Roughly 900 athletes rowed in sometimes sweltering Florida humidity.
Some got gold, silver and bronze but others would say they were delighted to compete for the love of their country and the sport.
An estimated 40,000 fans came to see and cheer for them in metal grandstands that also got hot in the Florida sun but rocked with noisy spectators during close races.
To have the world competition here is even more exciting. It’s a little bit like a mini-Olympics and we have never been to that. It’s pretty cool.
Tampa’s Melissa Jones
Thousands more either volunteered as security or as ambassadors of rowing, coached, sold goods, operated equipment or in some way played a role in the nine-day 2017 World Rowing Championships held for the first time in decades in America and hosted at Nathan Benderson Park, near the border of Manatee and Sarasota counties.
The event concluded Sunday.
Even an alligator or two showed up just to check out the fast-moving crafts.
All in all, it was beyond memorable, said Max Winitz, a spokesman for the World Rowing Championships.
“Attendance has been phenomenal,” Winitz said Sunday. “For the opening ceremony, we had an estimated 10,000 people here on regatta island. For the eight days of competition, our grandstands have been filled to capacity just about every single day. On Saturday, we had 6,000 people here. Today, Sunday, we will probably have a little more than that. When it is all said and done, we will have a little more than 40,000 people who crossed over the gates of Nathan Benderson Park during the nine-day period.
“We had projected 40,000 before it started, and I actually think when the final attendance numbers are in we will exceed our expectations,” Winitz added.
Rowers did marvel at the humidity, but no rower came down with heat exhaustion or had to be taken for medical care, Winitz said.
As for if Sarasota-Manatee might be awarded a repeat performance in the future, Winitz said, “Absolutely. Sarasota-Manatee would have to re-bid. But I see no reason why it couldn’t happen based on what we saw here these nine days.”
The championships also will boost youth rowing in Manatee and Sarasota, Winitz added.
“Here in the USA, membership is up significantly with US Rowing because of youth rowers signing up,” Winitz. “I am told a big reason for this is that kids now want to do a non-contact sport.”
Drawing 40,000 over nine days is also a remarkable number given that rowing has not gotten the wide exposure that other sports have in the United States, Winitz said.
“To draw that many in a place where rowing is not as popular as it is overseas, we are so thrilled,” Winitz said. “The grandstands have been filled with people shoulder to shoulder, jumping up with excitement, cheering on their teams. It’s been something special.”
Many fans had ‘connections’
Many of the 40,000 fans who attended the event were exactly like Thor Steinsson of Norway, who flew to Florida for the event because he had a connection.
“My girlfriend’s sister’s boyfriend is rowing for Norway,” Steinsson said Sunday.
Asked if he would still have come were it not for his connection to a rower, Steinsson said, “Maybe I wouldn’t go all the way from Norway to Sarasota, but if I were in America when the world championships were held I would have gone.”
Tampa’s Jon and Melissa Jones were at the event Sunday with their sons, soccer fans Caleb, 11, Samuel, 8 and Jeremiah, 3.
“My husband’s brother is a judge,” Melissa Jones said. “He’s exposed us more and more to the games. So, we are here to see it.”
Kurt and Lea Fisher had traveled from Philadelphia along with their baby girl, Genevieve who had a red ribbon in her hair. They were not purely rowing fans either, they said.
“My brother is a coxswain on the USA men’s eight,” Fisher said.
Mary Frates and Debra Murray, both from Oklahoma City, also had friends rowing, but were unique in that they also following rowing.
“We are supporting our Oklahoma City boathouse, but we also row and are big fans of the sport,” Murray said.
Melissa Jones said Sunday that she could instantly feel the caliber of the event.
“To have the world competition here is even more exciting,” Melissa Jones said. “It’s a little bit like a mini-Olympics and we have never been to that. It’s pretty cool.”