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TERRY JONES: 'Revolutionary' concept being tested at World Triathlon Series

World Triathlon Edmonton president Sheila O'Kelly and World Triathlon Edmonton general manager Stephen Bourdeau are seen at the swimming starting line, as they prepare for next week's event, in Edmonton's Hawrelak Park, Sunday, July 14, 2019.
World Triathlon Edmonton president Sheila O'Kelly and World Triathlon Edmonton general manager Stephen Bourdeau are seen at the swimming starting line, as they prepare for next week's event, in Edmonton's Hawrelak Park, Sunday, July 14, 2019. - Postmedia News
EDMONTON, Alta. —

There will be new meaning to the term “transition zone” at this weekend’s World Triathlon Series event in Edmonton.

Sheila O’Kelly, Stephen Bordeau and the rest of the organizing committee is transitioning the transition zone into something that’s never been built before.

That’s right. Transiting the transition zone.

The crew is out there at Hawrelak Park basically building a bowled stadium at the transition zone instead of a single grandstand.

What they’re building this week is a small-scale version of the one they have planned for next year’s WTS Grand Final and World Championships.

It’s something that has never been imagined for the sport much less built anywhere else in the world.

Normally it’s the swim-bike-run sport’s version of auto racing’s pit stops in front of the grandstand.

It’s the area where the athletes emerge from the water and charge toward. It’s where their bikes are neatly arranged in their own numbered pit positions on the blue carpet.

The end of each lap on the bike goes through the area until after the bell lap when they park the bike and head out on the run, again completing each lap of that entirely different course going past the grandstand until they hit the final lap and the finish line.

The thing about this year’s World Triathlon Series event is that it’s not just the annual race here but the transition race leading into next year’s series Grand Final and World Championships and the two events are on totally separate scales.

Understand that the annual undertaking is no small production. It has a budget of $3 million.

Next year’s Grand Final comes with a budget of $12 million.

The volunteer count this weekend, for example, will number about 400 while they expect to recruit about 1,700 for next year.

“What we’re building for this year, we’re testing for next year,” said event general manager Bordeau.

“What we’re doing is trying to create an arena for triathlon. It’s a revolutionary concept for the sport.

“Rather than in the past where we’ve had different lanes, one lane for the bike, one lane for transition and one lane for the run and one lane for the finish line, now we’ll have one large lane with a bowl of grandstands around it,” he said.

They’re even building a bridge for fans to cross to get to the bowl, taking them over the lane as the competitors leave the lake to climb on their bikes.

“This year we’ll have a bowl with three sections of grandstands.

“In 2020 we want to have a bowl of seats — seating for 10,000 with big screens up on top of the grandstands,” he said.

“This year, the smaller scale version will seat about 2,500.”

O’Kelly, the hall of famer who inspired, invented and delivered the ITU’s ultimate events in the series that this year included Abu Dhabi, Bermuda, Yokohama, Leeds, Nottingham, Montreal and Hamburg, has set a goal of 150,000 spectators over five days for the Grand Final and World Championships in several other events including Paralympic, the new mixed relay and all sorts of age group and distance events that bring hundreds of competitors to the city from all over the world

“We’re the longest sustainable international event in the city and we’ve created legacies,” said O’Kelly, who organized the first major Edmonton triathlon here in 1999 and isn’t going to leave the scene until she realizes her dream of the events inspiring the building of an actual lake for all-summer swimming, paddle boating and other water sports events in the park.

The problem with big picture planning for next year is not to lose focus on this year.

“We have challenges. There are three international events in the city on the same day,” she said of Saturday when both the men’s and women’s elite races are scheduled at the world Triathlon, the quarterfinals and semifinals are features at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour event at Northlands Park and the Cardiff City FC versus Real Valladolid of Spain soccer game is on tap at Commonwealth Stadium.

“This year we have to fight for the spectators and we also have the challenges for spectators on Groat Road.”

This year, because of the construction, the bike and run course routes go south out of the park instead of north.

Boreau says the organizing committee has had to walk and talk about the two events with the thought of getting people excited about next year while still promoting this year.

“It’s been a challenge. We didn’t want to put all our eggs in the 2020 basket and have nobody show up this year. About two months ago we decided to try make it about 2019. It’s one of only eight in the world. It’ll be televised to over 70 countries and 14 million households. Last year’s numbers involved more than 20 million people watching the event and looking at Edmonton. And we want Edmontonians to come down and be a part of the picture we show the world. We don’t want this year to play second fiddle to next year.”

tjones@postmedia.com

@byterryjones

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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