I was in Des Moines, Iowa for the Hy-Vee ITU Triathlon Elite Cup over the weekend. For this event, I was doing coach race support for the ITU Sport Development Team. We had eight athletes from eight different countries. Alphabetically, the athletes were:
Elizabeth Bravo (Ecuador), Leonardo Chacon (Costa Rica), Javier Cuevas (aka J.C.) (Dominican Republic), Min Ho Heo (Korea), Carlos Quinchara (Columbia), Barbara Rivereros (aka Chica (Chile), Yuliya Sapunova (Ukraine), and Jason Wilson (Barbados).
You can read more about the mission of ITU Sport Development in the link above and you can find a photo album here and more individual photos on Twitter posted within the last week. For a few races (only three this year) full support staff (team leader, coach(es), bike mechanic and medical support) is provided to the athletes of developing countries (those without the National Governing Body infrastructure for the sport of triathlon). Providing experienced staff support at big, World Cup races gives the athletes a chance to learn, have a positive experience and begin planning for the future.
For many athletes from developing countries, finishing an event with a quality of field as high as it was in Des Moines is a major accomplishment. When I say "finish the event" - I don't mean they do not have the endurance to finish, I mean speed. The speeds laid out at World Cup and World Championship racing is very, very high. The bike courses are usually six or eight laps. If young athletes do not have the swim and bike speed to avoid being caught by the leaders, they are pulled from the course. You can imagine it is very disheartening to be pulled from an event.
While it is disheartening, young (as young as 19) athletes should not be discouraged. Many of the current top racers have been pulled from a race sometime in the past.
I've traveled to a lot of world-class events for several different sports and I can tell you the Hy-Vee race is top-shelf. The pre-race expo (complete with the Budweiser Clydesdales, kids race, sponsor tents, etc.) is among the best I've seen. Hy-Vee employees are dispatched to help with the event in a variety of roles. Everywhere we traveled, Des Moines locals were welcoming and wanted to know more about the event.
In a nutshell, the ITU Sport Development Team did well. There were some individual disappointments for sure, but the overall goals were met for this event. Now, with an eye to the future, the athletes look to improve upon this performance.
At the end of the race while we were waiting with the athletes to collect their race pay checks, I was thrilled to see that kids had collected the transition name plaques from the bike racks and they were hunting down the triathletes to get autographs. Some of the kids didn't have plaques, but had the top international and USA athletes sign their hats and t-shirts. Adoring fans seeking out autographs from the sport's top athletes - now that's cool.
I had a chance to talk to many of the USA athletes as well, which is always nice. After every event, I wish I had taken more photos, but...