UNIVERSITY PARK -- A triathlon featuring more than 400 elite competitors from around the world, as well as local weekend warriors and youngsters racing for the first time, is slated for Saturday and Sunday.
Seven events are scheduled for the third annual Sarasota-Bradenton International Triathlon Union's Triathlon at Sarasota's Nathan Benderson Park, a sports complex at the junction of Interstate 75 and University Parkway.
Competitors swim close to a half-mile, bike 12.4 miles and run 3.1 miles.
Competitors ages 16-22 from British Columbia and Ontario, Canada, were practicing Wednesday at the park.
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The teams rented a house nearby and will be in the area all week, said Greg Kealey, coach of six members of the Provincial Ontario Team.
Patrick Smith, 20, of Ottowa, expressed hope he would qualify for a spot on the U.S. Olympic triathlon team in 2020. He said he was also hoping to "make money on the way."
The Canadians said they were relieved to be away from the frigid winter weather of
their homeland, where they were confined to indoor workouts by ice and snow.
They said they were enjoying Florida's summery temperatures in the 80s and the Benderson Park venue, which they termed "excellent."
The final competition at 11:30 a.m. Sunday is a mixed-team relay for the Pan American Championships for elite and junior competitors, officials said.
An 8:30 a.m. race Sunday is for men and women of all age groups. At 10:30 a.m., a special race will be held for youngsters 12-15.
All events are free and open to the public.
Parking costs $5, said Bill Burnett, managing director of Streamline Events.
"We're reaching lots of different athletes from the pros around the world to the young kids -- a variety of talents from the professional triathletes from around the world, junior elite athletes from the United States, Mexico and Canada, weekend warrior athletes to our younger up-and-comers," Burnett said.
A special race slated for Sunday for 12-15 year olds will be solely for Americans, he said.
Burnett had high praise for the new sports park, transformed over the past several years from a borrow pit to a sleek rowing and aquatic center at 5851 Nathan Benderson Circle.
"We are so impressed with the quality, the first-class nature of the island (in the park), we keep coming back," said Burnett of the new facility.
It sits along the border of Manatee and Sarasota counties, which partnered with Benderson Development Co. to build and operate the new venue.
He said the triathlon is a new event, which had not been done before elsewhere.
"Nathan Benderson Park offers an ideal location for a triathlon because it's so spectator friendly," said Burnett. "You can see the swim, the bike and the run. It's a fan friendly venue. It's very unique."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.