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A Safe Return to Sport: The Flatland Cup Triathlon

By Brenna Cockerill | Sept. 22, 2020, 9:09 p.m. (ET)

On July 12, 2020, USA Triathlon-Certified Race Director Craig Hanken of the Flatland Cup Triathlon was one of first in the U.S. to successfully and safely host an in-person multisport event amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Following national guidelines from USA Triathlon’s Safe Return to Multisport initiative, Hanken and his staff held the USA Triathlon Youth & Junior Draft-Legal Cup in Des Moines, Iowa, which showcased up-and-coming youth and junior elite athletes competing in the racing style practiced in elite International Triathlon Union (ITU) events and the Olympic Games. USA Triathlon talked with Hanken about the planning that went into the event, the COVID-19 safety protocols implemented to hold it safely, and feedback the team received from participants and their parents post-race.  
USA Triathlon: Can you give us a brief overview of the COVID-19 safety precautions that were in place throughout race weekend? What were some of the biggest planning and logistical challenges you faced that you wouldn’t have during a “normal” event scenario? Did you find that most athletes, parents and volunteers were willing/able to comply with safety measures? 

Craig Hanken: The Flatland race has been hosted in Des Moines, Iowa, for 10 years. We knew we had wide-open space and a lot of people who wanted to race. We spent weeks and weeks planning and strategizing protocols and operations that would keep people safe during the competition, and as safe as possible from COVID-19.
Once we had our plans, we visited with the City and their EMS and police to share our plans with them. Our plans included properly protecting our volunteers with PPE, especially the finish line volunteers. Next, we tackled the operations of the event.

Every athlete was screened on race morning with a questionnaire and waiver, followed by a temperature check. If an athlete was beyond the proper reading, they would not be allowed to compete and would be asked to leave the park immediately (although we didn’t have any athletes not pass the test). We required athletes to wear masks at the screening, in transition and up to the start line. Once the athletes were brought to the start line they could remove their masks and were not required to put them on until they left the finish line and were back at their team tents. In the transition area and at the finish line, volunteers sanitized the equipment between each of the four events.

All volunteers and race staff wore masks at the event and also wore gloves when they were handling athlete water or were at the finish line. 

At the finish line, the usual cooling pools and smorgasbord of food were replaced with a small bag filled with several snack products, a cold bottle of water and a bag of ice that every athlete was offered. Spectators were asked to wear masks when they could not socially distance themselves at the event.
The costs associated with PPE and bottled water for all athletes, as well as additional staff and equipment, weren’t predicted when we set the registration price in February. We ended up adding a required special assessment fee in addition to the registration price to help us cover those costs.

In the end, everyone was very happy to be there and compliant. I would say we had upwards of 90 percent compliance by the masses. It went very well in my opinion.

USAT: How did you communicate to athletes and parents in the lead-up to and during race weekend, so that they knew what to expect and understood how to follow safety protocols onsite? 

CH: First we conducted a webinar with the coaches and parents of athletes who didn’t have coaches. We covered our rules and expectations, how the race would be operated, etc. Questions were asked at that time.

The race series already has a strict athlete pre-race meeting attendance policy. Since we conducted that meeting online, it was easy to get our message across: 
  • This cannot be a success without your commitment to safety and following a few simple rules. 
  • Everyone should wear a mask at all times and have their own supply of hand sanitizer, or they will be asked to leave the race by staff.
  • Please be responsible with your activities in the weeks leading up to the event.
  • Once you have completed your event, please leave as quickly as you can. 

We also communicated at least three other times with athletes, parents, coaches and volunteers via email about safety measures.

Lastly, we printed lots and lots of signs that said, "Maintain social distance," “Thank you for wearing a mask,” and a message about the symptoms and leaving the premises if you had them.

USAT: What kind of feedback have you gotten from athletes and parents post-race? 

CH: The race committee had a lot of people throughout the day and after the race thank us for our hard work. They were so happy to race, happy to see their friends and competitors. It was very positive. 

It was truly a group effort. The race committee went above and beyond by planning every single detail of the event. Then, the athletes, parents and coaches held up their end of the deal by following the rules. I don’t think the volunteers and staff have ever received so many thank you. The event went as smoothly as it has ever gone — maybe the best one in our 10-year history. It was a lot of hard work, but in the end, everyone was happy to have delivered on the promise of racing in the safest environment possible.

To learn more about the Flatland Cup Triathlon, click here. To read more about USA Triathlon’s Safe Return to Multisport initiative, visit