Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 31 October 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: Masks and medals for athletes as triathlon season gets back up and running in Dubai

The emirate’s first triathlon was hosted in line with strict Covid-19 safety measures

Hundreds of competitors lined up for the first triathlon event held in Dubai since the Covid-19 outbreak on Friday.

Entry numbers were limited and no spectators were allowed as athletes wore face masks as part of measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

The Roy Nasr Memorial Triathlon welcomed 400 triathletes at JA The Resort in Jebel Ali, down from the 1,000 or more who usually take part.

Athletes stood two metres apart in queues and wore masks until they entered the water, marking the first segment of the triathlon.

It’s a different type of race. One of the challenges is racing without everyone cheering you on

Dustin Fell, competitor

“It’s massively important and great to start racing again. A lot of international races are cancelled so it’s even more important to have local races,” said Brett Hallam, aquatics director of a swim academy and overall winner in the 750m swim, 20km bike race and 5km run competition.

“People are excited because they have training goals and have been stuck inside for months."

The 29-year-old, from South Africa, said the new guidelines were not a challenge.

“Everyone respected the rules because this is what you need to do to start racing again,” Mr Hallam said.

“The only weird thing was instead of getting a medal around your neck, now you grab a mask and a medal.”

Participants must wear masks after they finish the race.

Detailed rules set by sports and government authorities govern sporting activities in the UAE.

The first triathlon in the country took place in Sharjah two weeks ago, also organised by Race ME, the group that handled the weekend race in Dubai.

Instead of hundreds of people running into the sea as in previous years, swimmers in Dubai were grouped into batches and allowed in at timed intervals.

Only athletes were permitted inside the transition area where bikes are hooked on to poles for the second part of the competition.

Participants were not allowed to bring their own sports bags into the bike transition area.

Bags provided by the organisers containing the race bib were permitted in the zone.

Water is no longer handed out and runners were advised to get their own bottles.

Brett Hallam won the first triathlon to be organised in Dubai on Friday amid the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy: Brett Hallam
Brett Hallam won the first triathlon to be organised in Dubai on Friday amid the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy: Brett Hallam

Access to the beach was restricted to athletes.

Shaking hands was off limits and there was no awards presentation. Trophies were instead left on the podium.

Volunteers who interact with athletes wear masks, face shields and gloves.

Only residents with Emirates identity cards can participate and competitors must sign a waiver answering questions including if they or their family had contracted Covid-19.

John Norris, director for Race ME, said it took months of careful planning with the Dubai Sports Council and the emirate's crisis management authority to get the popular triathlon up and running once more.

“We have worked very closely with the Dubai Sports Council who gave a lot of guidance and support," said Mr Norris.

"We are excited to work with them for every event to ensure it is safe, secure and adheres to all the guidelines.

“We had a controlled methodology to ensure safety and looked at other triathlon federations in Europe and North America to see how they were maintaining rules.”

Spectators were asked not to come to the venue and volunteers ensured that the few relatives of teenage participants maintained the two-metre distancing rule.

Dustin Fell, a resident of South Africa, missed being cheered on but was relieved to compete outdoors.

“It’s a different type of race. One of the challenges is racing without everyone cheering you on. You don’t build off the energy of the crowd,” said the 32-year-old who works in real estate.

“But it is amazing to race again. Sports is such a connector of people. We support each other, first or last, it does not matter."

The popular annual triathlon celebrates the life of Roy Nasr, co-founder of TriDubai and Race ME, who was killed in 2014 when he was hit by a car driven by a drunk driver.

Although rules in Dubai allow children to participate, Race ME decided to restrict participation to people over the age of 12.

Regulations differ within the UAE with Abu Dhabi requiring a negative Covid-19 test from participants.

The event drew triathletes still struggling from the long-term impact of the virus.

Melina Timson-Katchis, a triathlete from Cyprus, wished she was back on the track but was happy to volunteer.

A Long Covid sufferer, she struggles for breath, with dizziness and headaches if she exercises even five months after getting the all clear.

“It was mixed emotions being there,” she said.

“But I’m so happy there is a race again and enjoyed being part of helping set up. I have accepted I’m not going to race and attempt a triathlon at that level for a while.”

Updated: October 18, 2020 08:40 PM

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