Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon champs add to title hauls

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Two faces very familiar to the Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon graced the top step of the awards podium once again.

Christopher Douglas, the 2015 and 2016 champion of the intermediate division, took a hiatus from the annual race last year. The 27-year-old Atlanta resident returned to the Scenic City on Sunday to finish ahead of the pack again with a time of 1 hour, 54 minutes, 3 seconds in the event, which is made up of a 1.5-kilometer (0.93-mile) swim, 40k (24.8-mile) bike ride and 10k (6.2-mile) run.

Kirsten Sass, 39, took home her second consecutive Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon women's title with a time of 2:07:59, which was 19th overall. This one meant more to the McKenzie, Tennessee, resident.

"I've been participating in runs and triathlons for as long as I can remember, but this race was definitely the most special to me," Sass said while reflecting on the death of her father this past February.

"He was the one who got me hooked on this sport, and we'd always do events like this together. This was the first time I did this race without him, but I felt him with me the whole way."

More than 1,300 participants started the triathlon, with swimmers entering at the rowing barge next to the University of Tennessee football program's Scrappy Moore practice field and exiting the water at Ross' Landing. Road construction caused this year's bike portion to change from an Interstate 24 ride toward Soddy-Daisy to a loop course down Amnicola Highway near Chattanooga State and back. The run's path was tweaked, too, but it still finished downtown on Riverfront Parkway at Ross's Landing, where spectators and more than 200 volunteers congratulated the athletes at the finish line.

"The bike course was certainly a lot flatter, and since the intermediate distance had to do two laps, there was a lot more traffic on the course this year," Douglas said about the changes he noticed. "I was kind of scared of that at first, but they had a lead motorist as a pace vehicle, so that helped me navigate because it got a little confusing at times with so many runners."

After a couple of wet days prior to the race, conditions changed Sunday.

"I came in expecting rain and thunderstorms, not even knowing if we were going to race," Douglas said. "But I got out here at 6 a.m. and the sun was out, making it hot and humid for the rest of the day. That was definitely the most challenging part of the race for me."

The runner-up in the intermediate division was Atlanta's Thiago Bianchini, with a time of 1:59:27. Less than a minute behind Bianchini was third-place finisher Derek Stone from Nashville at 1:59:38.

The women's runner-up was Lori Williamson from Birmingham, Alabama. She was 18th overall with a time of 2:08:32, while Atlanta's Grace Alexander was the third woman and 20th overall at 2:08:46.

In the sprint division, which consisted of a 400-yard swim, 12-mile bike ride and 5k run, Nashville's Conrad Goeringer, 30, won with a time of 54:51. Less than 20 seconds separated the division's runner-up and third-place finisher, with Blake Yarbrough of Town Creek, Alabama, finishing in 57:18, and Scott Foland of Franklin, Tennessee, at 57:36.

The first woman to finish the sprint division was 28-year-old Knoxvillian Ashley Powell, who finished 13th overall with a time of 1:01:47. Atlanta's Caroline Finkbeiner was second in 1:04:17 and Franklin's Amanda Foland third in 1:06:12.

With this year's event designated the 2018 USA Triathlon Mideast Regional Championship, the top 33 percent of finishers in the intermediate race and the top 10 percent in the sprint qualified for the Olympic Distance National Triathlon Championships. That event is in August in Cleveland, Ohio.