|Melissa Stockwell celebrates as she runs down the finishing shoot to win the Paratriathlon female Tri-2 race on Oct. 22, 2012 in Auckland, New Zealand.
CHICAGO – For USA Triathlon the news today means a big step forward for the country’s third-biggest city. For athletes such as Melissa Stockwell, it means home-field advantage.
The International Triathlon Union on Friday announced it has chosen Chicago to host World Triathlon Series races in 2014 and 2015, including the 2015 World Triathlon Grand Final. In 2015, the city will also play host to ITU Age-Group World Championships.
Pending formal approval, the races will also be a part of the United States’ qualifying process for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Paratriathlon will make its debut in Rio and Stockwell, who competed as a swimmer in the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, hopes to make her return to the Paralympic Games in Rio.
But before she can get to Rio, she will have to race in Chicago, and Stockwell already is eager for the chance to win by Lake Michigan. It helps that she lives in Oak Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb.
“I was thrilled,” Stockwell said of hearing Chicago will play host to World Triathlon Series events. “I was like a kid at Christmas. I wanted to go and run and tell my whole neighborhood. It’s so exciting.”
“I swim and bike and run down the city weekly, so to be able to compete on one of the biggest athletic stages…” she added. “I mean the triathlon community in Chicago is huge, so to have the support of all the triathlon community, to have other athletes come from around the world and to be able to show off our city… it’s awesome, especially leading to Rio in 2016.”
Rob Urbach, the CEO of USA Triathlon, said it was something of an upset that Chicago was the country’s nominee to host the events. San Diego, the birthplace of the triathlon, has hosted the ITU World Series for two consecutive seasons, and was in the running to keep a hold of the event.
Chicago, however, was chosen, and will become the first American city to host the Grand Final since the series started in 2009.
Chicago will be the third U.S. city to host a WTS race. San Diego hosted in 2012 and 2013 and Washington D.C. did in 2009.
“The opportunity to race on home soil, for the Grand Final to be a part of the process of Olympic qualification is very, very important for athletes,” Urbach said.
The 2014 races, which will include elite and age-group (amateur) races will take place June 27-29, and the 2015 editions will be in late September, approximately from the 23-28. The ones in 2015 will be for qualifiers.
The elite men’s and women’s courses will be the Olympic distances of 1.5 kilometers of swimming, 40 kilometers of biking, and 10 kilometers of running. The paratriathlon course will be 750 meters of swimming, 20 kilometers of biking and finish with a 5k.
The elite women's and men's races will be broadcast live to an international audience and streamed online. The series is currently broadcast in more than 160 countries globally.
The course will go past several Chicago landmarks such as Lake Michigan, the museum campus, Soldier Field and Millennium Park, and will culminate with a loop around Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park.
Those picturesque views of the city will help sell the races, but Stockwell probably will have a role in that as well.
Flanked during the news conference by Urbach, Deputy Chicago Mayor Steven Koch, ITU President and IOC member Marisol Casado and Chicago Sports Commission Executive Director Sam Stark, Stockwell was beaming as the announcement took place.
Urbach said marketing hasn’t been finalized for the events yet, but praised Stockwell as a competitor and likely will turn to Stockwell for help in promoting the events.
In 2004, Stockwell lost her left leg while serving in Iraq when an improvised explosive device exploded. After her recovery she became active in athletics, going on to compete in three swimming events at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games before changing to paratriathlon, winning three straight TRI-2 (amputated above the knee) world titles.
“She’s terrific and a great story and she’s a great inspiration for our whole community,” Urbach said. “We’ve worked with Melissa on broader initiatives so it would only be natural to have her engaged.”
The announcement also meant a victory for Chicago on the international sports scene. The city was a finalist for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games but was the first bid eliminated in 2008.
The course that will be used is not the one that would have been traversed in 2016, but will still show off the city.
|Gwen Jorgensen of the United States competes in the run leg
during the ITU World Triathlon Series race on May 11, 2013
in Yokohama, Japan.
“I think it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” Casado said.
Stockwell certainly would agree. She’s looking forward to the events not just for her own sake, but for the American and Chicago triathlon communities.
“After today, hearing there’s going to be such a big event here I think they’ll all stand behind it and hopefully support all the course and come out and cheer us on,” Stockwell said. “I think the spectators will be phenomenal.”
Today was a big news day for another competitor. In addition to hearing that Chicago will play host to WTS events, Gwen Jorgensen was named the U.S. Olympic Committee’s athlete for the month of May. A 2012 Olympian, Jorgensen is currently ranked No. 1 in the world.
Jorgensen, who lives in Milwaukee, is looking forward to competing in Chicago. In April, she became the first American woman to win an ITU World Triathlon Series race in San Diego and she followed that up with a gold-medal performance last month in Yokohama.
“Competing at a WTS race in the USA is like having a home-court advantage,” Jorgensen said. “All the fans are cheering for you. It's an amazing experience, and something that pushes all of the U.S. athletes further than we think possible."
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Brian Sandalow is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.