UNIVERSITY PARK -- Nathan Benderson Park will be transformed over the next 10 days to make way for one of the largest modern pentathlons ever held in the U.S.
More than 230 pentathletes from 40 countries will compete in the 2015 Modern Pentathlon World Cup I, which is the first step in securing a spot on their nation's Olympic team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
More than 100 international dignitaries will also attend the event, which runs from Feb. 17-22.
"We are where, it will all happen in about 10 days," Katherine Harris, chair of the Sarasota Bradenton Modern Pentathlon Organizing Committee, said Friday at Nathan Benderson Park. "It will be the largest pentathlon in the United States for the World Cup Modern Pentathlon event, so we
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are really thrilled. ... You are going to see this be transformed into arts, education and athleticism."
A modern pentathlon, modeled after the original, consists of five events: fencing, swimming, horse-riding and a combined running and shooting event. In addition to Nathan Benderson Park, some of the events will be held at Selby Aquatic Center in Sarasota.
In June 2014, the Sarasota-Bradenton Pentathlon hosted the 2014 World Cup Final and USA Modern Pentathlon is thrilled to be back in Sarasota, said John Amabile, USA Modern Pentathlon director of communications.
"It is truly a home for modern pentathlon here in the United States," he said. "You are going to see over the next week how this whole area gets transformed into a pentathlon arena. ... We are really looking forward to a great competition in a fantastic city."
The pentathlon event will be a "true blending of arts, education and athleticism," said Elln Hagney, Sarasota-Bradenton Modern Pentathlon director of cultural affairs.
Throughout the event, including the opening and closing ceremonies, there will be local artists and entertainment showcased, including the Circus Arts Conservatory, Royal Lipizzaner Stallions, Pershing's Own U.S. Army Brass quartet and Pine View Chorus.
"Because of the amazing support of Sarasota and Bradenton and Manatee and Sarasota counties, we have truly been able to (blend arts, education and athleticism)," Hagney said.
By hosting the pentathlon at Benderson Park, it demonstrates how much the park has expanded beyond just rowing, said Paul Blackketter, president of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center, the nonprofit that runs the park.
"World class is what we shoot for and these great events basically bring the return of the investment that this venue obliged to the community so we are really excited," he said.
The 2015 Modern Pentathlon World Cup I event is the second of four modern pentathlon events to be held in the Sarasota-Bradenton area between 2014-16. The 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials will be held in March 2016 ,followed by the 2016 World Cup Final in June 2016.
"We have the first and the last (qualifying event) for Rio so Sarasota will truly see all the athletes competing in Rio so it is a great chance," Amabile said.
The event will have something for everyone, Harris said.
"We want everyone from our youngest members of the community to our seniors in attendance to have an extraordinary day," she said.
Hagney echoed Harris: "Let's show the world how Sarasota and Bradenton can do it better than anyone else," Hagney said.
For more information about the Modern Pentathlon, go to sbpentathlon.com.
Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.