Coming off a win at the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship, 21-year-old Kaitlin Shiver isn't worried about lining up against a veteran field at Sunday's St. Anthony's Triathlon.
"I'm excited," the recent University of Florida graduate said. "Once the gun goes off, I'm in a zone. Then all you can do is race as hard as you can and see how you finish."
Shiver, who will enroll in UF's doctorate of physical therapy program next year, dominated the collegiate nationals April 9 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., finishing nearly four minutes ahead of her nearest competitor.
"I feel really strong going into this race," she said. "I enjoy the swim, am getting better on the bike and consider myself a strong runner. I just think it will be a lot of fun to see how I finish against the pros."
Race organizers said the water in Tampa Bay is hovering around 80 degrees, which means the top triathletes in Sunday's race will have to swim without wetsuits.
This should give an advantage to the strongest swimmers, who typically do better without the added buoyancy of a wetsuit. The 1.5-kilometer swim, 40K bike and 10K run event is usually fast, which is one reason so many professionals come to this area to kick off their season.
This year's event will be part of the new global 5150 Triathlon Series from the same race organizers who put together the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. The top finishers in each professional division of Sunday's race will split $65,000 in cash and more than $10,000 in prizes.
Shiver, a native of Satellite Beach, will compete against a star-studded women's field.
Sarah Haskins, last year's winner in 1 hour, 58 minutes, 49 seconds, is a strong favorite. The Olympian and 2009 USA Triathlon athlete of the year finished 14th in the International Triathlon Union World Championship Series last year. An excellent swimmer, Haskins was hampered by a calf injury for much of last year but still won the Chicago Triathlon on Aug. 29.
Another perennial favorite is Laura Bennett, Olympic team member and four-time ITU World Championship medalist. A member of the USA Triathlon national team, she won her second career USA Triathlon elite national title in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 25.
Rebeccah Wassner, the 2009 St. Anthony's winner and two-time New York City Triathlon champion, is back as well.
In the men's field, Cameron Dye will try to defend the title he won in 1:48:44. Dye represented the United States at the 2009 ITU World Championship Series Grand Finale in Gold Coast, Australia. He began swimming competitively at age 8 and later was on the University of Iowa swim team.
Another veteran in the men's field is Australia native Greg Bennett, a former Olympian and six-time World Cup champion. Bennett is a member of the USA Triathlon Project 2012 program and competed for much of 2010 under the ITU flag as he transitioned his affiliation from Australia to the United States. He will be eligible to compete for the United States this spring.
The field also includes Matt Reed, another Olympian and Ironman 70.3 champion, as well as a former St. Anthony's winner (2008). Reed raced for his native New Zealand until 2004, when he switched his affiliation to the United States. He was a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team and placed 32nd in Beijing.
Reed, nicknamed "Boom Boom," stands 6 feet 5 and is the tallest professional triathlete in the world.