."

Trained by Troy Jacobson, the coach who is based near her home in Mount Washington, Zeiger's specialty had been the much longer "Ironman" distance. In 1998, she was the top American finisher at its marquee event in Hawaii.

Zeiger planned to celebrate last night at a Tex-Mex restaurant with a party of 20 that included her parents, family and friends. Before the men's trials this morning, she planned to squeeze in a training run.

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