Olympic and Paralympic Medalists Headline 2021 Elite Triathletes and Elite Paratriathletes of the Year, Presented by Wahoo Fitness
March 11, 2022
Under-21, Rookie, and Junior Triathletes and Paratriathlon Development Athletes were also recognized
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. /ENDURANCE SPORTSWIRE/ – USA Triathlon announced its 2021 Elite, Under-23, Rookie and Junior Triathletes of the Year, as well as its Elite Paratriathletes and Paratriathlon Development Athletes of the Year, both presented by Wahoo Fitness.
Katie Zaferes (Cary, N.C.) was named the Women’s Olympic/World Triathlon Triathlete of the Year for the fourth time, and Kevin McDowell (Colorado Springs, Colo.) earned his first-ever Men’s Olympic/World Triathlon Triathlete of the Year honors. Kendall Gretsch (Downers Grove, Ill.) and Brad Snyder (Baltimore, Md.), along with his guide Greg Billington (Poway, Calif.), were named 2021 Elite Paratriathletes of the Year
Zaferes, 32, won bronze at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, becoming the third U.S. woman to win an Olympic medal, joining Gwen Jorgensen (gold, 2016 Rio) and Susan Williams (bronze, 2004 Athens). Zaferes then led off Team USA as the first leg in the Olympic debut of the Mixed Relay event, helping the team earn silver, and her second Olympic medal in Tokyo.
Zaferes capped her season on the draft-legal World Triathlon Championship Series circuit by placing fourth at the World Triathlon Championship Finals. She also finished third overall in the Super League Triathlon Championship Series.
“I am very honored to receive this award considering how many of the USA women had great achievements last year,” Zaferes said. “It’s extra special for me because this year was so challenging. I’m proud of being able to regroup and refocus with the assistance of the team of people that surrounds me in order to achieve one of my biggest goals, which was to win a medal at the Olympics.”
McDowell, 29, made his Olympic debut in Tokyo and showed his Mixed Relay prowess as Team USA’s second leg in the race that features four athletes (two male, two female) who each complete a super-sprint triathlon in the order of female-male-female-male. He recorded the fastest split of the U.S. team that earned the silver medal. In the men’s individual race, McDowell placed sixth, the highest-ever finish for a U.S. male triathlete at the Olympic Games.
“It’s a huge honor to receive this award after so many great performances on the U.S. men’s side, which has been really exciting. This wouldn’t have been possible without the entire team behind me, my family, coach Nate Wilson, physio/medical, friends, community, and USA Triathlon,” McDowell said. “It truly takes a village to do what we do and perform at the highest level. I’m thankful for the one I’ve got.”
Earning Women’s Elite Non-Drafting Triathlete of the Year was Taylor Knibb (Boulder, Colo.) who broke out on the long-distance, non-drafting stage in 2021. Knibb, 24, was named MVP of the inaugural Collins Cup in Samorin, Slovakia, after earning the overall win. Knibb then went on to finish third at IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in St. George, Utah, in only her second 70.3 event. She finished second at IRONMAN 70.3 Boulder in her debut at the distance.
The string of non-drafting success came after she raced as the youngest-ever U.S. woman triathlete at the Olympics, joining Zaferes, McDowell and Morgan Pearson on the silver medal winning Mixed Relay team. She also finished second in the World Triathlon Championship Series standings, earning draft-legal wins at Yokohama and Edmonton.
“I’m extremely honored, grateful and surprised to win the Women’s Elite Non-Drafting award for 2021. Thank you to everyone who helped make the 2021 season I had possible,” Knibb said.
Sam Long (Boulder, Colo.) was named the Men’s Elite Non-Drafting Triathlete of the Year, his 2021 season highlighted by a second-place finish at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships. Long, 26, won IRONMAN 70.3 Boulder in course-record time (3:37:35) and also earned another course-record win at IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene (8:07:40). He also placed third at IRONMAN 70.3 Texas and second at IRONMAN 70.3 St. George. A U.S. team member at the Collins Cup, Long earned the seventh fastest time overall on the 2k swim, 80k bike, 18k run course.
In a highlight moment of the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, Gretsch caught Australia’s Lauren Parker at the tape to win her first Paralympic gold medal in paratriathlon in the women’s PTWC race, which made its Paralympic Games debut. The paratriathlon gold was Gretsch’s third Paralympic gold medal, alongside the two she earned at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympic Games in Nordic skiing. Her achievement in Tokyo made her the fifth American — third female — to win gold at both the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games.
In 2021, Gretsch also won both the World Triathlon Para Series Yokohoma and World Triathlon Para Series Leeds, as well as the 2021 Americas Triathlon Para Championships in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.
“I am honored to be recognized with this award, especially considering how successful the entire U.S. paratriathlon team was in 2021,” Gretsch said. “I’m thankful for all the support I’ve received from so many people to help me chase and achieve my goals.”
Snyder, with Billington as his guide, won gold in the men’s PTVI classification at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, becoming the first U.S. man — Paralympic or Olympic — to win a medal in an individual triathlon competition at the Games. The gold medal adds to Snyder’s seven (five gold) he won as a Paralympic swimmer in the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games before transitioning to paratriathlon in 2018.
Billington, a 2016 U.S. Olympian, teamed up with Snyder as his guide in June of 2021. The pair made massive strides in their training in the final months of preparation before the Paralympic Games, including winning the U.S. national title at the 2021 Toyota USA Paratriathlon National Championships in Long Beach, California.
“This is an incredible honor and 2021 was an incredible year full of wonderful memories,” Snyder said. “It was amazing to stand on the podium in Tokyo with Greg and share that moment with him after winning gold together. I’m so grateful for the incredible support team I have, including my wife, Sara, who is so supportive in so many ways and there with me every step of the way. I’m also grateful to have the support of some amazing sponsors who have helped to broaden Paralympic awareness, not only enabling my dreams, but also inspiring similar dreams in other athletes worldwide.”
The 2021 USA Triathlon Elite, U23 and Junior Triathlete of the Year selections are as follows:
Women’s Olympic/World Triathlon Triathlete of the Year: Katie Zaferes (Cary, N.C.)
Men’s Olympic/World Triathlon Triathlete of the Year: Kevin McDowell (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Women’s Elite Non-Drafting Triathlete of the Year: Taylor Knibb (Boulder, Colo.)
Men’s Elite Non-Drafting Triathlete of the Year: Sam Long (Boulder, Colo.)
Women’s Elite Off-Road Triathlete of the Year: Suzie Snyder (Boulder, Colo.)
Men’s Elite Off-Road Triathlete of the Year: Seth Rider (Germantown, Tenn.)
Women’s Rookie of the Year: Maddie Lavin (Vermillion, S.D.)
Men’s Rookie of the Year: John Reed (Virginia Beach. Va.)
Women’s U23 Triathlete of the Year: Grace Walther (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Men’s U23 Triathlete of the Year: Chase McQueen (Columbus, Ind.)
Women’s Junior Triathlete of the Year: Naomi Ruff (West Chicago, Ill.)
Men’s Junior Triathlete of the Year: Drew Shellenberger (Indianapolis, Ind.)
The 2021 USA Triathlon Elite Paratriathlete of the Year selections are as follows:
Women’s Elite Paratriathlete of the Year: Kendall Gretsch (Downers Grove, Ill.)
Men’s Elite Paratriathlete of the Year: Brad Snyder (Baltimore, Md.), and guide Greg Billington (Poway, Calif.)
Women’s Paratriathlon Development Athlete of the Year: Kelly Worrell (Cherry Hill, N.J.)
Men’s Paratriathlon Development Athlete of the Year: Owen Cravens (Algonquin, Ill.)