Roving reporter Holly Bennett was on hand in Penticton, BC for the announcement of the new Challenge Penticton triathlon. Reaction to the news was understandably mixed among athletes, though mostly optimistic.
Throughout Thursday and Friday, Challenge CEO Felix Walchshöfer was available on board Penticton’s historic SS Sicamous (docked near the final turn on the run course) to speak with athletes and community members about next year’s event and the impending changes. One competitor, Rick Mueller of Calgary, preparing to race his second-ever triathlon (the first being the 2011 Ironman Canada), was intent on meeting the man behind the Challenge.
“I was disappointed that there wasn’t early registration,” said Mueller. [Current competitors are traditionally given early access to registration for the following year's race.] “But then I got online and saw the reason – that it will be a Challenge race in 2013. I’m so stoked and I just had to come and meet you,” he said to Walchshöfer. “I’ve always wanted to go to Challenge Roth – and someday I will because I have family nearby – but I will definitely be racing Challenge Penticton next year. I am eager to experience the pre-race events, festivities and atmosphere (plus the relay options) that are part of the Challenge way. And I am setting my sights on Challenge Roth 2014 and hope to have my mother and stepfather travel to their motherland in support – they left about 60 years ago and haven’t been back. I think that would be really cool.”
Ben Bigglestone, owner and head coach at Seattle-based Vo2 Multisport, who brings over a dozen athletes to race in Penticton each year, had this to say about the change:
“Initially I was saddened by the news that Penticton would no longer be a venue for a Kona qualifier, however for the race to get a new owner in the Challenge group does make it an easier pill to swallow. The Challenge brand brings with it an athlete focused professional approach to race directing that will be refreshing for athletes and sponsors alike. The addition of the relay format really excites me and I know will get great traction amongst my athletes and team members.”
At the race expo, athletes expressed a variety of opinions regarding the change to Challenge Penticton:
“This is my first time doing an Ironman. As a first timer, I definitely get the whole thing about Ironman vs. iron-distance. So if it were next year I wouldn’t be doing it. But if it wasn’t my first time, it wouldn’t matter. If I like the course I’ll do it again, if not I won’t. Also, one of the hot issues is swim safety, so I applaud the Challenge organization for having wave starts for age-groupers.”
- Amy Rubin, San Jose, CA
“We were just talking about this! We feel you’ve got to give the new group a chance. The city of Penticton did what was probably best for the people of Penticton in the long run.”
- Walter Bilinske, Edmonton, Alberta
“I think it’s a good change. It will bring back more to the community. We’ve been left out for awhile. It doesn’t make a difference that it won’t be an M-dot race. I think this race is more about the area than the brand name. Also I think the relays are a good thing and it will bring more of a family atmosphere.”
- Karen Kircher, Penticton
“I have two opinions. It shows that Challenge is willing to go tit for tat with WTC in terms of what they did in Cairns this year. It’s good to bring competition, and I’m excited to see a North American Challenge event. But it’s also somewhat bittersweet, in that this has been the longest running North American Ironman.”
- Randi Dunn, San Diego
“I live in San Diego, but I’m Canadian, so I have mixed emotions. Triathlon’s growing like crazy and there’s room for growth and room for change. But as a Canadian I had to come do Ironman Canada, so I’m glad I came this year.”
- Bob Hubbard, San Diego, CA
Canada’s Olympic gold medalist Simon Whitfield chimed in on Twitter:
Excited to hear that @Challenge_Famil is coming 2 Canada. Athlete experience based races!! Watched Challenge Wanaka this year, 1st class.
Of course, the number of athletes that line up on Monday morning to register for the 2013 Challenge Penticton will serve as a tangible marker of the Challenge Family’s reception in the North American market.
RELATED: Felix Walchshöfer, Peter Reid Comment On Challenge Penticton