Apple Triathlon: A thriving summer tradition
With more than three decades of history behind it, the Pushor Mitchell Apple Triathlon has evolved into one of Kelowna's most successful, longest-running and highest-profile sporting traditions.
The 2014 edition of the multi-sport summer event last weekend did nothing to degrade that reputation, as nearly 1,200 athletes from across North America and other parts of the globe converged on the B.C. Interior's largest city for the two-day competition.
Apple Triathlon president Richard Montgomery called last weekend's 32nd annual race "the smoothest run yet" and is encouraged with how the event has become a fixture in many people's summer plans—including the athletes, their families and close to 1,000 volunteers.
"What we've tried to do over the years is build this into a national calibre race, we've got people that are coming back, they know their positions and are able to leave their mark here ," Montgomery said. "Also our team is very good…and it just seems like we have the people that build their vacation around this race. Three generations of people now that have come to the race, they come to the Okanagan for a couple of weeks and this is their big culmination. So it really is getting to be entrenched as part of our city's fibre and culture, it's great to see."
The 2014 Apple marked the return of elite athletes to the race program after taking a year off.
From 2009 to 2012 the event served as the Canadian national triathlon championships, while 2013 was a year for organizers to take a breath, reflect, and build the base for future races.
"Last year was a chance for everybody to get a break…this year was a chance to get the elites back and it worked out very well," he said. "Tri Canada is trying to encourage us to participate in that because it gives Canadian athletes an opportunity to get some race experience and points, so for the Canadian elite athletes, having it here is really helpful for them.
"It's part of why we're doing what we're doing," he added, "giving Canadians a chance to excel at the sport and it's really gratifying see them come out."
Once again, the race course—which was set up primarily for the sprint and Olympic distance races—drew accolades from the athletes.
"This (Kelowna) is my favourite place to race so I’m happy I was able to return here,” said Canadian Paula Findlay, the silver medalist in the women's elite sprint.
Men's elite sprint champion Tommy Zaferes of the U.S., who was making his first visit to Kelowna, heartily agreed with Findlay.
"The course is sweet, I love the bike course, the run is lined with people cheering it's hard not to be excited about it," said Zaferes. "Kelowna is a nice spot, I'll definitely be back."
Montgomery said he regularly hears other competitors making similar comments, which are both welcome and serve as motivation for organizers to live up to the expectations most people now have of the Apple.
"It puts pressure on the organizing committee because the course is really nice and we have to make sure we live up to the standards that are set," he said.
"With all the people returning, we've been able to elevate the standard every year. It's getting to have some polish on it and it feels really good."
As for the 33rd annual Apple Triathlon and beyond, Montgomery said there's no reason the race shouldn't continue to improve and evolve—particularly because of the commitment made to the event at a community level.
"It's totally a volunteer organization and that's one of our big strengths, we want to have our city the best it can be," he said. "We're not just a for-profit that's going to move it if they can make more money somewhere else. I think it's really important that's it's a grassroots community organization."
And on a personal and celebratory note, Montgomery was able to step on to the podium for the first time at the Apple on Sunday, capturing bronze medal in the men's (65 to 69) sprint.
"I've always said if I live long enough that through attrition I'd get on the podium," he said with a laugh. "This year I made it. It's kind of exciting."