Corbyn Jahn, left, with fellow competitor Eric Flanders at the 2021 Tri-Flake Winter Triathlon.
The 2021 USA Triathlon Winter Triathlon National Championships were held Saturday, Jan. 16 at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, Alaska, drawing a field of nearly 100 athletes. The event featured a 6-kilometer run and 14-kilometer mountain bike on snow-packed trails, followed by a 6.6-kilometer cross-country ski. Alaskans dominated the race, with 17 of the 20 age-group national champions hailing from the state.
The event held with stringent COVID-19 safety precautions in place according to USA Triathlon’s Safe Return to Multisport initiative, including self-screening and temperature checks; face coverings at all times except when actively racing; contact reduction for athletes, staff and volunteers; and increased cleaning and disinfecting practices onsite.
Anchorage local Corbyn Jahn, 29, took fourth place overall in the men’s race. USA Triathlon caught up with Jahn to talk about his experience racing in the COVID-19 era, and how race director Jason Lamoreaux and the host Alaska Triathlon Club communicated and implemented safety measures on race day.
USA Triathlon: What was your overall experience like at Winter Triathlon Nationals?
Corbyn Jahn: I’ve done this race two other times, and I’ve done almost every other Alaskan triathlon in the last four or five years. I can say unequivocally that this was one of the best-organized races that I’ve seen, and I reached out to the race directors to let them know how impressed I was with the overall experience of the race. They just really made it feel like it could be a championship race in a non-COVID time. The staging was there, the infrastructure was there. Hopefully this event grows quite a bit, and I know without a doubt that they’re able to handle that.
USAT: Can you give a brief overview of some of the safety measures that you noticed as a participant?
CJ: Everything was organized in a safe manner from start to finish. The bib pickup was offered in the days prior and at multiple locations so that it would be convenient for people in different parts of town. On race day, they asked that there were not spectators just to limit the number of people that were there. They made announcements the entire day asking people to stay out of areas if you weren’t actively involved in them. They only allowed a certain number of people in transition at a time, and they didn’t have any indoor waiting areas so there wasn’t a conglomeration of people. When you finished, rather than waiting for an awards session with all of the people in the race, they gave the overall and age-group awards as the competitors came in. And they just had frequent reminders for athletes — like as soon as we finished, they would come up and say, “Hey, I’m really sorry to do this, but when you get a chance, please put your mask back over your face.” The entire day they were making announcements and trying to make sure that people were following the guidelines.
USAT: What gave you confidence about attending the event? How did the race directors communicate safety protocols to participants in the lead-up to and on race day?
CJ: I think it was almost daily emails and announcements about how the setup and everything was going to go. Because it was an all-outdoor event and there weren’t any indoor meetings or anything in a confined space, I never had any qualms about racing with a group.
USAT: Did you feel that most athlete participants were willing and able to comply with all safety measures?
CJ: Yeah, I think triathlon in general is made up of pretty cooperative people. I didn’t see anyone out there yelling at officials for asking them to put their buffs back on or anything.
USAT: Did you leave the race feeling confident about the safety of endurance events in general, and wanting to compete again in the COVID era?
CJ: I do think that Winter Triathlon is unique in that there is probably a lot less getting near people, and my comfort level with Winter Triathlon is a little bit higher because it’s easy to separate people out. Even if the event grew tenfold next year and we still had COVID, they could still easily break people into as many waves as they needed because there’s so much space at that venue.
USAT: From an athlete’s perspective, what is one thing you want race directors to know about how they can best serve athletes during this time?
CJ: The cost of entry to events can be very high, especially when you combine registration fees and the travel expenses to get to a race. With so many people already struggling and needing to budget more carefully during COVID-19, it’s hard to justify spending on races and events. I would encourage race companies to try and cut costs where possible, even if it means removing some of the bells and whistles, but without sacrificing safety measures. Because Alaska races are inherently small and it’s a very tight-knit community, they’re approachable, but it’s more when I race nationally and internationally. When you’re talking about plane tickets and everything that goes into attending out-of-state or out-of-country race, making them more accessible to a normal person is, I think, very important.
For more information about USA Triathlon’s Safe Return to Multisport initiative, including resources for athletes, race directors, coaches and officials, visit usatriathlon.org/safe-return.