Triathlon growth in the Middle East

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    NORTH VANCOUVER, Canada – The Middle East is not traditionally considered a hotbed for world class triathlon but that will soon change thanks to a series of initiatives spearheaded by the International Triathlon Union and its global partner, BG Group.

    For the first time, ITU’s Sport Development team traveled to Damascus, Syria earlier this month to conduct a five-day high performance coaching course. It attracted 34 coaches from Syria, Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, and Oman. The need and demand for teaching resources in this area of the world was obvious; the course filled up fast and resulted in a waiting list for others.

    “From my perspective, there is a growing interest in developing triathlon programs and events. We had to limit the number of coaches for the Syria course because so many wanted to attend and we just could not take anymore,” said Alan Ley of ITU Sport Development who led the course in Syria and was joined on the teaching staff by Luc Morin of Canada.

    The course not only allows coaches to learn new skills and coaching methods, it allows them to network with each other and share ideas. In the long term, it provides a coaching programme to national federations that do not already have one due to a lack of resources and funding.

    But creating and staging these coaching courses don’t happen overnight. They need a combination of people, effort, time and money. In addition to BG, the course was funded by Olympic Solidarity applied for by the Syrian Olympic Committee for Syrian triathlon. The Syrian Olympic Committee opened their doors and resources for all the coaches to use and provided a leadership role in bringing the countries and coaches together for education and development of triathlon. It was a huge step for the growth of the sport in the Middle East.

    The evolution of any sport in any region takes time but also requires the right opportunities. In 2006, the, now-named, BG Triathlon World Cup series headed to the Middle East for the first time when Doha, Qatar was awarded the season’s first world cup race. Four Syrians competed in the men’s elite field and thousands of locals were exposed to a level of triathlon never before seen in Qatar. One week later, Aqaba, Jordan also hosted a triathlon world cup. In addition to the race, ITU held an athlete clinic which was attended by young athletes from Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

    As these opportunities expand for triathletes in the Middle East, the results soon follow. Syrian Omar Tayara has top six finishes in two Asian Cups this year and holds Olympic qualifying points. His Syrian compatriot Rami Abdouollah finished in 13th place at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. At the recent Richards Bay BG Triathlon World Cup, Israeli twins Dan and Ran Alterman raced to their best World Cup results of their careers. Dan finished in sixth place while Ran crossed the line in 14th place.

    An influx of Middle East triathletes competing along with the world’s best isn’t accidental. It’s borne out of development programmes and initiatives that allow for tangible results. Success is measured by sustained competitive excellence that starts with an athlete development programme and pipeline.

    Development and opportunities will continue; later in 2007, the BG Triathlon World Cup series returns Aqaba, as well as visits first-time host Eilat, Israel.

    “The Middle East countries are moving forward with renewed interest and enthusiasm about triathlon and I’m sure all of the 35 coaches at the clinic will have a positive message to take back to their federations and athletes. The sport grows one stride at a time and the Sport Development programs are helping each federation, coach and athlete,” said Ley.

    About ITU BG Sport Development:
    Through its partnership with BG Group, the ITU has been able to establish a number of sport development initiatives that address the needs of young and elite athletes, particularly focusing on those from emerging and developing federations. These initiatives form the foundations upon which National Federations, particularly developing and emerging federations, can build an athlete development pipeline – a key element of any long term performance sports strategy. Click here to visit the website: http://www.triathlon.org/bg-sd/sd_home.php

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