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Good swims propel two triathlon winners

Robert Skaggs holds off a 17-year-old world class junior while Sara McLarty crushes her competition.

By KEITH NIEBUHR

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 5, 2001


CRYSTAL RIVER -- Robert Skaggs began taking the swimming portion of the triathlon seriously just this year.

Sara McLarty, on the other hand, has been a competitive swimmer for most of her life.

At Wednesday's seventh annual Crystal River Rotary Triathlon at Fort Island Gulf Beach, strong efforts in the half-mile swim helped lead both to victory.

Skaggs, one of 186 competitors, was the overall and men's winner. He finished the course, which also included a 15-mile bike ride and 3.3-mile run, in 1 hour, 6 minutes, 8 seconds.

McLarty, who finished in 1:07:05, won the women's title by more than five minutes.

"Usually, I come out so far behind after the swim that I have to blow my heart out on the run," Skaggs said. "I'm always way behind."

Not this time.

When Skaggs, a 34-year-old power plant developer from Tampa, emerged from the water Wednesday, he was well within reach of the leader entering the bike portion of the event, his specialty.

A strong ride and solid run allowed Skaggs to take control and fend off Jamie Guzman, a 17-year-old world class junior from Chile.

Guzman, a silver medalist at the 2000 Pan American Triathlon Championships, placed second in 1:07:20.

"I figured I would win," said Skaggs, who celebrated afterward with his wife, Donna, and the couple's 3-year-old, son, Ray. "At least I had hoped I would."

The triathlon was the seventh this year for Skaggs, who in his short time as a competitor (he began competing regularly last summer), has had a fair amount of success.

In April, he placed fourth in the men's amateur division at the prestigious St. Anthony's Triathlon in St. Petersburg.

And he recently won the Nature Coast Triathlon, which was held on the same course as Saturday's event.

McLarty, the country's top-ranked female junior triathlete, won in dominating fashion.

The DeLand native led from start to finish and posted the second-best time among all competitors.

"It's a nice and small event, and it's really fun," McLarty said. "I got to see some new people out there.

"I really used this as a training race."

An 18-year-old rising sophomore at the University of Florida, McLarty is an All-American swimmer for the Gators in the 500-meter and mile freestyle.

She cruised past a field Wednesday that included, among others, Alison Hayden, who is ranked 18th in the world by the International Triathlon Union.

Hayden, a 29-year-old from Dade City who helped train McLarty at Saint Leo University in recent weeks, finished in 1:12:10 to place second.

In six triathlons this year, McLarty has five wins. She was the junior women elite champion at St. Anthony's.

McLarty will compete in another triathlon July 14 in Jacksonville then head to Winnipeg, Manitoba, the following week for the Junior World Team Championships.

She placed 27th at the Junior World event last year in Perth, Australia.

"I'm feeling stronger now than when I was going to Perth," McLarty said.

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