When Challenge Family announced they were bringing a triathlon to Daytona Beach – and furthermore, that it was going to have more than 2,000 athletes, the reactions ranged from doubt to disbelief to downright joy. And when the event went forward without problems, it was cause for celebration.
The festival, formally known as Challenge Daytona Powered by the Y Triathlon Festival, which ran from December 4-6, incorporated the Daytona International Speedway into all aspects of the event. And, representatives note, while the race experience was different from those presented in years past, the end result was an event that athletes, spectators and vendors enjoyed.
Endurance.Biz noted that there were over 2,800 registered athletes for this year’s event. There were over 2,200 finishers, across varying race formats; the gender split was roughly 64/36, male/female.
And according to Triathlete.com, Mother Nature might have started out feeling sunny but did have some mood swings, since the clear skies and sunshine that dominated Saturday’s Sprint Distance, Junior Challenge, and 5K/10K events, gave way to late morning thunderstorms that necessitated safety-related modifications to Sunday’s Middle Distance professional and amateur events.
The website noted, “The professional race, originally slated as a Middle Distance triathlon (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run), was delayed until 12:45 p.m. and altered to cover a 1-mile swim, 37.5-mile bike, and 8.2-mile run. The shorter distance event took place entirely within Daytona International Speedway, offering spectators—including age-group athletes who were finished with the morning’s modified amateur race—unprecedented access to view the pros in the heat of competition. The bike course was of particular note, consisting of 15 laps around the iconic motorsports track.”
And it appeared the viewing market was hungry for live multisport events; according to SportsProMedia, the Professional Triathletes Organization’s (PTO) 2020 Championship held during the event was shown in over 100 countries around the world under broadcast deals signed by IMG. (The total PTO prize purse was a whopping $1.15 million).
To maintain athlete safety, some modifications were, of course, necessary. For example, the swim course had specific directions for athletes; those can be found at this link and included a rolling start grouped in waves of swimmers according to speed. Athletes entered the water one at a time, proceeding down the ramp and into the Lake Lloyd. An estimated 20 athletes per minute were allowed to enter the water.
“We knew we could provide a safe environment that we didn’t believe other [events] could,” Bill Christy, executive race producer and chief executive of Challenge North America, told The Washington Post.
Considered “essential” workers by the state of Florida, the professional athletes were required to quarantine upon arrival as some amateurs were.
Other precautions abounded, according to the Post, which noted that according to race officials, the nature of the speedway, an outdoor arena with one way in and one way out, made it easier to mitigate risks. They also used safety protocols, which were tested by NASCAR in August in an event of more than 20,000 people.
The pros were tested for the virus before their trips and when they arrived in Daytona. The other athletes were required to fill out a health questionnaire and, once approved by the medical team, received a QR code with a time and location slot for their entry. At health-care tents, where masks were required, athletes had their temperatures screened and questionnaires reviewed before getting a color-coded wristband.
Masks were mandatory inside the speedway and volunteers worked to help maintain social distancing. A total of 15,000 masks and 8,000 bottles of hand sanitizer were purchased by event officials, who, the Post noted, expected between 2,000 to 2,200 people on site each day of the event.
Spectators enjoyed the experience; prior to the event, Shannon Schmidt, who managed communication, noted, “Our spectators will enjoy an enhanced viewing area that has been changed a bit with feedback from last year's athletes. With the PTO World Championship event, our pro athlete meet and greet is a fan favorite. Safety is our commitment to our fellow athletes, and athletes and their fans will enjoy dedicated lanes for our middle distance athletes who bike out on the road course. Fans also enjoy the opportunity to RV camp onsite at Daytona International Speedway. This year we have partnered with Giant Recreation World to rent RV's to fans and athletes so they can enjoy the nonstop action from the comfort of Daytona Speedway.”
“It was amazing to see all those athletes race again,” Challenge Family CEO Jort Vlam told Endurance.Biz. “Especially after such a year, it is amazing to have both the best athletes in the world and lots of age group athletes racing in the same weekend. What we all love about this event, is that it’s truly one for the entire family. There are races for every member of the family with both the triathlon, duathlon and aquathlon events, as the runs and the junior races. It’s absolutely amazing to see entire families coming to Daytona and enjoy our beloved sport together.”
Florida has hosted another large-scale triathlon this fall: the 140.6-mile IRONMAN 140.6-mile event took place in November, in Panama City Beach. (Fun and heartwarming fact: the first-ever athlete with Down Syndrome completed the event, earning kudos from IRONMAN, Special Olympics and the Guinness World Records.