Stuart, Andrew, AJ, Preston & Andy...


Two members of the Minnesota Multisport Honors Committee, let's call them Matt and Damon, have begun discussing the resumes of Minnesota's top Elite and Age Group athletes in 2002. Today we are sharing their initial thoughts concerning emerging stars, i.e. those athletes whose improved performances have elevated taken them either from the chase pack to the lead pack, or if they were already among the leaders, they have elevated themselves within that group.

Here, in alpha order, are some of the men that Matt and Damon believe best fit the Most Improved criteria:

STUART GILDEA, 23, Minneapolis (photo below) - A former University of Iowa Tri-Hawk, Stuart is now a Biomedical Engineer at Medtronic. His pre-relocation resume was impressive, but he was demonstrably faster in 2022. For instance, he won back-to-back editions of Pigman Olympic. In 2021 as an Iowan, his time was 2:08. This year, as a Minnesota resident, his time was 2:02:06. In 2021, his time at Maple Grove Olympic was 2:02. This year his time was 1:55:19, which once again landed him on the amateur podium. He also broke 2-Hours at Kansas City Olympic this year, and placed 7th overall at (abbreviated) Sprint Nationals....

While his overall placements haven't appreciably improved over the last two years, but his times are significantly faster.

ANDREW KERSHAW, 29, Minneapolis - Both Matt and Damon agree that Andrew is a slam dunk Most Improved candidate. He's been on the MMH radar since 2019, when he was included in the MI nominations. He's improved consistently from season to season and is now racing at the front of the pack. In regional action, he had two wins in four starts and has proven himself to be a consistent sub-2-hour Olympic-distance racer. Moreover, he is beating Team Minnesota-level competiton.

AJ MANNING, 34, Fargo (top photo) - It took extra scrutiny for Matt and Damon to include AJ among the stuart.jpgMI-worthy candidates, but they finally agreed that, despite of his having won the MI honor in 2020, and his two Triathlete of the Year nominations and his high placement on Team Minnesota (3rd in 2020, 4th in 2021), Manning was demonstrably faster this year. He is the only guy to have beaten Triathlete of the Year frontrunner PRESTON YOUNGDAHL in regional racing, doing so at Buffalo Olympic. His 2nd behind Youngdahl at Clearwater Olympic was impressive, too. Kurt's Clearwater performance was arguably the men's amateur POY in '22, and Manning's 2nd place clocking also nuked the long-standing prior course record. That effort was followed by his course record at Green Lake OLympic, which is richly deserving of a POY nomination.

PRESTON YOUNGDAHL, 32, Plymouth - Matt and Damon wrestled with the same issues they grappled with when considering including AJ Manning in the MI discussion. Youngdahl's performances during his years in Louisiana were elite level, still a strong case can be made for him in this category. His regional record in 2022, four wins and a very close (6 seconds) 2nd, speak for itself. His margins of victory were wide. He didn't make Team Minnesota's Top 5 last season, but appears to be the frontrunner for the #1 spot this year. 

ANDY ZABEL, 42, Sartell - Arguably the Master of the Year frontrunner, Andy was faster and more successful than ever in 2022, which is saying alot. He's been racing for at least a decade, but he's never enjoyed a season like this one. He was undefeated in four regional starts and placed 7th overall in his Ironman bebut in Juneau, Alaska in August. His win at Apple produced a PR. His set a new course record at Clearwater Sprint, and recorded the 2nd fastest men's time (behind Matt Payne) at Hopkins.

In other words, Andy deserves to be part of the MI discussion.

Matt and Damon agree that the 2022 resume of third-year pro TED TREISE needs to be mentioned. Typically, pros are not eligible for MMH consideration, but Ted's year was noteworthy. He has improved dramatically and earned his place in the pro field. It is rare indeed when a young pro needs less than three years to learn the pro game and become competitive. A consistent sub-4-hour half iron performer, Ted managed to race locally on three occasions in 2022. His times were uniformly outstanding, especially his 1:49:02 at Maple Grove Olympic.

COMING ON MONDAY: Matt and Damon will discuss Minnesota's emerging female stars.