Did COVID provide a blueprint for the future of WTS Leeds?
Now that was a cracking weekend for many, many reasons. There are LOTS of talking points from the weekend of racing at the AJ Bell World Triathlon Leeds, a few of which I’ve touched on while introducing the race reports for the Para | Elite Women | Elite Men.
As mentioned in those, my involvement across the weekend (as has been the case for all five of the World Triathlon Series races in Leeds since the UK edition moved from London in 2016), was in the on-site commentary, as part of the Sports Presentation team. Having done that role for more than a decade now, at many events including major championships, what goes on behind the scenes – the number of people, the teams, the organisation, logistics, infrastructure, equipment, degree of planning, teamwork and more is truly incredible. If you ever wonder where your entry fee goes, go and volunteer at a major event and just look around…
There were very significant changes made to the event this year – as announced in March – in a very large part due to the enforced restrictions of Covid, which resulted in Roundhay Park being the base venue for the entire weekend, which previously was a two site venue (on Sunday at least), with the events starting at the park and finishing in Millennium Square in the heart of the city centre.
That doesn’t mean it was easier! Single transition? No, there were actually four separate transition areas now, with the introduction of the World Triathlon Para Series event.
Making wholesale changes to anything of this size, also means the many of the learnings and logistics from previous years have to totally be re-written from scratch, resulting in incredible amount of project management, alongside all of the partners, investors, suppliers and more which are all required to ‘make it happen’.
There’s a saying in the investment world that crisis can accelerate innovation. How many of you were ‘Zoom’ users two years ago, for example? The move towards online shopping is not new, but having seen exponential growth due to coronavirus, do you really think that will reverse, if ‘normal’ ever returns?
Walking away from the weekend and looking back now, I’m left wondering… while forced upon the organisers by the need to create a Covid-19 Secure event, could this also be the future? There is a lot, always, to be said about creating a single venue.
As an age-group athlete on Sunday for example, finishing your Standard distance race at say 10:30am, being able to recover and enjoy some refreshments in the Event Village (please, can we have the same weather every year!). Then pick up all of your gear from the transition area, perhaps wander back over to the nearby car parking to deposit your kit, and then return to relax in and around the park. Cheer the Elite athletes on, watch on the many large screens that were provided within Roundhay (without shuttle buses from Leeds City Centre back to Roundhay). That’s quite an attractive option in my eyes.
The courses were also very good for all events – challenging, created some great racing, and with a rarely (if ever?!) seen ramp up to the finish line in front of Mansion House. That didn’t play a key factor in the Elite podiums this year, but you can imagine it could be the scene of memorable moments in the future. It did provide many interesting sprint-finishes in the age-group races!
Being based in Roundhay also opens up some other opportunities for British Triathlon. With the previous point-to-point run course, the Sprint distance events had an enforced ‘long’ run. With the ability to provide a 5km option within the park, holding a Sprint race as an age-group qualifier or championship, would now be a realistic option.
Let me be clear – everything here is just my speculation. While I’ve been a small part of the hundreds of people that make up the crew of the organising team, I’m certainly not party to the potential future plans for the AJ Bell World Triathlon, that was again so well coordinated by Andrew Taylor and Wayne Coyle.
One thing I am pretty sure of, is if it wasn’t on the schedule already, that the extensive de-brief process post-event (once they have had a very well deserved rest), will have at least some discussion, as to whether Roundhay Park could and should be the sole hub moving forward.