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Triathlon Qualifier Tries to Stay Afloat

June 12, 2008, 5:24 p.m. (ET)

In 10 days, the third and final qualifying race to select 2008 U.S. Olympic Team - Triathlon will be held in Des Moines, Iowa. With the third (of three) spots up for grabs for both the men and women's squads, it is guaranteed to be a battle, particularly on the men's side where 2004 Olympian Andy Potts, 31, and two-time Olympian Hunter Kemper, 32, are tied in qualifying points.

Due to recent flooding in Iowa, however, race organizers are quickly trying to find another venue for the swimming leg -  the first stage of the 1500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike, and 10km run event contested at every Olympic Games since 2000.

At 2:30 Central time on Thursday, the race's organizer Bill Burke, reached via cell phone said, "Moving a World Cup of this size, you can't just do that on a moment's notice. I've been to every lake in town [looking for a viable site]. Right now, I'm standing in a private lake trying to figure out: how am I going to get people in or out of the water here? It's on a residential street, surrounded by houses. I haven't even had water samples done yet," he said.

The original plan was to hold the swim on Gray's Lake, just outside of downtown Des Moines.  "The transition is 17 feet under water; it's impossible" Burke said today. 

Flooding isn't the only problem.

The alternative to Gray's Lake was to have been Easter Lake, but Burke said, "it's over 2,200 bacteria level and staying there because the Raccoon River flooded its banks.

"The bacteria levels are sky high because the rain isn't stopping and even if it did, if the city and state officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tell me I can't let people go in there, what am I supposed to do? Go against their wishes?" he asked rhetorically.

Plan C was the lake in Raccoon River Park, but as Burke said, "it's nine feet above normal flood stage." And all three bodies of water are being fed by the Raccoon River.

"I don't want this to be a duathlon," Burke said. In that case, athletes would alternate running, biking, and running, the same way a 2004 Olympic qualifier in New York City was changed in 2003 after rain runoff into the Hudson River led to high bacteria levels.

At press time, USA Triathlon and USOC were trying to determine how Olympic selection criteria would be altered in case a triathlon is not held.

"I plan to keep racing until I hear otherwise," said Sarah Haskins, who is vying for the last women's berth. 

"But if I can't find another place," Burke said, there will be no alternative."


Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.