PRODUCING TRIATHLON’S BIGGEST STAGE
Dan Frost, Associate Coach with MP Multisport
We have proven time and again that it only takes one person to swim, and bike, and run from one point to another. To produce a triathlon, however, takes more than just one set of hands and feet. We think as athletes that we know enough about the number of volunteers, dollars and equipment that it takes to put on a triathlon, and maybe we also think that we know how to organize and orchestrate all of those assets to produce a smooth event. (We who have negative or critical feedback to give after a race sure think that we know enough.)
Well, the sport of Triathlon isn’t little anymore. It’s now big business. I can truthfully say that after I spent six full days at the nerve center of Triathlon’s biggest international event. I can also unequivocally say after my six-day experience that no single person can understand, much less manage, everything that goes into putting on a triathlon event. It takes more than just a team. It takes teams of teams!
I was honored to be one of about 85 Technical Officials for the International Triathlon Union (ITU) assigned to work the Grand Final of ITU’s World Triathlon Series in Edmonton. Technical Officials for the ITU “conduct the competition”, meaning that our duties go beyond merely “enforcing the competitive rules”, blowing whistles and showing yellow and red cards. We inspect the course, inspect bicycles, inspect helmets, inspect uniforms. We also supervise all the stations on the course, such as the start and finish, the transition area, and all aid stations and penalty boxes. We are on foot, motorcycle and bicycle. We are everywhere.
And all of us in Edmonton were being coordinated through me. My job as the “Chief Venue Control Official” was to be the Technical Officials’ biggest set of eyes and ears, and to ensure that we were on schedule. I really needed to know everything that was or could impact the races, which is impossible. Realistically, I had to know as much as I could, and record as much as I saw and heard, but also to quickly find out the things that I didn’t know.
That’s why I spent most of six days in a Command Center, as a representative of the “team” of ITU officials, with representatives of the dozen other “teams” that also made the event a reality. Seated next to me was Shelia Findlay, Olympic mom to Paula (who was racing), and competition director for the Edmonton organizing committee. An event of this scope takes months of planning to decide every facet like when streets can be open and closed and where each volunteer needed to be placed and what their jobs were…and I think Shelia had led much of that planning and had all of that information memorized. Also represented in the Command Center were on-site medical and security, plus City of Edmonton police, traffic, fire, transit, EMS and special events. If needed, we had a direct line to the emergency operations center downtown with more agencies standing by on alert. We even had a “social media” representative who scoured the internet for trends across the city (i.e. “likes” and “dislikes”) that could indicate developing problems. (Because everyone’s a critic, right? Go back and read the first paragraph again.)
We ended up conducting 11 races in six days with over 3,000 athletes, including live worldwide television of the elite championship races. That meant “routinely” opening and closing roads and deploying volunteers 11 times. On top of that was managing each unscheduled crisis, from medical emergencies (everyone lived!) and civil disobedience (one arrest) to transportation (getting all the athletes in and out) and electricity (rush delivery of a replacement generator). I don’t know how many total people it took, or how many man-hours were expended…one could say that it was “countless” manpower going into supporting 3,000 athletes…but somehow we managed all of those people and resources from the Command Center.
The only team that wasn’t represented in the Command Center, though just as critical to the event’s success, was the core of the Edmonton organizing committee and the VIPs. While Shelia Findlay did much of the operational planning and execution, it took a large group of civic leaders in the organizing committee to raise the funds (This event has a budget over $8 million.) and obtain municipal, provincial and federal support.
It was truly a team of teams that helped provide a showcase event for the world’s top triathletes, and our sport has grown to where we have numerous high-profile “A” races like Edmonton. They are increasingly complex to manage and not every detail can be addressed perfectly. For the most part, however, everyone connected to one of the larger-than-life events is truly trying to make the event succeed. Many of the “countless” numbers of volunteers and public service personnel supporting these mega-triathlons may never do a triathlon or fully understand the life of a triathlete, but they are impressed by the examples of excellence and perseverance personified by the athletes they are supporting, and that helps the volunteers be more eagerly supportive.
Given that, better racers can help make better races.