By WALLACE McKELVEY Staff Writer |
ATLANTIC CITY — Rough surf conditions and overcast skies did not dampen the enthusiasm of more than 300 competitors who came out Sunday for the inaugural Atlantic City International Triathlon.
“To be riding on the expressway was something else,” said Jackie Somers, of Northfield. “That alone was worth it.”
The event offered athletes a rare 22-mile bicycle ride along the Atlantic City Expressway, followed by a 10-kilometer run on the Boardwalk, ending at Bally’s Atlantic City. The Atlantic City/Brigantine Connector tunnel and one lane of the Atlantic City Expressway were closed for the duration of the race, with sporadic road closings elsewhere along the route.
At the start of the triathlon, rough surf and strong currents prevented most athletes from completing the swim portion of the event. Although the direction and length of the swim was changed as conditions deteriorated Sunday, officials ruled it too dangerous to continue.
“It was really disappointing, but it was smart of them to stop the race,” said triathlete Jim Mogan, 44, of Medford, Burlington County, who was stopped just short of the water by the Atlantic City Beach Patrol.
Beach Patrol Chief Rod Aluise said he had mobilized a dozen lifeboats, six paddle board rescuers and three personal watercraft in advance of the race. But it became obvious that conditions were too dangerous to continue after the first wave of competitors — some of the most seasoned triathletes — struggled past the shore break, he said.
“There were some pool swimmers who didn’t really understand the ocean conditions they were confronted with,” he said. “We decided the most prudent thing was to abort the swim.”
Despite a number of rescues made during the first 10 minutes of the swim, Aluise said there were no injuries.
Race director Stephen Del Monte, who has organized the annual Tri/Run The Wildwoods triathlon for seven years, said about 400 people registered for the event, 340 of whom crossed the finish line.
“It’s pretty standard to get 10 percent no-shows,” he said.
Maureen Siman, race advisory committee member and vice president of marketing for the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, said the event had “amazing turnout for its first year.”
The Atlantic City Marathon, by comparison, drew an estimated 2,700 people last October and 800 in 2009. The marathon, now in its 53rd year, is scheduled for Oct. 16. The Brigantine Island Triathlon, which held its 24th event Aug. 6, attracts about 750 athletes each year.
Siman said the triathlon is a good thing for Atlantic City businesses.
“First of all, it attracts someone who may not have been here before but loves doing a destination race,” she said. This kind of race, she said, often prompts athletes to stay overnight and make a weekend of the event.
Similarly, Siman said triathletes tend to have higher incomes than participants in other sports, most being college graduates earning $75,000 per year.
“It’s typically slower during this time of year, so we’re happy to show Atlantic City to new visitors,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ll come back next year and the water will be a bit calmer.”
The ocean is what kept Siman, a triathlete herself, from competing in the event.
“I don’t think I’ve graduated to that level yet,” she said.
Barbara Cresse, of Cape May Court House, volunteered throughout the day, guiding triathletes along the route and ringing a large, brass bell. The co-founder of the South Jersey Triathlon Club said she brings the bell to every race she doesn’t compete in herself.
She said she welcomed the opportunity to finally ring it in Atlantic City.
“I’m real excited to have this race in our area,” she said. “I usually go to Miami to swim (in the ocean).”
Cresse started the day at 7 a.m. on the beach in front of Boardwalk Hall, ringing the bell as the few competitors who made it past the breakers came ashore. Four hours later, she was standing near the finish line, cheering the last runners across.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re first or 300th,” she said. “The bell cheers you up.”