Politics Killed the NYC Triathlon This Year

The race made the right decision in canceling anyway. Here’s why.

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was feeling the heat last weekend when constituents and the state’s governor criticized him for campaigning for the 2020 presidency in Iowa while his city went dark. So when the forecast called for a heatwave of temps reaching around 100 and 58 percent humidity, he was out to show New York that he’s here and he cares about everyone’s well being–including that of the approximately 4,000 athletes signed up to race the New York City Triathlon on Sunday.

At a press conference about the heat wave on Wednesday, the media asked de Blasio about the triathlon. The Mayor responded that he didn’t “quite understand why the triathlon organizers want to continue with their triathlon at this point.” He continued to say, “I would think this is an exceptional situation. But I know we’re in dialogue with them right now.”

Those words were printed in the New York Daily News that afternoon with the headline: Heatwave forces de Blasio off campaign trail as he urges NYC triathlon to postpone weekend race. As of Thursday morning, the race hadn’t officially decided to call it off, tweeting:

But the shots had been fired. (At the press conference, the media then went on to question de Blasio’s absence during last weekend’s blackout, then returned to the triathlon when a member of the press asked if the city could revoke organizer Life Time’s permit to hold the race. “I am not a lawyer. I find that a very tempting equation,” de Blasio responded.)

The result: the race really had no choice but to cancel. It was the first time the NYC Tri ever got canceled, though this race has seen steamy conditions in the past; in 2016, the run course was shortened to 8K because of extreme heat warnings.

Athletes at the event were, understandably, bummed. This was Keith Baines’ 12th year racing and volunteering. “I’m very disappointed in the race because I trained, I’m ready for it,” said the New Jersey-based triathlete. “But with the conditions out there, I have to trust they’re making the best decision for everybody involved.” Baines’ favorite part is the swim. He says the race “has got a special place in my heart and I’m committed to doing it every year as long as I can keep doing it.”

That’s why the NYC Tri had to cancel this year: so they could keep doing it.

It’s pretty simple. A race does not happen without the city’s support. Emergency services, road closures–all of these things mobilize for an event only with the city’s approval. Maintaining good relationships is paramount to ensure the race continues in the future, and if the Mayor tells the press he’d like to cancel the race, the race can’t really flip him the bird and expect 2020 to go smoothly. That means blaming the cancelation on the heat. (Make no mistake, the heat concerns are legitimate, though one common argument has been that racers should get to decide if they’d like to face it or not.) The race tweeted the decision to cancel on Thursday evening at 7:10.

This was the last year the race would be held on the original course, run since 2001. Olympian Hunter Kemper’s record from the inaugural event in 2001 will stand for eternity. The Challenged Athletes Foundation had organized five relay teams in an attempt to beat Kemper’s time of 1:41:20 and in the process win $25K for the foundation from Life Time.

Life Time Triathlon series brand manager Scott Hutmacher said the race would donate the 12 tons of fluids–21 thousand bottles of water and Gatorade Endurance–to cooling and homeless shelters. They’re working with Ronald McDonald House to present medals to sick kids, and donate volunteer and athlete t-shirts to shelters.

Hutmacher says the race did not hold an insurance policy for weather-related cancellations, but they’re lucky to be backed by athletic club chain Life Time, so they could fully refund all racers the average entry fee of about $330 without financially impacting their ability to put the event on in the future–a future, he said, that may be in a less temperamental June, if the logistics work out.

“It is heartbreaking,” Hutmacher said of the cancellation. “But we know it’s the right decision and we’re looking towards 2020 already.”

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