Despite Hurricane Irma’s threat to derail the 2017 World Rowing Championships, the event is on schedule and ready to go as planned starting with the opening ceremony next Saturday at Nathan Benderson Park.
The local organizing committee’s executive director, Meredith Scerba, said officials have reached 85 percent of their tickets sales goal and are expecting between 4,000 and 5,000 spectators daily once the competition starts on Sept. 24.
“The roads are open, the hotels are open, the beaches are open,” Scerba said.
The $6 million finish tower and the rowing venue withstood the gusting winds and rain wrought from the hurricane, but in the hours and days leading up to the storm’s arrival, there was cause for concern when it came to the 2017 World Rowing Championships.
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“(The Sarasota County Emergency Operations Center) really had us prepped,” Scerba said. “No doubt there was a lot of butterflies in our stomach and nerves and hoping and praying that this didn’t hit us. Especially when we saw it continue to get bigger and bigger and looking at a Category 4 or 5 hitting us. That definitely got us a little uneasy, but we took all the precautions that we needed to do.”
There was no structural damage, and the precautions were taken limited damage from a storm that was expected to deliver more than what occurred.
“We’ve got a number of storage containers, sea-going containers, on the venue,” operations director Russ Yurk said. “As many of our assets as we could, we actually loaded them into storage containers and made sure they were secured.”
Some teams were delayed in their arrival due to Irma, Scerba said. However, there are plenty of teams that have arrived to train.
Among the 900 athletes from 69 countries scheduled to compete, the following were slated to arrive by Sunday: Greece, El Salvador, Argentina, France, Belgium, Lithuania, Japan, Netherlands, Spain and Croatia.
“This is when it gets fun,” Scerba said. “This is when it gets exciting, because you plan, you plan, you plan, but this is when you get to see all your hard work and vision come to life.”
The official training for the competition doesn’t start until Wednesday, which is when teams such as the United States and Canada are likely to arrive. The teams that are training early are allowed access to Benderson on a first-come, first-serve basis.
While Irma brought minimal damage to Benderson Park, some hotel partners associated with the event remained without power days after Irma exited the state, Yurk said.
However, Yurk said event officials anticipate that all hotels will have power restored in time to receive the various delegations scheduled to compete.
“We hope to have as little disruption in their training and planning pre-event as possible,” Yurk said.
Tickets for the event are available and start at $10. Racing begins at 10 a.m. Sept. 24-28, at 9:50 a.m. on Sept. 29, and at 8:42 a.m. on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.