In the most challenging year in triathlon’s history, race directors nationwide learned to expect the unexpected. Even for the races that did go on in 2020, significant changes and adjustments were necessary in order to maintain the safety of athletes, staff, volunteers and spectators amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Every contingency plan needed its own contingency plan, and adaptability reigned supreme.
On Dec. 6, CHALLENGENORTHAMERICA and the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) joined forces to host CHALLENGEDAYTONA — a weekend of elite, amateur, youth and paratriathlon racing that culminated in the historic PTO 2020 Championship at Daytona International SpeedwayⓇ, which offered a $1.15M prize purse for the world’s fastest professional triathletes.
We spoke with representatives from CHALLENGENORTHAMERICA to get a glimpse of the complex planning and logistics it took to hold CHALLENGEDAYTONA successfully and safely for all participants.
For information about USA Triathlon’s Safe Return to Multisport initiative, including resources for athletes, race directors, coaches and officials, visit usatriathlon.org/safe-return.
USA Triathlon: Can you give a brief overview of the safety measures that were put in place for all participants at CHALLENGEDAYTONA (including age-group and pro participants, spectators, volunteers and staff)?
CHALLENGENORTHAMERICA: Our team mapped out safety protocols based on four interconnected pillars:
1. Medical Screening
2. Social Distancing and Compartmentalization
4. Contingency Plans
We had two entry points, and both gates were directed to the same entry medical checkpoint. At the gate, temperature checks were conducted on all passengers within the vehicles entering the venue. At the same time a medical screening was conducted, and a simple Q&A was completed by all persons in each vehicle. After the temperature checks and medical screenings, each passenger received a wrist band to indicate their compliance and passing.
If anyone experienced an elevated temperature or failed the Q&A, they were directed to a second medical screening area where they were screened a second time. Should anyone not pass the second temperature check and medical screening, they and anyone who was attending with them were not allowed to enter the venue nor allowed to race. They would have to leave straight away and would be instructed to the nearest medical facility.
Everyone in attendance was required to wear a face mask, and everyone was encouraged to keep 6 feet apart with signage around the venue and reminders from event staff.
USAT: What kinds of guidelines did you provide to pro athletes and their support staff who traveled internationally to compete in Daytona?
- PTO athletes and their support crews were required to be tested for COVID-19 and receive negative test results before departing on their journey. These test results were required to be shown to the PTO Staff upon arrival at the designated check-in.
- All PTO athletes and their support crews were issued photo-based ‘hard cards’ that allowed access to secure areas at the venue and the hotel. Security staff at the race hotels ensured that only those with accreditation could enter, including preventing more than two people from using an elevator at the same time.
- PTO athletes were tested again upon arrival in Daytona Beach. Anyone failing the testing procedure was removed from the hotel, and then quarantined in a separate location with additional testing over a 14-day period.
- The PTO provided all PTO athletes with rooming at designated hotels to operate as securely as possible, as well as dedicated training space at Daytona International Speedway and swimming at a local facility. This enabled the professional events to remain as separate from others as possible.
USAT: What were some of the biggest planning and logistical challenges you faced, both pre-event and during event weekend, that you wouldn’t have had during a “normal” event scenario?
- Planning for, estimating and securing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was a necessity to have absolutely buttoned up early on in the planning process.
- We had to identify a medical screening staff, which is an entire team we hadn’t needed for prior races. We ensured we had the proper support in advance to temperature check and screen thousands of people in a short period of time ahead of registration and then throughout the weekend.
- It was best to use iPads for digital screenings and for athletes to complete waiver forms as quickly as possible to ensure a smooth entry into the venue for all attendees.
USAT: Did you find that most event participants were respectful of and willing to comply with safety measures?
CHALLENGENORTHAMERICA: Nearly all athletes, vendors, sponsors and spectators were compliant and genuinely grateful and joyful to be out racing and enjoying the event. They were respectful of the safety protocols required to put on the race, and they knew how important they were to continue to have races in this climate in the future.
USAT: How did you communicate with age-group and pro athletes in the lead-up to and during race weekend, so that they knew what to expect and understood how to follow safety protocols onsite?
- We included a simple safety section on our website to educate in a straightforward manner ahead of the race.
- We developed a lengthy safety manual and protocols document that was provided to sponsors, vendors and staff ahead of the event for their review.
- We had many specific safety measures for the RV and Camping participants, and we emailed these guidelines to them ahead of their arrival.
- We included signs all over the venue as well as barricades to keep people safe and control the flow of athlete and pedestrian traffic.
- We included an email on safety to all athletes ahead of the race.
USAT: What top-level advice would you give to a race director or race management company that has yet to host an event in the COVID-19 era?
- We’d say it’s absolutely possible, so first, believe it can be done. Then, get to work auditing the best race you’ve ever put on, and find a safety measure you can take at every single point along the way. Maybe it’s having a few volunteers with masks and gloves on monitoring swim entry and spacing out entry, trash bins for throwing masks away before entering the water, gloved and masked volunteers handing a clean new mask to each athlete as they come out of the water, giving masks upon entry to transition, adding more space in transition to have athletes 6ft apart while getting on their bikes, having hand sanitizer stations and dispensers where spectators will be walking and watching the race, and supplying vendors with gloves to be worn within the expo and mandating touchless sales within the expo.
- Next, assess if your expo vendors are truly willing to comply with wearing a mask and social distancing. If they are, include them and enjoy a safe expo as well. Ensure booths are a bit larger for the vendors with surrounding free space to further encourage keeping a safe distance.
- Stagger your registration times and packet pick-up, and inform your athletes of their specific pick-up time so you can keep social distancing at a minimum of 6ft apart.
Visit challenge-daytona.com for complete information and race results from the PTO 2020 Championship at CHALLENGEDAYTONA, and click here for more Safe Return to Multisport resources from USA Triathlon.