Athletes from Ottawa and around the world are getting a rare opportunity to swim in the historic Rideau Canal this coming weekend as they vie for a handful of spots to compete in four triathlon championship races abroad.
Super League Triathlon, a league that offers unconventional triathlon race formats, is hosting its third and final qualifying event for its 2019 championship league at Lansdowne Park on Saturday and Sunday, which is believed to be the first-ever competitive swim event to take place in the canal proper.
Typically reserved for skaters in the winter and boaters in the warmer months, the canal — once it’s been flooded — is usually off limits for swimmers. Super League organizers had to get a special permit from Parks Canada to use the UNESCO World Heritage Site for their event.
Four professional athletes who are registered to swim, bike and run in this weekend’s competition got the opportunity to test out the canal waters on Wednesday.
Aron Mohammadi was one of them. The 22-year-old triathlete grew up in Ottawa and said he’s always wondered what it would be like to swim in the Rideau Canal.
“It wasn’t bad … the water’s quite nice,” he said after doing some laps in the canal near the Flora Footbridge, off Clegg Street. “It’s not that different from the beaches further down.”
Water safe for athletes, organizers say
Talk to Ottawa residents about taking a dip in the Rideau Canal and many might wrinkle their nose. An assumption that the water is dirty or contaminated is not uncommon.
But Super League has tested the quality of the canal waters and has no health or safety concerns, said Michael Brown, chief operations officer at Super League.
In May, the organization began conducting monthly water quality tests and the results — including pH and E. coli levels — all fell “well within” water safety standards set out by the International Triathlon Union, according to Brown.
Brown said Super League has also worked with Parks Canada over the past three months to trim weeds at the bottom of the canal in the race area near Lansdowne and make sure there’s no other hazards ahead of this weekend.
“We’ve done a lot of work to ensure that the water quality is up to standards and we believe it is,” he said.
Ottawa pro triathlete Samantha Klus was another of the four swimmers who jumped into the canal on Wednesday. As someone who has skated, kayaked and boated on the canal — and biked and run alongside it — the 24-year-old described the opportunity to race in the normally-forbidden waters as “awesome.”
“We’ll definitely turn some heads for sure,” she laughed.
The victorious triathletes this weekend — three men and three women — will go on to compete in Super League’s four championship races later this year and in early 2020 in the Channel Islands, Malta, Thailand and Singapore.
While he hopes to qualify for the champsionship, Mohammadi said that’s not his only focus this weekend.
“Honestly, I just want to see how I can do against some of the better athletes in the world,” he said.
Super League hopes to return to Ottawa for two more years
Several hundred athletes in total will descend on Lansdowne Park for the competition this weekend, which follows two previous qualifying events held in Bali, Indonesia and Poznan, Poland, according to Brown.
If all goes well, he said, Super League will be returning to the nation’s capital.
Super League has struck a three-year deal with Ottawa Tourism and plans to host similar qualifying events in the city both next summer and in 2021, Brown said.
Speaking at the event’s news conference on Wednesday, Mayor Jim Watson said the City of Ottawa has been trying harder over the last couple of years to bring more international and national sporting events to the national capital.
“This is part of our Ottawa tourism ‘win more, bid more, host more’ strategy where we do our very best to attract these kinds of world-class events,” Watson said. “It’s great for the local economy and it’s of course great to promote the sport of triathlon.”