Auckland has been inundated with multisport athletes since the start of this week, but it truly turned into triathlon town on Thursday night as over 3,000 triathletes marched through the city to officially open the 2012 Barfoot & Thomson ITU World Triathlon Grand Final.
Starting at the Viaduct Events Centre, the Parade of Nations went along the waterfront to The Cloud at Queens Wharf, which will be the centre of action for the forthcoming world championship weekend.
Participation in triathlon is on the rise across all levels. Last year almost 28,000 amateur athletes participated in the ITU World Triathlon Series (ITU WTS), up more than 6,000 from the previous 2010 season.
Just 12 years after making its Olympic debut, triathlon has already become a marquee sport to watch, with over a million spectators having turned out to watch the races at London 2012. Social media numbers also doubled in the months leading up to London and a year prior to the Games; and TV broadcast time nearly doubled from previous years.
The parade for the ITU WTS Grand Final marked the start of what is the biggest triathlon world championship event in the history of the International Triathlon Union (ITU), with just over 3,000 athletes from 45 different countries registered to compete across the elite, junior, under23, age-group and paratriathlon races.
The record number of athletes were led into The Cloud by Te Pou, a performance group from the host tribe, Ngati Whatua o Orakei, who then took to the stage to offer a traditional welcome. ITU President Marisol Casado officially opened the event, before New Zealand’s Minister for Sport and Recreation, Murray McCully and Triathlon New Zealand (Tri NZ) President Garry Boon welcomed the crowd to New Zealand.
Barry Larsen, Ross Capill and Tianne Lund were then invited on stage to take the respective coach, technical and athletes oath on behalf of their respective participants.
Lund, 67, is a world championship veteran who completed her first triathlon in 1986, enters around ten multisport events each year and will complete her 20th world title race at home in Auckland. Although she did note that this event was in no way her swansong. “It keeps you fit and it keeps you healthy, it’s a great way to travel the world, and the people, the people you meet are fantastic,” she said. “I’ll just keep racing as long as I can, but I’ll always be involved.”
Te Pou then returned to the stage, before teaching the crowd how to pull off a traditional haka, although they had been beaten to the punch by a group of Kiwi triathletes who started one in a break between speeches.
Teenager Sam Elstob, from Christchurch, was one of about 15 who joined in at the impromptu performance that had the crowd captivated. “There was just one guy who started saying ‘ok, you go like this,’ and then we all jumped in!” he said.
With Olympians Richard Varga and Annamaria Mazzetti, some of the elite athletes mingling in the crowd at the opening of the ITU WTS Grand Final were next to big teams from Australia, the USA, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and smaller teams from countries such as Luxembourg, Zimbabwe and Serbia; the pasta party then officially kicked off.
The world’s biggest age-group world championship finals will be held on Monday, across two different race categories, Sprint and Olympic distance.
The age-group sprint participants will start the day with a one-lap 750m swim, but will complete one loop on a 20K bike and 5K run route. Those racing the Olympic distance will traverse the same course as the Sprint but double the bike and run, and will swim an elongated lap.
Paratriathlon sees record numbers
A record number of paratriathletes will contest this year’s ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in Auckland, as the sport continues to grow ahead of its Paralympic debut in Rio 2016.
The 2012 paratriathlon world titles in New Zealand are the second since the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) officially included the sport on the Paralympic programme, and the announcement that the sport would debut at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
This year 109 athletes from 21 different countries are registered to compete on Monday, including athletes from New Zealand, Canada, the USA, Australia, Great Britain, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, Morocco, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Austria, Hungary, Spain, Latvia and Serbia.
A total of 72 athletes from 18 different countries competed in the 2011 Paratriathlon World Championships in Beijing, while Budapest in 2010 was the largest world titles before New Zealand, with 88 athletes from 17 countries taking part.