On Wednesday, Florida gators officially became a part of the 2017 World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park, but not the blue-and-orange kind from the University of Florida in Gainesville.
We are talking about the dark green and scaly variety.
It was announced Wednesday, the fifth of nine straight days of activities, that during a women’s race on Monday, a gator popped its head above water.
It’s actually quite funny because most of the European rowers who I have heard from are intrigued and really want to see an alligator. I’m sure others don’t want to see an alligator.
Max Winitz, spokesman, World Rowing Championships
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The race itself was not impacted, said Matt Smith, executive director of The World Rowing Federation, whose acronym in French is FISA.
Also, during a practice session this week for the championships, which conclude Sunday, the coach of the Italian team took a picture of a seemingly curious juvenile gator swimming in the lake about 40 yards from the racing shell, Smith added.
This picture has made the rounds on the Internet, Smith said.
“It came up to have a look then went back down, but that was caught by a camera,” Smith said of the alligator.
During a roundtable discussion of many issues Wednesday, Smith addressed what would happen if an alligator swam directly into the path of a racing shell or a scull during a race.
“If it affected one of the competitors, we would stop the race and possibly restart it ... so that everyone would have a fair race experience,” Smith said.
Funny to hear talk about gators
It’s funny for Floridians to hear visitors talk about alligators and take pictures of them since gators and their presence in nearly every body of Florida water — even swimming pools, at times — is taken for granted by locals.
If it affected one of the competitors, we would stop the race and possibly restart it ... so that everyone would have a fair race experience.
Matt Smith, executive director, FISA, on an alligator encounter with a racing shell
But alligators are a tantalizingly new phenomenon to most of the roughly 900 rowers and their coaches and trainers and fans, said Max Winitz, a World Championship Rowing spokesman.
“It’s actually quite funny because most of the European rowers who I have heard from are intrigued and really want to see an alligator,” Winitz said. “I’m sure others don’t want to see an alligator.
“The chances of seeing an alligator during racing, well, I wouldn’t say it is slim but gators are terrified of any fast-moving object in the water, so while you may spot a head they are going to duck right under.”
Several rowers have gone to Myakka River State Park in Sarasota on their off time in hopes of seeing alligators, Winitz said.
Gator safety on FISA’s mind
Following the gator sightings, FISA had a meeting Tuesday with officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. On Wednesday, the rowing body sent out a one-page “bullet point” to all rowing teams on how to avoid an unpleasant encounter with one of Nathan Benderson Park’s alligators, Smith said.
The one page said, among other things, that alligators are most active between dusk and dawn, and that during that time it is wise to stay back from the water’s edge.
“They took us out and explained to us what goes on,” Smith said. “To be extra safe we wanted to hear from the experts.”
Tuesday’s meeting was not the first FISA has had regarding the reptiles. Ever since Sarasota applied for the championships, FISA has been researching alligators, Smith said.
FISA investigated their behavior because it wanted to be assured that its rowers were at a low risk for attack to be on the lake in the daylight hours, Smith said.
“Floridians grow up in a culture with alligators,” Smith added. “We are coming in and are not sure exactly what is happening.”