Triathlon at the Grove returns virtually for its 10th year

A cyclist participates in the Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove in 2019, which was the last time the event saw competitors swim, run, bike and row at Cottage Grove Lake.

The annual Rolf Prima Triathlon in Cottage Grove has been often regarded as one of the best triathlons in the nation by Triathletes Magazine.

The event was back in the Grove for the 10th time from July 16-26 with a different twist. The competitors were forced to record and document their times meaning that there was no actual live race. On top of this, they were responsible for finding their own locations to do each event.

The reason why the event was forced to go virtual? 2021 in a nutshell.

Even though COVID-19 restrictions were lifted well over a month ago in Oregon, it still wasn’t enough time for the triathlon to secure a permit.

The normal course spot, Lakeside State Park, was still offered as a location where competitors could do the on-foot racing portion of the triathlon. Still, no activities or even course markings were allowed at the park.

While Lakeside was still accessible, other locations like the Cottage Grove Lake and Dorena Lake were highly discouraged due to ecological reasons.

Oregon is currently in the midst of one of its driest and historically low water level seasons ever. The water at both the Dorena and Cottage Grove Lake are several hundred feet away from shore, and the shore itself has turned into greasy quicksand.

The low water levels also create problems with the timeline of the event. There are typically two launch points in the water during the triathlon: one for the competitors, and another for those watching the event. One of those launches was forced to close due to COVID, meaning that hundreds of people would be forced to cluster together if the event was put on, which is a fire hazard in itself.

From one fire hazard to another, the event was also forced to go virtual because of the parking dilemma. Fans are usually encouraged to park in a grassy lot before watching the event, but with the wildfire season Oregon has already had, kiboshing this wasn’t the worst idea.

In the end, the danger and high-risk associated with putting on the event this year mixed with the lack of a permit due to COVID outweighed the positives of doing the event in-person.

Competitors were asked to confirm their results via Global Positioning System (GPS), or just by any evidence possible. Although it’s not the usual way to go about things, competitors still seemed to be honest about their times in a safe fashion.

The option to choose one’s own time and place to race was a benefit for many, said Blair Bronson, co-race director.

“They don’t have to drive anywhere. It takes a lot of stress out of it,” he said. “Especially for first-timers who were just looking for a little extra motivation to keep them moving, to keep that goal in focus, they have that on the calendar, and they know they’re going to do it.”

Next year, Bronson is hopeful things will return to a kind of normalcy, though he does anticipate some changes.

“We’d love to bring it back to normal and have another fun sporting event for the community and the ability to get some of those community fundraisers going again,” he said. “We might need to look at changing some of our logistics just based on some of the challenges that we had this year with the current time frame of events.”

Bronson is also taking into consideration that low lake levels and fire hazards may be issues in the future.

“But we’re trying to get an operational plan in place that all of those can be managed in a way that won’t be detrimental to the race itself,” he said.

The results of the event this year have yet to be posted — but considering all the hype surrounding the race and the thousands of times that need to be documented, it could take a few days.

Even if the event is virtual, it’s still progress. With Bohemia Mine Days returning two weekends ago and the Tri at the Grove making a reappearance last weekend, it’s evident that summer in the Grove is swinging back.

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