Sarah Haskins is hard to beat
Like an MLB super-slugger, Sarah Haskins, 30, rarely swings and misses. Whenever she steps to the plate -- or, in her case, the starting line -- it's almost a given she'll hit it out of the park.
In fact, of the five races Haskins has entered since her 2011 season began in March, she's won four. She finished second in the fifth to Great Britain's Helen Jenkins, the 2008 world champion.
And these aren't dinky races, either: From Monterrey, Mexico, to Miami, Fla., Haskins has been rolling right over some of the fastest short-course triathletes in the world, collecting more than $40,000 in prize money in the past three months. The Olympic-distance triathlon consists of a 0.9-mile swim, a 24-mile bike race and a 6.2-mile run. At the professional level, times often dip below two hours.
There's no doubt Haskins' talent runs deep. The St. Louis native grew up as a swimming superstar, but was quick enough out of the pool to snag a running scholarship to the University of Tulsa. She became a pro triathlete in 2004, less than a year after her first race.
Even the most gifted athletes have their "off" days, but Haskins says her last sub-par performance was at a race in Germany ... in 2009. She crashed hard on the bike, letting the entire field pass her. She still finished, albeit with two fractured ribs.
That's not to say Haskins hasn't had her share of setbacks -- she had surgery in 2009 to repair an entrapped nerve near her knee and other nagging injuries led to an early end to her 2010 season.
But, if she's entered in a race, count on her showing up with her "A" game.
"A lot of times, I'm traveling around the world to race. And I'm not going to go all of that way [across the world] to drop out. I'll give every ounce of energy I have to cross the finish line," she said.
Haskins insists her key to consistency is nothing more than old-fashioned hard work and a proper post-race massage. Well, that, and a secret weapon in her husband of four years, Nate Kortuem, who triples as her coach, bike mechanic and training partner.
"Nate began coaching me two years ago, and it's really working out," Haskins said. "Because he sees me every day and understands me so well, he knows when I'm tired and need to back off and when I need to push."
A former pro triathlete himself, Kortuem stepped away from competition a few years ago to focus on his wife's career. The two, who split their time between Colorado Springs, Colo., and Clermont, Fla., spend most of their days together, with Kortuem watching over Haskins' swim workouts, firing off splits as she races around a track, or pacing her as she charges up hills on her bike.
While Haskins and Kortuem's dynamic is not entirely unique -- other elite athletes such as marathoners Jen Rhines and Paula Radcliffe are also coached by their husbands -- it's still an incredible feat to maintain the delicate balance between domestic bliss and an athletic partnership. Haskins admits there are heated moments when she unleashes her frustrations on Kortuem or questions his workout plans.
"With Nate, I'm a lot more vocal about what I do and don't want to do. If someone else were coaching me, I'd probably just go and grind it out. But I'll let Nate have it," she said. "Obviously he has my best interests in mind. So if we have a disagreement, we'll talk about it and come to a middle ground."
With the trials for the 2012 London Games looming large, the couple has mapped out a game plan to earn Haskins her second Olympic berth. This summer, she'll travel to races in Austria and Germany to earn the necessary points to qualify her for Olympic contention. She hopes to lock up the first of three spots on Team USA at the initial trial in London this August. A race in mid-2012 will determine the second qualifier, while a USA Triathlon selection committee will choose the third and alternate slots.
"Usually, I'll race and travel a lot more throughout the season, but we've scaled back this year to prep for the trials in August," Haskins said. "My only focus is making the Olympic team."
And given Haskins' season so far, she'll likely be celebrating in August.