Outdoors

Sarasota to host 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials

SARASOTA -- The Bradenton-Sarasota area has been selected as the site for rowing's 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

USRowing, the national governing body for the sport of rowing, made the special announcement Friday during a press conference at Nathan Benderson Park where the Olympic trials will be held, as well as the 2017 World Rowing Championships.

The trials will take place April 18-24, according to Glenn Merry, USRowing chief executive officer, who took part in the press conference along with local officials from Sarasota and Manatee County, park management and the president of the Florida Sports Foundation.

Merry, who called Nathan Benderson Park the top world-class course in the country, said the park embodies the entire brand of what rowing should be at the Summer Olympic Games, which will be held on Aug. 5-21, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro.

"The Olympic Trials are a nice kickoff to the Olympic games that rounds out this Olympic cycle. Then, we start a new cycle with the 2017 World Championships being hosted here at the park for the first time in 20 years on American soil," Merry said.

Seven Olympic-class rowing events will be contested during the weeklong regatta, including the men's and women's single sculls, men's and women's double sculls, lightweight men's and women's double sculls and men's quadruple sculls.

Nathan Benderson Park was developed with the intent of becoming an elite rowing and sports venue that can attract major national and international events. Paul Blackketter, chief operating officer of the park's nonprofit management team, Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center, said they reached a major milestone with this special opportunity.

"The partnership with USRowing is significant and shows they have the confidence in our venue and our operations team that we can execute a great event," Blackketter said. "We will do everything in our power to deliver and exceed those expectations."

The Sarasota County park, recently named Venue of the Year by the Florida Sports Foundation, has hosted several high-profile national and state rowing competitions, 5K races, dragon boat races and modern pentathlons. The events have drawn more than 50,000 athletes and spectators, with a regional economic impact of reportedly more than $12 million.

Sarasota County Commission chairwoman Carolyn Mason called the park's picturesque setting an asset, along with being a top sports and recreation facility.

"We're proud to host such a prestigious event here in Sarasota County and we're eager to share our park and our community with the competitors and guests who visit here," Mason said.

Mason was joined by Manatee County Commissioner John R. Chappie, who hailed the park for helping to grow the local economy.

"This venue adds to the quality of life for both counties. It's a tremendous vision for opportunity and it's happening right now," Chappie said.

Indeed, this weekend, more than 16,000 top high school rowers from across the country are taking part in the 2015 USRowing Youth National Championships, hosted for the first time in Florida at Nathan Benderson Park. More than 163 teams from all 50 states are vying for national titles in 18 boat classes.

Information about the USRowing Youth National Championships is available at worldclassrowing.com.

Kathryn Moschella, East Manatee reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her Twitter feed at @MoschellaHerald.

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