Andrew or Stuart?




Matt and Damon agree the STUART GILDEA and ANDREW KERSHAW are the two strongest candidates for 2022 Male Most Improved, though Damon is not convinced that PRESTON YOUNGDAHL shouldn't be included here. Like AJ MANNING and ANDY ZABEL, Youngdahl brought an elite resume into the season, whereas Gildea and Kershaw made the leap from being "solid" performers to elite ones. Damon argues that while Youngdahl was a consistent winner at sprint and Olympic distance during his years in Louisiana, his 70.3 efforts were "medium dazzlle" by comparison. Since his return to Minnesota, his Sprint and Olympic winning continued, and Damon would argue that he had gotten faster since coming north, but his PR at 70.3 improved by 12-minutes.

Still, Youngdahl's 2022 performances, though elevated, did not surprise anyone, whereas Gildea's and Kershaw's did. So, Matt was tasked with arguing on Gildea's behalf for MI, and Damon will give reasons for favoring Kershaw.

KERSHAW - Damon believes that if a 2022 Team Minnesota were to be announced, Gildea would rank above Kershaw. But because Stuart, an Iowan who didn't relocate to Minnesota until 2021, had earlier results (2019) that portended his rise to elite status, whereas Kershaw's had a steeper climb to a claim a place among our region's elite amateurs....

Looking at Andrew's resume: He didn't get off to a strong start, as his 17th (10:21) at Tulsa Ironman, and his 8th at Buffalo Olympic (2:03:06, almost 10-minutes behind winner) attests. Then somethong changed. He won his next two races in impressive fashion. At Timberman Sprint he upset pre-race favorite / T-Man Sprint's course record holder Brooks Grossinger by 1:01. At the inaugural Chisago Olympic, he outraced a group of credentialled collegians en route to a 1:55:26 and a 1:07 margin of victory. His final race was Maple Grove Olympic, clearly our state's most competitive event in 2022. He placed 7th in 1:58:01 behind a regional "Who's Who" and in front of several triathletes he'd not beaten before.

Conclusion: If a Team Minnesota in announced, both Gildea and Kershaw should have spots. And though it is likely that Gildea would rank slightly higher, Damon argues that Kershaw's actual improvement over the last season or two was greater than Stuart's.

GILDEA (photo) - Historically, the Minnesota Multisport Honors Committee has identified Most Improved athletes based on a couple of possible situations: 1) "Solid" athletes rising to an elite level and solidifying a new place on Team Minnesota by approaching or exceeding historical standards set by athletes like Matthew Payne, Kevin O'Connor, etc., or 2) an established elite athlete taking their performances to a new level. For example, an athlete could produce competitive results for a few years, then have an excellent season where they make 6th or 7th on Team MN, and another athlete ranked 4th or 5th on Team MN could rise to the top of the state's power rankings. Like the Female Junior of the Year contest - where Matt and Damon both saw Isabella Buenting and Grace Busch as the clear frontrunners, but Matt gave a slight edge to Grace and Damon slightly favored Bella - this year's Male Most Improved award will most likely come down to how Matt and Damon evaluate the improvement and ultimate competitiveness of Andrew Kershaw and Stuart Gildea. In this battle, Damon gives the nod to Kershaw, but Matt sees Stuart as the frontrunner by a slim margin. For the following reasons:

Stuart has been a competitive and "solid" triathlete since 2019. That year he placed 2nd at St. Louis Sprint and dropped a 2:02:06 at Maple Grove Olympic. In 2021 he produced respectable half distance results at Steelhead 70.3 and St. George 70.3 worlds, and his Olympic distance efforts were mixed with a 1:59:22 at Kansas City Olympic and a 2:08:54 at Pigman Olympic. However, this season saw truly elite performances: A first place 2:02:06 at Pigman (more than a 6 minute improvement), 7th at Sprint Nationals, 25th at Olympic Nationals in 2:02:05, and a 4th place 1:55:19 at Maple Grove Olympic (roughly a 7 minute improvement from 2019). Going well under the 2-hour Olympic mark is a big deal - maybe 50-60 athletes in the country can do this consistently - and it is not an easy task to be on the cusp of this barrier and then proceed to smash it. Although Kershaw saw a very successful season, Stuart did beat him by just under 3:00 at Maple Grove, and Andrew K came into the season a little more established than Stuart was. Although both men took their performances to a new level this year, Matt gives an edge to Stuart for this year's Male Most Improved athlete because of his large improvement to what will most likely be a high placing on Team MN.