Canadian race organizers launch new snow and ice race format
BY CHRIS WELNER
If you need triathlon 12 months a year but cold weather puts a damper on your race plans, a new winter triathlon format might just keep you in the tri-zone.
Described as the birth of the next Olympic sport â€” the worldâ€™s first ITU sanctioned, elite level triathlon composed exclusively of three winter sports debuted in March in Quebec City. More than 175 men and women competed on the Plains of Abraham, racing 5K showshoeing, 12K speedskating and 8K of cross country skiing.
With 3,000 spectators lining the historic battlefield in Quebec City, Slovakian Dusan Simocko was crowned the eventâ€™s first champion in one hour, 4:33, followed closely by Canadian Marc-Andre Bedard. Both are biathletes with Olympic pedigree. Quebeccer Annie Gervais was the womenâ€™s winner in 1:14.44
â€śI think we just witnessed history in an historical place on the Plains of Abraham, says race director Francois Calletta. â€śThere were thousands of people watching incredible performances. We had a Slovakian first, a Canadian second and a Russian (Pavel Andreev) third. Itâ€™s a dream podium.â€ť
ITU delegates met in Quebec and will take forward plans to expand this format in Europe. Delegates from Finland, France, Russia and the United States supported the move forward. Calletta is in contact with race directors in other parts of Canada to stage more domestic races next year.
â€śIn three to five years weâ€™ll look to get a World Cup series and a world championship in place, then ultimately the Olympics,â€ť says Calletta. â€śThat would be the dream.â€ť
Laureen Barnett, secretary general of the International Triathlon Union, says the event was â€śa first big step to becoming an Olympic sport. Though snowshoeing isnâ€™t in the Olympics, it fits so nicely with the skating and skiing. And with the first two male finishers both being Olympians, it opens the door for a fresh new approach to winter sport.â€ť
The ITU has long staged triathlons in winter, mostly in Europe, but comprised of sports more associated with warm weather races, such as running and biking then adding cross country skiing. The circuit has been floundering.
As the Quebec race built in the stadium atmosphere, there was a feast of activity
for spectators with snowshoers finishing their run, skaters touring the 450-metre oval and the leaders strapping on cross country skis in front of the grandstand â€” all at the same time.
Jay Morrison, brother of Olympic champion speedskater Denny Morrison, competed in the elite field.
â€śThe popularity of triathlon is growing all the time and itâ€™s already huge,â€ť says the speedskater from Fort St. John, B.C. â€śThis format is very exciting and I think people will take to it. It seems almost an obvious choice to extend what triathlon already is.â€ť
Bedard, 28, raced in front of friends and family and says the custom built urban setting for the racecourse was key to eventâ€™s success.
â€śThese are three of my favourite winter sports and to bring them together and show you can put on an event like this in a big city opens doors for other countries to host races,â€ť says Bedard. â€śHonestly, I think there is a really bright future and hopefully itâ€™s an Olympic future.â€ť
Simocko says the event put unique stresses on the athletesâ€™ bodies, particularly during the transition from speed skating to skiing. â€śComing off 12 kilometres of speed skating, my back was hurting,â€ť says Simocko. â€śThat was the hardest part of the race.â€ť