Once the site of the largest fulldistance race in the world, for years Penticton was Canada’s most popular triathlon spot. In 2010 the race hosted 2,699 competitors, the largest Ironman field ever. The year before there had been 2,602, the year after it was an even 2,600. Those heady days of chock-a-block full hotels and busy restaurants all changed when the city decided not to stick with Ironman and host a Challenge event, which hasn’t, to this point, been able to draw anywhere near those kind of numbers.
That’s all likely to change this summer, though, when Penticton hosts the first ever ITU Multisport World Championships Festival that will include six world championship races: duathlon (both sprint and standard), Cross, Aquathlon, Aquabike and Long Distance.
The Canadian team, consisting of 1,200 athletes, is the largest age group team ever sent to a world championships “by a long shot,” says race director Michael Brown. “We’re expecting similar numbers from the U.S.”
There could be as many as 4,000 participants in the week-long festival, Brown says.
In order to allow athletes to compete in multiple races, each world championship is separated by a day. The ITU has a rule that prohibits athletes from participating in two events that are less than 36 hours apart – that won’t be a factor in Penticton. There’s even a special prize for athletes who become a “Multisport Legend” and complete four events: a custom belt buckle.
Those will be presented at the closing ceremonies for the world championships, which will be just one of three major ceremony gatherings during the week. In addition to the final get together there will be two pasta parties – one that serves as the opening ceremony, the other heading into the long-course triathlon. There will be a lot more than just racing happening during the week, too. “It’s not just a sporting event,” Brown says, “It’s a festival.” In addition to the opening and closing ceremonies, the long-distance pasta party and all the various medal ceremonies, there will also be a Kids Triathlon on the Saturday morning before the long-course race, featuring a swim, bike and run race for children aged three to 15 that will take place in the heart of Penticton.
Just because you haven’t qualified for the national team doesn’t mean you can’t participate. Every race has an open category, which means you can compete over exactly the same course as those contending for the world championship. Athletes in the open category won’t be eligible for awards, but those who complete four races will still claim the belt buckle that will distinguish them as a “legend.”
What drew all those athletes to Penticton for Ironman Canada was the beauty of the region, the challenging, but fair, course, tradition, but, most of all, the incredibly welcoming community that worked so hard to ensure everyone had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. All that remains in place. With swims in beautiful Okanagan Lake and the bike and run courses through the spectacular Okanagan Valley region, the setting for the event is second to none. The community continues to embrace multisport racing and is perfectly poised to host athletes from around the world for this inaugural world championship festival.—km
LEFT, BELOW AND BOTTOM Challenge Penticton