LAKEWOOD RANCH — A hard-charging community with ambition for national status, Lakewood Ranch is not accustomed to being a back-up plan.
But when officials behind four future pentathlon events in the Sarasota-Bradenton region visited Lakewood Ranch to speak with Rex Jensen, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch CEO and president, he obliged without consideration.
Local and international officials announced a venue change Feb. 23, revealing the 2014 Modern Pentathlon World Cup Final in June — the first event of four to be held in the Sarasota-Bradenton area over the next three years — will be held at the Sarasota Polo Club in Lakewood Ranch.
Nathan Benderson Park was slated to host the majority of events for the pentathlon — a sport that combines swimming, fencing, running, shooting and equestrian show jumping — but scheduling conflicts there, specifically the Sunshine State Games, forced a change of venue.
“We are happy to help out,” Jensen said. “We support anything that will be good for Sarasota-Bradenton. It will give Lakewood Ranch residents something neat to watch. And it will give Lakewood Ranch national exposure, which is something we’re trying to do.”
Jensen will not require Katherine Harris, a former congresswoman and Florida Secretary of State, and her organizing committee, to pay for use of the polo club.
Harris and her team had originally submitted the week of June 11 through June 15 as their choice for the world cup final because there were no events scheduled at Nathan Benderson Park. But the sport’s governing body requested to move it a week earlier, causing the conflict.
The Selby Aquatics Center in Sarasota will host swimming and the round-robin component of fencing, as originally planned.
The polo club, which will serve as the site for equestrian, running and shooting events, as well as the “ladder” portion of the fencing competition, has always been more than a venue for polo.
Members of the polo club lobbied Jensen with emails offering their facility when they learned Sarasota-Bradenton had won the bid for pentathlon events.
“The polo club has been a center for events from day one,” said Jensen, who also noted hosting pentathlon athletes and families would fill area hotels during the slow summer tourist season. “It will look like a small event for us.”
Jensen said Harris and Blackketter, president of Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates, which operates Nathan Benderson Park, promised him the polo club would require no permanent improvements to support the world cup final, the culmination of the world cup series. The event brings the top 36 male and 36 female pentathlon athletes from across the country. Those athletes aspire to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.
Before the venue changes became public, international and USA officials traveled to Sarasota-Bradenton Feb. 22 through Feb. 24 to tour the facilities.
They said the switch of facilities will do little to change the impact of the world cup final June 4 through June 8. It will be held in the United States for the first time in more than 40 years.
“I am blown away by this facility,” said James Hamill-Reeves, the director of Union International de Pentathlon Modern, the sport’s International governing body. “We accept the new venue because it’s great, but also because it’s not a change in location. The event is still in Sarasota-Bradenton, a community that beat out cities such as Cairo, Rome and Buenos Aires. It’s all about the experience around the event.”
Reeves expects smaller, temporary additions to the polo club, such as building an obstacle course for the equestrian show jumping event.
The organizing committee now must market and raise money for the event.
On Sunday, the committee launched the world cup final’s website, http://sbpentathlon.com, where it hopes to take donations and sell tickets in the future. The site features a new logo, designed by students at the Ringling College of Art & Design.
Harris is leading efforts to raise $750,000 to $1 million from the private sector to host the world cup final.
The committee will need to raise a total of $5 million to host all of the events, including a world cup in March 2015 and the world cup final and Olympic qualifier in June 2016. Visit Sarasota County, the Bradenton Area Convention Center & Visitor’s Bureau, SANCA and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation already have committed $50,000 each to host the event.
In March, the president of pentathlon’s international governing body, Klaus Schormann, will visit the venues for the first time.
Harris hopes the culmination of events represent a lasting relationship that extends both ways.
“It’s an ongoing endeavor,” Harris said. “This is the mid-term exam. I want it to be something that is so closely knit with the community, where Olympic medal winners are talking in local schools. And then, we will show them how to tailgate at the polo club.”
Pentathletes achieve performance-related points in each discipline: fencing; 200-meter freestyle swimming; 12-obstacle show-jumping equestrian contest; 3,000-meter run; and pistol shooting.
• June 2014: World Cup finals, including 36 men and 36 women.
• March 2015: World Championships, including individuals and relay teams from all over the world.
• 2016: World Cup finals and U.S. Olympics trials.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].