Local organizers of the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships share the same goal as the 4,500 competitors who will toe the start: produce a knock-out performance.
Hosting one of the largest triathlon events in the country on Aug. 10 and 11 presents an opportunity to establish Milwaukee as a destination for the country’s best athletes and Olympic-caliber events, and tap a potentially lucrative segment of the tourism market.
"To my knowledge, we’ve never had an event like this, with the quality of athletes," said Brent Foerster, vice president of VISIT Milwaukee, the convention and tourism marketing agency.
"You can’t compare to some of the marathons we have or half marathons, or the Komen Runs," he said. "It’s a whole different event, the caliber of the participants, and the demographics of who’s coming. Ninety percent of the people are from outside Wisconsin."
Milwaukee won the bidding to host the USA Triathlon championships in 2013 and 2014 as part of VISIT Milwaukee’s two-year-old campaign to draw conventions and events tied to Olympic-type sports, including fencing, volleyball and triathlon.
"This would be our highlight so far," Foerster said. "We had other successes, but this is the largest one."
Two weeks before the start, Foerster projects 6,000 spectators will travel to Milwaukee for the races, and the championships have generated 3,700 hotel room nights booked through the blocks secured by USA Triathlon. Others booking hotels separately will add to that number.
The direct spending by athletes and families and spectators is estimated to be $2.5 million.
The 4,500 registered competitors – 3,250 for the Olympic distance triathlon and 1,300 for the Sprint distance race – are a record number for the age group championships, first held in 1983.
"It’s awesome, and a great opportunity for Milwaukee to showcase the city and the Great Lake and the people," said Emily Kratz, an Oak Creek native returning from Minneapolis, to compete in the Olympic distance race.
The championships will be centered in Urban Park and the Discovery World Museum. Competitors will swim in the lagoon off the Henry Maier Festival Grounds, bike over the Hoan Memorial Bridge and run along Lincoln Memorial Drive and the lakefront.
"This will showcase the city in general and all the great things Milwaukee provides, more than beer and brats," Kratz said. "We have a healthy, lively community and active community."
Kratz noted that Milwaukee has a strong but sometimes overlooked community of endurance athletes, bikers and runners and triathletes. Groups like TriWisconsin and the Badgerland Striders should benefit from the attention brought by the triathlon championships, she said.
Many of those local athletes not competing have volunteered to help pull off an event that presents a significant logistical challenge: road closings, water safety, organization in the transition zones and scheduling for races spread across 28 separate age groups.
Bob and Wendy Hanisch from P3 Peak Performance Professionals Personal Training led the effort to bring the championships to Milwaukee and the work to make it all come together on race days.
"It’s just been incredible," said Bob Hanisch, a former USA Triathlon team coach. "Kudos to the Milwaukee community, the city and the Department of Transportation, even the county supervisors.
"This will be the third largest triathlon in U.S, and it’s been really warmly welcomed. I don’t think people will be able to appreciate it until they see it."
End note: Wendy Hanisch, the volunteer director on the local organizing committee said about 300 people have signed up to date, and another 100 volunteers would be needed to pull off one of the largest triathlon events in the country. Hanisch said she is counting on high school sports teams and coaches to help fill the gaps in volunteer ranks, now that they’ve begun to gather for their upcoming seasons. But anyone with an interest in helping is welcome to sign up via this web site.
Race update: The course maps for the Olympic distance and Sprint distance races have been posted on the USA Triathlon web site, and the lagoon off Henry Maier Festival Park has passed recent tests for water quality. Participants will start the swim from the dock on the north side of Discovery World and loop through the lagoon – 1.5K for the Olympic distance and 750 meters for the Sprint.
For the bike segment, the Olympic distance course travels over the Hoan Memorial Bridge to the Lake Parkway and South Lake Drive to College Avenue. The Sprint distance course turns back toward the transition area at East Russell Street.
Both running courses go north on Lincoln Memorial Drive, and return to the finish area via the Oak Leaf Trail, with the Olympic distance adding a loop along the municipal pier.
All 3,500 slots in the Olympic distance championship have been filled, but slots remain in the Sprint distance. Both races will serve as the Age Group National Championships, with athletes competing in 15 age groups, from 16 to 89, plus two categories for Athenas and Clydesdales.
The first 18 finishers in each category will qualify for the 2014 ITU World Championships in Edmonton, Canada.
Memories of running cross-country for the Slinger Owls motivated Tom Held to get his body moving again when he turned 30. Almost two decades later, he's still on the move. The 49-year-old bikes, runs and skis, and covers news for similarly active people as a freelance writer and blogger.
He spent 26 years as a daily news reporter, and applies that experience to dig out stories about athletes, races, endurance sports, fitness and self-propelled transportation. His work has appeared in Silent Sports Magazine, Wisconsin Trails and Cross-Country Skier.
Held lives in the Bay View neighborhood, where he counts being Dad to twin daughters part of his daily workout.