World pentathlon events coming to Manatee-Sarasota

jbartolone@bradenton.comDecember 4, 2013 

UNIVERSITY PARK -- Rowing isn't the only Olympic sport coming to Manatee-Sarasota.

The area will host four major pentathlon events, including the World Cup Finals in 2014 and 2016, a World Cup first-round event in 2015 and the Olympic team trials in 2016, the sport's international governing body announced Tuesday.

The Union International de Pentathlon Moderne chose Manatee-Sarasota over competing cities such as Cairo, Rome and Budapest. Most of the five pentathlon events -- equestrian show-jumping, fencing, swimming, running and pistol shooting -- will be held at the newly constructed Nathan Benderson Park, site of the 2017 World Rowing Championships.

The successful bid for the rowing championships and the facilities at Benderson Park, along with the area's climate, easy air travel access and proximity to horse country in Ocala, made Manatee-Sarasota an easy sell to the international committee, said USA Pentathlon Executive Director Rob Stull.

"It's a great venue, there's confidence in your organizing committee and they know that the community would support it," said Stull, who made a presentation on the area's behalf.

A local committee headed up by former Congresswoman Katherine Harris and Paul Blackketter, head of Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates,

helped lead the charge to bring the pentathlon events to the area. Harris, an athlete in her youth, lent significant clout to the bid, organizers said.

"Winning these prestigious events constitutes a seminal moment in the evolution of Sarasota and Bradenton into truly world-class communities," Harris said. "The Pentathlon brings together a diverse array of Olympic sports and their associated communities, giving our region a tremendous opportunity for exposure to a broad global audience.

"Sarasota and Bradenton offer a unique sense of scale to this event. We have grown large enough to provide the necessary resources and support, but our small-town hearts will ensure that pentathletes and fans never receive greater attention or a warmer welcome."

Efforts to lure the pentathlon events here began in earnest in mid-September, when Harris pitched the idea to Blackketter and the organizing committee -- a much shorter timeframe than the exhaustive four-year process to win over rowing's sanctioning body.

"They're the tough guys. Because they're the toughest, it shows Sarasota-Bradenton is a force to be reckoned with to host really great, world-class events," Blackketter said.

The pentathlon events fell in line with local officials' desire to draw international competitions of all kinds to the Benderson facility.

The 2014 World Cup Final will showcase the top 36 male and 36 female pentathlon athletes from around the world. Future events will include preparation for competitors in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, giving locals and visitors a chance to watch and meet athletes who will represent the United States on the world's biggest athletic stage.

With so many different disiplines represented in the pentathlon, there should be something for every spectator, Stull said.

"People can expect to see an event they would probably never have a chance to experience in their lifetime," said Elliott Falcione, director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which contributed $50,000 to help secure the bid. That figure was matched by Visit Sarasota, SANCA and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Organizers now hope to raise an additional $1 million through private fundraising to put on the 2014 championship, Blackketter said. Harris will head those efforts.

If enough money is raised, the committee could construct a temporary pool at Benderson Park for the swimming events, Blackketter said. Otherwise, those events will take place at Selby Aquatic Center in Sarasota and at Benderson Park.

Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.

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