Lukas Verzbicas debuts at the senior elite triathlon level in the Pan American Championships Sunday in LaPaz, Argentina.
It will be the first time Verzbicas, the 2011 world junior champion, races the full Olympic distances of 1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike and 10-kilometer run. Each segment is twice the junior distance.
"Can't wait!" Verzbicas said in a text message Tuesday. "Most important is the amount of experience I'm receiving from this race, (my) first elite race to learn from."
The 2011 Sandburg High School graduate left the University of Oregon in November after deciding to concentrate on triathlon instead of running. In his final year at Sandburg, he had won a second national title in cross-country, broken the national prep record in the two mile and become just the fifth U.S. high schooler to break four minutes in the mile.
After leaving Oregon, Verzbicas settled in Colorado Springs, where his family moved from Palos Heights when his stepfather, Romas Bertulis, become director of USA Triathlon's new elite academy last summer.
Sunday's triathlon is Verzbicas' first competition since he ran two cross-country races for Oregon last fall.
A strong finish in LaPaz would give Verzbicas an outside chance at making the field for the International Triathlon Union world series race May 12 in San Diego. That is USA Triathlon's next qualifying event for the 2012 Olympics.
Verzbicas, a native of Lithuania who turned 19 last week, is unlikely to gain U.S. citizenship in time to be selected for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.