Recent GPS graduate Johanna Gartman is one of five students chosen for the inaugural Elite Triathlon Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo. Contributed Photo

Chattanooga’s Johanna Gartman always will be one of the first five.

Whether that translates into an Olympic medal in 2016 or beyond remains to be seen, but it could. That’s the goal, anyway, of the Elite Triathlon Academy introduced at a news conference Tuesday afternoon in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Gartman, a recent GPS graduate, is one of the five initial choices for the “landmark program,” as it was billed. Fellow freshmen Kevin McDowell and Kelly Whitley from Geneva, Ill., and transfers Chris Wiatr from Long Grove, Ill., and Ryan Bice from Logansport, Ind., are the others.

They were identified by how they have done in triathlons on a national scale. They will be working out daily at the U.S. Olympic Training Center while attending the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs on scholarship. The academy will get support from USA Triathlon and the U.S. Olympic Committed.

“This program will strengthen the United States as a competitor in international triathlon by giving young elite athletes the opportunity to train specifically for triathlon during their college years,” program director Keith Dickson said. “The Elite Triathlon Academy will help to solidify our Olympic pipeline. This program will encourage the top junior athletes to stay in the sport during their formative collegiate years, and they’ll receive a quality education while striving for the Olympic podium.”

Gartman already was seeking to make triathlon training a big part of her college life. She received a nomination to the U.S. Military Academy from former congressman Zach Wamp and was on the West Point waiting list while maintaining contact with the school’s triathlon officer.

Her Nashville-based coach happened to be at a meeting at the Olympic facility in Colorado and heard talk about the triathlon academy. She asked why Gartman had not been considered and was told the officials thought she was an 11th-grader. The invitation came quickly after that.

“She’s a young senior,” her mother, Jacquell, said Wednesday. “She turns 18 Monday.”

Jacquell and her husband, Tracy, both did triathlons in their college years, and both went into nursing. Tracy Gartman is a nurse practitioner.

Johanna wants to major in nursing also, and UCCS’s program has a good reputation, she said.

“I’ve always wanted to live in Colorado, at least for a while,” she added. “I’ve been there a few times. I spent two weeks at the Olympic training center last year [as one of seven juniors picked for triathlon camp], and the chance to be part of a team of top athletes is very exciting.

“I really can’t express how honored I am and how humble I am that God has given me the opportunity to be part of this program — and to be one of the first.”

She ran her first triathlon at the age of 7 — an IronKids race — but it was another four years or so before she “got serious” in training. It didn’t take long after that before she realized she wanted to make triathlons a big part of her life.

In ninth grade she was an IronKids and USAT Grand Prix Series national champion, and the next three years she finished third, fourth and second in the USAT youth or junior elite nationals. She was ranked No. 1 in the Southeast as a 10th-grader, when she was the local girls’ cross country runner of the year as a home-schooler, and was the USAT Southeast Junior series high-point female the last two years, when she attended GPS.

Gartman also has been active in church work, FCA and Young Life at school and mission trips to Haiti. She plays piano, among other talents.

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291 .