UNIVERSITY PARK -- Although it's already listed on Nathan Benderson Park's 2014-15 event schedule, organizers officially announced Wednesday that the 2015 Modern Pentathlon World Cup I will be held Feb. 17-22 at the park.
The ranking round of the fencing competition and the swimming competition will be at Selby Aquatic Center in Sarasota, but
the final fencing round will be at Benderson Park along with the other pentathlon events. A modern pentathlon, modeled after the original, consists of five events: fencing, swimming, horse-riding and a combined running and shooting event.
"We are very excited about our 2015 Modern Pentathlon World Cup I," said Katherine Harris, Sarasota Bradenton Modern Pentathlon executive chair. "We are grateful for the exposure the Modern Pentathlon has given our area."
Organizers are anticipating more than 20,000 spectators will attend the event, which will feature about 200 athletes competing to become one step closer to securing a spot on their nation's Olympic team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The U.S. will have 24 athletes competing in February, and eight will move on to become closer to the Olympics.
"This is the beginning of the road to Rio," said Rob Stull, USA Modern Pentathlon executive director.
Others who spoke at Wednesday's announcement included Shiny Fang, Union International de Pentathlon Modern secretary general; John Amabile, USA Modern Pentathlon sports director; Janusz Peciak, Team USA Modern Pentathlon head coach; Jim Ley, controller; and Elln Hagney, Sarasota-Bradenton Modern Pentathlon director of cultural affairs.
The Sarasota-Bradenton Pentathlon hosted the 2014 World Cup Final in June in the Sarasota/Bradenton area, and it was dubbed "enormously successful by the international communities," Harris said. The summer event was at the Sarasota Polo Club in Lakewood Ranch and the Selby Aquatic Center.
Paul Blackketter, president of Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates, the nonprofit that runs Nathan Benderson Park, said he is excited to deliver another World Cup to Sarasota/Bradenton.
"The venue was planned to be multipurpose as we can demonstrate by hosting a pentathlon as well as rowing events and other things that we do here," he said. "We are standing on a 32-acre island, very versatile to accommodate big events, and we are excited to be here. And SANCA will work hard to ensure that this one of the best yet."
The Sarasota Bradenton Local Organizing Committee also announced a new program, working with youth groups and local schools, to provide students with opportunities to speak with the athletes about topics such as cultural diversity, healthy competition and conflict resolution.
"This is a rare opportunity we are giving to our kids in Sarasota/Bradenton," Hagney said.
Echoed Harris: "Olympians really are our modern day heroes."
The local committee is also planning to give area schools the opportunity to partner with the more than 40 nations that will be represented in February to explore their culture, attend the event and cheer on that team. While the conversation with Sarasota and Manatee schools is just beginning, Hagney said they hope to have the program in place by December.
"This doesn't close with the World Cup," she said. "We don't just stop. We keep going."
The local committee is also working to have the arts incorporated into the event.
"You will see arts infused in every aspect of this event," she said. Hagney also encouraged the community to contact her if they want to be a part of it.
"We want this to be a Sarasota/Bradenton cultural event," she said. "Our hope is that we become a beacon for every other Olympic event... We set the bar high."
For more information about the Modern Pentathlon, go to sbpentathlon.com.
Claire Aronson, East Manatee/University Parkway reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.