When the idea to host a triathlon was floated at the Chesapeake Boathouse a few years ago, executive director Mike Knopp had meager expectations for the first year. The ideal location of the boathouse within downtown Oklahoma City would mean the event could eventually grow into a world-class competition, but it would take time to draw Olympic-quality athletes.
But then the boathouse announced the race would also feature the Pan-American Triathlon Confederation Championship, making the event attractive to elite athletes from across the Western hemisphere, including six-time national champion Hunter Kemper, who has represented the U.S. in the past three Olympics, and is the first triathlete to get his mug on a national Wheaties box.
The Chesapeake Boathouse has hosted world-class events and Olympic trials in the past for rowing and kayaking, but only one facet of the triathlon " the 1.5K swim " touches the water. The other legs are a 40K bike ride and a 10K run, but Knopp said it's easier to find roads that are suitable for the race than it is to find a stretch of water like the Oklahoma River.
"USA Triathlon is interested in Oklahoma City for many of the same reasons that USA Rowing and USA Kayak is: We have a great urban venue," he said. "It is unique to have a great water venue in the heart of the downtown area and have a straightaway that is sheltered from the wind. It really shows off the city, and the athletes love it because you are not in a remote location."
To sweeten the pot, elite athletes will be competing for a total purse of $30,000. The triathlon will be held Saturday and Sunday, with the elite men and women " as well as the junior men and women " competing on the first day and age group races on the second day. Kemper will be the official starter and award presenter for the Sunday race.
The reason the boathouse initially looked into holding a triathlon was because of the sport's surging popularity. Knopp said it is one of the fastest-growing sports, attracting many different types of competitors.
"What is interesting about the triathlon is it brings in different enthusiasts from different disciplines and allows several people to get involved in the event," he said. "That is why the sport has grown so fast."
Knopp said he anticipates getting a decent crowd to turn out.
"When you are dealing with elite athletes, you'll have people on bikes riding in tight packs going pretty fast, up to 30 to 40 miles per hour, so it will be something unique for people to come to see," he said.
"This will be an important event because it is one more world-class sporting event we are bringing to the Oklahoma River. It's a great step in connecting the Olympic movement to Oklahoma City." "Charles Martin