CLEVELAND, Ohio – The USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships, centered at Edgewater Park, drew more than 5,400 competitors, including athletes from all 50 states this weekend.
The swimming leg of the two-day event was canceled Sunday morning. USA Triathlon officials and the U.S. Coast Guard decided conditions on Lake Erie were too rough and choppy for the competition.
USA Triathlon spokespersons would not say whether the cancellation was related to Saturday morning’s death of Jim Hix, 75, a dentist from Claremore, Oklahoma. He lost consciousness when he was swimming with his age group in Lake Erie. He was the 2017 USA Triathlon Duathlon National Champion in his 75-to-79 age group.
“It was definitely the right decision today for safety,” competitor Heather Curnutt of Madison, Wisconsin, said of the swimming cancellation. Currnutt placed second in the women’s 40-44 age group during Saturday’s Olympic Division competition and again Sunday in the Sprint Division.
Curnett was among several entrants who gave the venue, course and event high marks.
“It’s been real good,” she said. “The venue is nice. It seems like a nice downtown. This is pretty much the peak of the domestic triathlon calendar.”
The championships will return to Cleveland Aug. 10-11, 2019.
Thousands of spectators watched along a biking and running course that – for the higher divisions — included Edgewater Park’s all-purpose trail, the closed Memorial Shoreway and a trip through downtown.
The park was filled with tents for various purposes, including recovery areas and merchandise sales. University Hospitals provided a large team of doctors, nurses, paramedics and residents.
A booming public address system featured disc jockey-style announcers sharing tid-bits about the athletes, with music playing in the background.
“It’s a great atmosphere here,” said Stephen Dickhut, who came from Port Byron, Illinois, with his wife, Becky to watch their son, Brian, 40, compete. “It’s like a carnival, really. You can tell it’s a family-type event. All of the athletes are cheering each other.”
The triathlon featured the common athlete and the accomplished one, such as Erik Armes, 21, of Auburn, Alabama. Armes is about to begin his senior year as a track and cross country standout at Auburn, University.
“It’s awesome. The bike ride was beautiful toward downtown,” Armes said. “I had never been up here. It’s a cool city. The event is on a great venue.”
It was no surprise that Sister Madonna Buder, 88, won the 85-89 female competition. Known internationally as the “Iron Nun,” Buder heard shouts of encouragement such as “You’re my hero,” as she cycled and ran.
“What I’ve experienced here is everybody’s graciousness and hospitality,” she said after completing her race.
The consensus was that the triathlon was a showcase for Cleveland.
“It should impress (visitors),” said Elaine Rankin, 60, of Medina, who watched with her husband, Erin, 60. “It was impressive. The lake is beautiful and today is a great day to show it off. It’s very spectator-friendly.”
Edgewater Beach was closed Tuesday and Wednesday due to increased bacterial levels in the water from Monday’s heavy rainfall. It was re-opened Thursday when water quality testing showed improved levels.