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It’s safe to say that the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon is quickly making its way onto triathlon’s “must do” list.
Approximately 1,500 athletes from 51 countries will compete on Saturday—almost double the number who competed last year in the event’s inauguration. Additionally, the pro field will be one of the strongest outside of the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, featuring the likes of reigning Ironman world champion Chris McCormack and two-time world Ironman champ Craig Alexander.
The race’s competitors—about 1,000 of whom come from somewhere other than the United Arab Emirates—will get to experience a city that is quite unlike any other in the world.
“Abu Dhabi is a very interesting, fast moving place,” said Faris Al-Sultan, the 2005 Ironman world champion, founder of the Abu Dhabi Triathlon Team, and contender for Saturday’s men’s title. “Its development from small village to a world-known, global city was faster than with any other city I know—maybe Dubai is in that range but that’s the only [one].”
Enchanting structures such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque—one of the largest mosques in the world—and the Emirates Palace Hotel—one of the most exclusive hotels in the world—jut from Abu Dhabi’s sandy earth and glow brightly in the night.
And construction cranes and modern skyscrapers dot the city’s horizon, with activity buzzing around the clock.
During the day, the clear waters of the Persian Gulf—Abu Dhabi sits on an island in the middle of the gulf—provide welcome relief to the Arabian heat.
Athletes racing on Saturday will choose among a long, short and sprint distance, with the long-course distance—the one the pros race—being unique among the tri world’s big races: It’s a 3km swim, a 200km bike and a 20km run.
Athletes will swim in a lagoon just outside of the Emirates Palace, cycle on a closed course that runs through Yas Island, which is home to the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and finish along the beach.