The Lithuanian citizen can represent the U.S. in triathlon, but not track and field.
Written by: David Monti
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
The surprise announcement earlier this week by Lukas Verzbicas to abandon his NCAA running career at the University of Oregon after just two months and pursue triathlon full-time could have partially been driven by his citizenship status.
Although he has lived half of his 18 years in the United States in the Chicago area, Verzbicas is not an American citizen and still carries a Lithuanian passport. For competing in high school athletics championships in the United States –which Verzbicas dominated over the last three seasons– his citizenship status was not an impediment. Yet, under USA Track & Field (USATF) and International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules, Verzbicas is not eligible to compete in USA athletics championships, nor is he eligible to represent the United States in international athletics competitions. Rule 5 of chapter 1 of the IAAF International Competitions rulebook states that “Members (nations or territories) shall be represented only by athletes who are Citizens of the Country (or Territory) which the affiliated Member represents.”
However, the International Triathlon Union, the global governing body for triathlon, does not require citizenship for an athlete to represent a country in international competition, including world championships and Olympic Games.
“From an International Triathlon Union standpoint, an athlete is eligible to represent a National Federation (NF) provided he or she has never competed for another NF in the past in the sport of triathlon,” explained John Martin, the communications and media relations manager of USA Triathlon in an e-mail to Race Results Weekly. “Lukas Verzbicas has never competed in an ITU event or triathlon event for another nation, so he is eligible to represent the United States.”
Had Verzbicas remained in athletics, he could have competed for his native Lithuania. However, had he done so, he would have to wait an additional two years to compete for the USA if he was later awarded USA citizenship. In triathlon, Verzbicas is already eligible to compete for the United States, giving him a clear path to the 2012 Olympics should he qualify for the team.
Verzbicas, who won the International Triathlon Union Junior World Championships last summer in Beijing, competed for Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Hills, Ill., until graduating in June of this year. As a harrier, he won the Foot Locker national high school cross country championships in 2009 and 2010, and set USA high school track records at two miles (8:29.46) and 5000m indoors (14:06.78). Verzbicas won the mile, two-mile and 5000m titles at the 2011 New Balance Indoor Nationals high school meet last March. To cap his high school career, he broke four minutes for the mile last June, becoming on the fifth high school athlete in America to accomplish that feat.
To advance his triathlon training, Verzbicas will move to Colorado Springs, join the Elite Triathlon Academy, and take up residence at the U.S. Olympic Training Center there. USA Triathlon said that Verzbicas would enroll as a student-athlete at the University of Colorado/Colorado Springs in January, 2012.