Jeff Symonds celebrates his Challenge Penticton win at the finish line.

Jeff Symonds celebrates his Challenge Penticton win at the finish line.

Challenge Penticton banks on future

Despite low participant numbers, Challenge Penticton organizers and athletes believe it will only continue to grow.

Despite low participant numbers, Challenge Penticton organizers and athletes believe it will only continue to grow.

“I just love the course here. I wanted to support the change and if nobody supports the local races they won’t happen,” said pro athlete Jen Annett of Penticton. “This race is going to get big and I know it. They did an amazing job.”

Challenge Family CEO Felix Walschöfer, who announced at the volunteer and athlete banquet on Monday the company will be unveiling a U.S. race date in September, said he heard nothing but positive things about Sunday’s race in Penticton.

“I’m absolutely thrilled, absolutely thrilled. Really good crowd and I had a really good feeling. I was at every aid station (Sunday) to thank every volunteer myself and it was a very, very positive feeling and the athletes were loving it. Very, very happy,” he said.

Challenge Penticton said they had about 1,350 athletes registered with some no-shows and others not finishing on Sunday. Barb Haynes, general manager for Challenge Penticton, said 571 individuals completed the course on Sunday, along with 162 relay teams (486 athletes).

Ironman Canada held its first race outside of Penticton in three decades. In comparison their registration was slightly down. Keats McGonigal, race director for Ironman Canada, explained they sold out the event in October and capped the registration at just over 2,800 athletes.

“We put a specific cap on it based on the layout of the course here and what we were going to be able to do for the first time in a new venue and we are going to end up getting more than that next year,” said McGonigal.

Registration opened the day after the Whistler race, as it did in Penticton, and McGonigal said it was a flurry of activity.

“We had huge lines of people signing up and we are anticipating on selling out the event for 2014,” said McGonigal, who could not provide exact 2014 registration numbers as of Tuesday.

The lineups and buzz at ground zero of Challenge Penticton as registration opened on Monday were small. Haynes said she also didn’t have exact numbers on 2014 registration because it is also available online, but added “a few hundred as of this point right now.”

“We are still in the process of building and I think it will get to that point where there is going to be massive lineups, but we also processed them really fast so you don’t see that same volume,” said Haynes.

“We will be back to where we want to be but we just need to rebuild and I knew we needed to deliver a stellar event in order to do that. That is what we just did.”

Haynes also praised the volunteers who gave their time to the event and the athletes.

“Once again, as with every event that happens in this community, the volunteers were outstanding and have made us proud. Everything I have heard from athletes has been absolutely stellar.”

Already pro athlete Chris McCormack told Haynes he will be back. McCormack was in second place behind eventual winner, Penticton’s Jeffrey Symonds, until he had to drop out.

Those signing up for next year’s swim-bike-run event on Monday were also happy with how the inaugural race went down.

Luke Fletcher, originally from England and now living in Nanaimo, was in good spirits having just completed his first long distance triathlon. He easily made his way through the Challenge Penticton registration tent at Gyro Park on Monday morning about a half hour after it opened to sign up for next year. Fletcher said a decision on whether or not to compete in Ironman Canada, which is moving up its race date to July 27 in 2014, was not one he had to put a lot of thought into.

“Whistler didn’t really appeal to us. We have been there before and we came to Penticton because we wanted to explore more of B.C. It was also a good excuse to visit wine country,” he said. “This was a brilliantly organized event so we want to come back.”

When Lynn Constantinoff stepped off her RV after the long trip from Saskatchewan in order to volunteer at last year’s Penticton Ironman Canada race to guarantee her a spot in 2013, said she was shocked to find out it was not returning.

“When I heard about all the politics and everything behind it, I was pro-Challenge. I also like the idea of staggered starts and the idea of the race being about the participants and the community getting involved. It was also well-organized,” said Constantinoff, who finished fifth overall in her age category and is planning to sign up for the new half-triathlon which joins the list of Challenge Penticton events next year.

Six-time Penticton triathlon course finisher Lazelle De Ridder from Lac La Biche, Alta, said it is the beauty of the city that brings her back each year and not the race organizer. She too signed up for next year’s Challenge, even though there are some things she would like to see changed. De Ridder said she was unsure of the staggered start which spread out the smaller field of athletes in comparison to the Ironman Canada race.

“There were times I was running alone and I missed having people around me,” she said.

The triathlete said she is appreciative of the volunteers who did an “awesome” job but she missed the theme’s and costumes they had at aid stations in previous years.

“I do love the Penticton spectators too. I have been coming here for 10 years and am loyal to Penticton,” said De Ridder. “Overall it went really well but I missed the buzz of all the athletes. I think it will just take time to grow.”