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Athlete of the Month: NH’s Groff shined on Olympic stage

Sarah Groff called finishing fourth in the women&#';s triathlon during the 2012 London Olympics, &#';the hardest position.&#';

She was one spot away from getting a medal, lacking that one final kick to the finish line that ultimately cost her a spot on the podium.

A hard position indeed.

But the 30-year-old Groff, a Hanover resident who swam collegiately at Middlebury before taking up the sport of triathlon, said this is a work in progress. And the progress has been eye-catching.

She was ranked 20th in the International Triathlon Union&#';s World Cup Series standings two years ago. Now, on the biggest stage, she finished fourth. Not so hard of a position, after all.

Groff&#';s accomplishment made her a near-unanimous pick as the August Athlete of the Month as voted on by the New Hampshire Union Leader Board of Judges.

She topped a ballot that also included decorated amateur golfers Phil Pleat of Nashua and Dana Harrity of North Hampton. Others receiving votes were softball pitcher Erika Millet of Jefferson, amateur golfer Peter Williamson of Hanover, track athlete Caroline Fischer of Hanover, Bedford Little Leaguer Grant Lavigne, Concord American Legion baseball standout Eddie Dionne, former Salem High football player Jerickson Fedrick and pro golfer Rich Berberian Jr. of Derry.

Groff had an eventful trek over the Olympic triathlon course, narrowly escaping a crash on her bike when a rider in front of her hit the ground.

&#';I see a body lying in front of the road just a couple of feet ahead,&#'; Groff recalled the day after the race during a video interview with Triathlete Magazine. &#';At that point, I can either bail out, you know, turn my wheel really quick and I basically would fall right on top of her. Or, turn my wheel a little bit, (and) head straight over her like a big speed bump. I caught some serious air. I got on the other side (and) couldn&#';t believe it. That was the best bike handling I ever had in my life.&#';

Groff stayed among the leaders after the swimming and cycling legs of the event before falling behind during the 10K run. She managed to work her way back to the front of the pack before finishing 10 seconds behind bronze medalist Erin Densham of Australia.

&#';A couple of year ago I wouldn&#';t have been able to be that calm and collected,&#'; Groff said of her late charge. &#';It&#';s a work in progress for me, being a smart racer and I think I did a decent job of that.&#';

If there was any lingering disappointment of not getting a medal, Groff has certainly not shown it.

She won Sunday&#';s inaugural Beijing International Triathlon, topping a field filled with some of the top triathletes in the world. It was her third straight top-five finish.

&#';After the high-pressure environment of racing in the London Olympics, to come to Beijing and feel the warmth of the people, the cheers from the crowds and see the beautiful scenery, it made me remember why I love this sport,&#'; Groff said in a statement released after the race.

Groff has had little time to savor her Olympic moment. She was in China for the race in Beijing and is headed to Japan for the ITU&#';s penultimate WCS event in Yokohama later this month.

To submit a nomination for future Athlete of the Month consideration, email the Union Leader Sports Department at sports@unionleader.com and enter &#';Athlete of the Month&#'; in the subject line.

Previous 2012 winners: January, Drew Ledwith, Keene (swimming); February, Zach Bridson, Sandown (wrestling); March, Curtis Arsenault, Berlin (basketball); April, Peter Williamson, Hanover (golf); May, Morgan Andrews, Milford (soccer); June, Hillary Holmes, Exeter (track); July, Lauren Thibodeau, Hampstead (golf).

jfennell@unionleader.com

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