The championship race was held March 13.
There was a lot more at stake last weekend at Nathan Benderson Park than finishing places, athletic performance or even overall event success.
Hundreds of athletes took part in the Sarasota-Bradenton Triathlon, typically a grueling test of running, cycling and swimming in a variety of classes.
Although rough weather prompted a change in plans for some of the racers on Saturday, the field of elite para-athletes did swim, run and cycle their way through the park.
“Mother Nature can really challenge us in multiple ways,” said race director Craig Hanken. “It’s stressful and takes a lot of patience on everyone’s part, especially for the athletes who have to rework their thoughts and plans.”
But for a group of select para-athletes, a competition held Friday was an important milestone. Already on hand for the main event, the smaller group of 20 men and women competed in a test of an idea organizers hope will one day take off.
The mixed-team triathlon took to the course with 16 Americans on four teams and a four-member team of Canadians. It was the first time such a race was held on American soil.
Standings weren’t kept, other than for data purposes, and times weren’t announced, but pride was on the line to finish first in the historic event. Race organizers hope to see the mixed-team event rise in significance and be featured in the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Hanken said.
Additional test races will be held throughout 2022 in the United States, with the goal of a world championship mixed-team event in 2024, a prerequisite for the Olympics.
Mixed-teams consist of two men and two women who compete in a scaled-down version of a triathlon designed to last about 20 minutes. With some in wheelchairs and others with prosthetics, the idea is to form teams with a variety of abilities, with the fastest team to finish winning.
Organizers and athletes said the test went well.
During the main event, about 96 elite para-athletes swam, ran and cycled throughout the park.
In other categories, some athletes required tethered guides to run, swim and cycle alongside.
The race featured a 750-meter swim, a 18.3K bike race and a 5K run.
Richard Murray of the Netherands was the elite men’s winner with an overall time of 29 minutes, 14 seconds. Kristen Kasper, who ran for Georgetown’s cross-country team for five years, was the top elite women’s finisher with a time of 32:47.
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