Future of triathlon in Penticton at a crossroads - InfoNews

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Future of triathlon in Penticton at a crossroads

Penticton has hosted several different versions of triathlon since relinquishing the Ironman race in 2012, including a variety of Challenge Penticton race (pictured), the International Triathlon Union Championships and Super League Canada Triathlon.
March 27, 2019 - 4:30 PM

PENTICTON - What is the future for a major triathlon event in Penticton, and if there is a future, what is it going to look like?

That may be a question city staff are pondering after an expression of interest was issued by the City of Penticton as it seeks organizer to lead a "signature triathlon event" in Penticton. In a news release issued last Friday, March 22, the city called the expression of interest a "chance for a successful event organizer to contribute to Penticton’s reputation as a world-class triathlon event host.”

The city is seeking proposals for multisport, long-distance or any other forms of triathlon events, as it faces the prospect of the expiration of triathlon organizer Michael Brown’s contract after this year. The city said it is "proactively planning for 2020 and beyond."

Brown has been under contract with the city to stage a triathlon event since taking over the Challenge triathlon brand, which he acquired in 2014 and ran until  2017. Brown cancelled his relationship with that race when it failed to live up to expectations.

As far back as 2015, then Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit called running the long distance event on its own “unsustainable” as it sucked up 65 per cent of the event’s cost while delivering only 10 to 20 per cent of its revenue.

The number of participants in the long distance race declined each year following the demise of Penticton Ironman, and the Challenge race never seemed to catch on as a brand the way Ironman seemed to have done, even though it was essentially the same race, on the same course.

In acquiring the Challenge brand, Brown said at the time the intention of adding different categories of racing was to make triathlon more accessible and get more people involved. But the mix of distance courses and team racing choice failed to make it any more popular.

Prior to the Challenge Penticton triathlon, Penticton was best known as the home of Canada’s Ironman, which ran in the city from 1983 until 2012. The city gave up the race after failing to come to terms with Ironman Canada over race economics.

In 2017, Brown staged the International Triathlon Union Championship Festival, and in 2018 he became associated with Super League Triathlon. His contract with the city expires with the running of Super League races this summer.

Brown did not respond to Infonews by deadline.

Director of Recreation and Facilities Bregje Kozak said in an email today, March 25, the move is not an indication the sport of triathlon is threatened in Penticton.

“The city hosts other successful triathlon events (including the Peach Classic Triathlon) throughout the year," she said. “The expression of interest is to continue the longstanding tradition in Penticton of hosting a major long distance or multisport triathlon event on the last weekend of August."

Even though Brown’s contract with the city ends this year, he will still be welcome to propose a continuation of the Super League or any other triathlon as a response to the expression of interest, Kozak said.

The city welcomes anyone to pitch an expression of interest, including Ironman, she said, adding a successful event will be one that is deemed beneficial to the city and its residents.

Penticton is even going so far as to ask residents what they would like to see in the way of a triathlon event, asking citizens to share their ideas on the city’s Shape Your City website. The information gathered from the survey will be used to evaluate proposals received by the city in addition to identifying other opportunities that might be suggested.

When asked about possible subsidies and in-kind grants the city would be prepared to make for a new proposal, Kozak said that would would be dependent on specific requirements and requests.

She said the city still sees the sport of triathlon as relevant, exciting and challenging, with Penticton being an ideal location and environment for triathlon training and racing.

“The city is excited to see how triathlon events will continue to develop in Penticton,” she said.

Triathlon Canada chief executive officer Kim Van Bruggan said her organization doesn’t see the sport declining, but admits it is changing, possibly in a way that isn’t helpful to Penticton.

Van Bruggan said more people are joining "Try a Tri" races and participating in shorter distance events. A recent survey indicated people averaged three to five races annually, generally participating in Sprint of Olympic distance events.

“The longer distances still had numbers, but Sprint and Olympic (distances) were definitely higher up on the list,” she said.

It seems more people are interested in triathlon, but fewer are competing in the long distance events. That may not be the best news for Penticton, which has a reputation for its long distance course and the city’s ability to stage the event. 

Van Bruggan said changes to race qualifications two years ago has resulted in an increase in qualifying athletes from four provinces hosting 12 qualification races, to all 10 provinces hosting over 60 races in all triathlon disciplines.

She was aware of Penticton’s citizen survey, calling it a “good idea” because the triathlon community had heard rumours about local citizens not wanting to deal with the race.

"What do citizens want? What do athletes want? It will be interesting to see the survey results,” Van Bruggan said. “Penticton is a fantastic place to host races. We’d love to see Penticton remain a permanent 'pin' on the map for triathlon.”

“People will go to Penticton to race, there’s no question. You guys are iconic. It would be a shame not to be able to build on that.”


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