Top U.S. triathlete tries to make up for Sydney stumble

Thursday, May 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Fresh out of Stanford University, Barb Lindquist had something other than the Summer Olympics in mind when she settled in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in 1991.

"I moved there to be a ski bum," Lindquist said in a matter-of-fact tone earlier this week. "After a couple of years of just having fun, I felt I needed to focus again."

The focus will be on Lindquist when she competes in the U.S. Olympic Triathlon Trials at Las Colinas on Saturday morning. As the nation's top-ranked triathlete, she is favored to become the first athlete to earn an Olympic berth on Dallas County soil.

Or will it be water?

Triathlon experts debate whether the race will be decided during the swim portion on Lake Carolyn or on the run that concludes the event. At any rate, Lindquist, ranked fifth in the world behind four Australians, wants to have fond memories of Dallas County's first Olympic Trials.

Her first try at making the team left her with a memory gap that haunts her still. A fall from her bike during the Sydney World Cup last month cost Lindquist, 30, the first berth on the U.S. Olympic Team. That went to San Antonio native Jennifer Gutierrez by virtue of her finish as the top American (seventh).

"I went through a whole range of emotions afterward," said Lindquist, who collapsed over the finish line in 12th place. "After the fall on the bike, I don't remember about 25 minutes of the race. I looped out in my mind. After 15 minutes in the medical tent after the race, I had to ask, 'Did I finish?' "

The top two U.S. women finishers on Saturday will join Gutierrez on the inaugural Olympic team. Triathlon makes its Olympic debut in Sydney in September. The men compete on Sunday, with the top two American finishers joining Hunter Kemper on the team.

The Olympic triathlon consists of a 1.5K (.9-mile) swim, a 40K (24.8-mile) bike ride and a 10K (6.2-mile) run.

Since her April 16 bike crash in Sydney, Lindquist dusted herself off and had a strong race at the World Cup in Perth, Australia, finishing fourth on April 30.

"To have that good race two weeks later was something that will really help Barb's confidence," said triathlete Susan Bartholomew of Denver. "She's our top triathlete. She has a great chance."

But Lindquist, a former elite swimmer, said it took some time to get over her disappointment. She had just spent her third winter training in Australia and knew the course like a sister.

"Obviously, it was a big disappointment because I felt I had done everything I could," she said. "That was my course. I was getting up at 4 a.m. to get on that course and train. I knew every pothole."

When she felt ready, she said she turned her focus to the trials in Irving. Lindquist arrived in North Texas on May 16 to get used to the weather and check out the course.

"I personally try not to get too overly excited about races," Lindquist said. "That can be a detriment. It's in the back of my mind that this is an Olympic Trial. I plan on going out and having a good race, like I usually do."

Since she found her focus in triathlon, Lindquist has done everything to be ready for her sport's Olympic debut. Perhaps her greatest sacrifice was giving up her beloved bagels to spend the U.S. winters in Australia, where she said she could not find her favorite food item. But she said the moves Down Under were essential to maintaining her focus.

"It's really hard to be a triathlete in the winter in Jackson Hole," she said. "It's known as a ski resort."

She trains with Australian triathlete Nicole Hackett, whose coaches helped Lindquist improve her running. The Australian women are ranked No. 1 in the world, followed by the U.S. women.

"It hasn't been a rivalry with Nicole," said Lindquist, a fourth-year pro. "We're from different countries. We're both strong swimmer-cyclists. It has been very fostering."

In 1994, Lindquist competed in her first triathlon and won it. The next year, she met cyclist Loren Lindquist.

"On our first date, he saw the potential in me as a triathlete," she said. "He also saw the potential in me as a future wife."

She and Loren married the following spring. Lindquist stated her priorities:

"My relationship with God is the No. 1 focus in my life," she said. "My relationship with my husband is No. 2. Triathlon is No. 3.

Her husband helps coach her, she said, contributing his eye for details and grasp of technical elements.

In 1998, Barb Lindquist was named the U.S. Olympic Committee Female Triathlete of the Year - a far cry from a "ski bum."

Olympic Trials coach Michelle Blessing, a former competitive triathlete based in Colorado Springs, called Lindquist a "really gutsy" racer.

"She puts it out there," Blessing said.

Gutierrez said she wants Lindquist to earn an Olympic spot Saturday because of her strong swimming.

Lindquist, a Wilmington, Del., native, grew up in Wyoming. She began swimming competitively at 8. As a student at Stanford, Lindquist's swimming teammates included Olympic gold medalists Janet Evans and Summer Sanders.

But Lindquist had not grown up nurturing an Olympic dream. She has no equivalent to Olympic figure skating champion Tara Lipinski's account of stacking boxes as a toddler to practice standing on the Olympic medal stand.

"I wasn't one of these people who said at the age of 8, 'Oh, I want to make the Olympic team some day,' "Lindquist said.

She competed in three events at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials and narrowly missed making the team. But she went out on top when she won a gold medal at the 1991 Pan Am Games.

"That was my last international swim meet," she said. "At that point, I had no idea I was going to be a triathlete."

That was when she headed for Jackson Hole and the ski slopes. The rest was her route to Dallas County's first Olympic Trials, where Lindquist might be the one to make history on Saturday.