UNIVERSITY PARK -- Since its inception, Nathan Benderson Park has been calling itself a world-class rowing facility. This week, the first international team that will compete in the 2017 World Rowing Championships traveled to the park to assess the facility.
After his two-day visit, Sir David Tanner, Great Britain Rowing Team performance director, validated what park officials have been saying -- the park's rowing facility is "Olympic standard."
"I believe this is up to standard with anywhere else in the world as a rowing championship facility," he said. "It is truly impressive the investment by the local communities in this. ... It is a smart investment because it is not just rowing, although rowing is at the center of it."
Benderson Park is slated to hold the 2017 World Rowing Championships from Sept. 23 to Oct. 1.
Great Britain is the first international rowing team to look at Benderson Park and Fort Hamer Park in Manatee County. Tanner said the 10 racing lanes, the weather and wave-continuation system, which is "another interesting feature for us" and "world leading," are some of the facility's highlights.
Paul Blackketter, president of Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates Inc., the nonprofit that operates the park, said this team is the "first of many teams that will come and do the assessment. This is a prelude of what's to come, bringing the world to Sarasota and Bradenton."
While there are no exact dates scheduled for other teams to tour the park, Nicole Rissler, Visit Sarasota County director of sports, said her organization has received inquiries from the Australian and the U.S. teams so far.
"The U.S. will be doing a similar thing," Rissler said. "They are obviously more familiar with us. We anticipate some of that happening and scheduling that in the spring."
When the team from Great Britain comes in 2017, it will be one of the larger teams with about 100 people, Tanner said. After the team's success at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Tanner added that the team has a bit of a reputation. In 2017, the team will participate in all 14 Olympic rowing classes as well as having three to four Paralympic boats.
Anticipating the completion of construction at Benderson Park, Tanner called the facility "state of the art" as he commended the high quality of the people putting the facility and event into place.
"I am looking forward to a very high-standard event," he said.
Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.