USA Triathlon will send athletes to Cuba for the first time to participate in the Habana CAMTRI event.

USA Triathlon sends athletes to Cuba for the first time to participate in Habana CAMTRI event.

The first American athletes to compete in Cuba following the easing of travel regulations to the country will be of the swim-bike-run persuasion.

Shortly after President Obama announced the changes, USA Triathlon revealed it would be sending nearly 30 American triathletes to the island for the 2015 Habana CAMTRI Triathlon.

Though the arrangement seemed to happen overnight in the wake of political change, an international relationship through multisport has been a process more than 13 years in the making.

“Ever since I learned about the geography of Cuba, I was intrigued,” said USA Triathlon Board of Directors President Barry Siff. “It’s a beautiful country that offers every type of landscape, from ocean to whitewater to forests to mountains and everywhere in between.”

Since 2002, Siff has maintained relations with Cuba’s sport ministry representatives, hoping to secure passage for American athletes. A 2006 attempt to send American athletes to race at the ITU-Sanctioned Continential Cup failed; however, 2014 rumors of renewed relations with Cuba prompted Siff to meet with a Cuban triathlon official to begin the process of obtaining a license for American triathletes to travel to and race in Cuba. The day after the White House announced a new, friendly relationship with Cuba, a license for 30 American athletes to attend the Habana CAMTRI race was approved.

On Jan. 24 and 25, 19 amateur triathletes, eight up-and-coming professional athletes and two coaches will represent the United States in sprint, Olympic, and long-course triathlon races. They will be some of the first American athletes to travel to Cuba in half a century.

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Renee Tomlin, a participant in the USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruitment Program, was tickled to learn her 2015 season would begin by making history: “Our coach called our training group to update us on our race schedule, so we put him on speakerphone. ‘Look, we’re going to Cuba at the end of January,’ he said, and most of us paused and looked at one another before big smiles and laughter broke out.”

On Dec. 23, an e-mail was sent to USA Triathlon age-group members offering first-come, first serve opportunities to secure a spot in Havana. The response was “overwhelming,” says Siff, with all spots filling up in minutes.

“When this opportunity popped into my e-mail inbox, I couldn’t resist,” says age-group athlete Jessica Rossing of Duluth, Minn.. “This was a carpe diem moment, and I went for it. The first thought that came into my head after filling out the form was ‘DONE! There you go, first step done!’ Then I realized I got one of only 25 spots, and it sunk how fortunate I was to have quick fingers to register before the slots filled up.”

“I’m most excited to represent the United States as a neighbor to Cuba, even more so than as an athlete,” said Tomlin. As a token of thanks, Tomlin’s training group spent the weeks leading up to the race collecting triathlon gear to deliver to Cuba’s Triathlon Federation, which will help grow and sustain the sport. While in Cuba, Rossing will participate in a charity ride to deliver bikes and equipment to a teenage cycling group.

These gestures of goodwill excite Siff, who says the event does not serve the purpose of politics, but instead provide opportunities for growth in multisport.

“I’m thrilled to see what I’ve seen so far from our USA Triathlon representatives, and I think speaking for our age-group and elite athletes, I see nothing but a priority on being good ambassadors,” said Siff. “I truly am most excited about what we can bring in terms of momentum, inspiration, excitement and attention to triathlon in Cuba. We have very specific mission at USA Triathlon to help grow the sport in the United States and internationally, and I see this as helping to fulfill that mission.”

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