If Marcel Vifian has his way, Lawrence will be well-represented in the triathlon in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
"It's my goal. It's what I'm shooting for, a spot on the United States national team," said Vifian, a 26-year-old triathlete, who moved from Colorado to Lawrence to train with several local triathletes four months ago.
"I have unlimited potential, but there are 30 other guys who could do it," he added. "I'd never discount myself as having a chance."
Six-time Ironman winner Dave Scott, who like Vifian went to the University of Cal-Davis in Davis, Calif., recently convinced Vifian, the 1992 U.S. national amateur champ, to turn professional and begin his quest for 2000, the first year the triathlon will be held as an Olympic event.
"I've known him eight years. He said, 'Don't waste your time with amateur events. Go pro now.' He said, 'You will face some bumps, but the experience will be so valuable.' It's better to learn it all now, so next year I can do it full bore. I owe him a lot."
And Vifian says he owes a lot to Lawrence natives Kent Dobbins and Liz Phillips, who met him at a swim camp in Colorado and provided him a place to stay here. They, along with Lawrence native Mike Vickers, helped find him sponsors, primarily Rick's Bike Shop, Athlete's Foot, Drs. Pohl and Dobbins and Star Signs of Lawrence, plus national companies Arena and Cannondale.
They are looking for additional sponsors to help send Vifian to meets in preparation for the Olympic Trials.
"Liz and Kent have pretty much adopted me really," Vifian said. "This is a great base to work from. Being in the middle of the U.S., I fly to places all over. Now, I don't have to cross the entire continent. Kent and Mike Vickers have knocked every roadblock out of the way for me. They are looking after me and helped me out getting sponsors. Clark Campbell (ex-KU athlete) once said, 'A pro triathlete is one race from poverty.' That's so true. It is very difficult. The first three years are a grind."
Vifian is fulfilling his vast potential. A full-time professional triathlete since April, he won last Sunday's Shawnee Mission Medical Center Triathlon. He finished the 0.62-mile swim competition, 18-mile bike ride and 4.5-mile run in 1 hour, 23 minutes, 46 seconds.
Also, he won the Olathe Heritage Park triathlon amd placed 10th and 11th at international triathlon events in St. Croix and St. Anthony's respectively.
"He's had some big-time victories," said Dobbins, a Lawrence optometrist, who regularly trains with Vifian. The local training group includes three athletes -- Dobbins, Phillips and Kent McDonald -- who will compete at the Ironman this winter in Hawaii, plus Vickers, also an accomplished triathlete in age group competition.
"Marcel's responsibility is to help me get out of a quagmire and get better," Dobbins said with a laugh.
Actually, Vifian works with Dobbins and the others on technique. Local physical education instructor Mark Hodges writes up the actual workout schedules. Hodges works with several athletes nationwide.
"I've met a lot of racers. Kent, Liz and Kent McDonald are definitely the hard-core elite," Vifian said. "What I'm doing is damage control. They are so motivated, they train so much, my gift to them is to keep them from over-training. I work with their technique on the bike, running and swimming, making sure they are as efficient as possible."
Everything will help at the Ironman, which will encompass a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.
Vifian will not compete there. But he will compete at the Lawrence Memorial Triathlon on Aug. 6. Also on the schedule is a World Cup event in Cleveland Aug. 13 and the U.S. Pro nationals Aug. 20 in Michigan. After that, he's headed to Japan for a competition.
"I try to compete 1/3 international events, 1/3 national and 1/3 local," said Vifian.
He said that will be the plan leading up to the 2000 Olympics.
"This season is my groundwork, my homework for next year and years to come," he said, adding, "I will do my best to represent Lawrence. This is not a sleep-over. This is definitely my home now."