Benderson Park hosting ‘three prestigious Olympic events’ this year

First competition underway, with conclusion set for Feb. 17

Team training takes place over several months at Nathan Benderson Park, which is located in Sarasota County near University Parkway. Photo from the 2021 fiscal year report of the Nathan Benderson Conservancy

For years, chief operating officers of Sarasota County’s Nathan Benderson Park (NBP) have talked about the growing success of the facility as a training venue for Olympic hopefuls.

In a recent news release, park staff pointed out, “More than 18 top rowers from around the country have been training at NBP since November [2023], and more are arriving for practice in the coming weeks, in the hopes of earning a spot in the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics.”

“Leading up to the world’s biggest sporting event,” the release adds, “Sarasota will take center stage for three prestigious Olympic events”: the USRowing Winter Speed Order Regatta, Olympic Selection Camp and the US Olympic Rowing Trials, which “will decide the team advancing to Paris.”

The Winter Speed Order Regatta began on Feb. 14 and will continue through Feb. 17, the release says.

The dates for the other two events are as follows:

  • March 4 through April 1 — Olympic Selection Camp.
  • April 2 through April 7 — US Olympic Rowing Trials.

The Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place from July 26 to Aug. 11. The rowing competition is scheduled to begin on July 27 and conclude on Aug. 3, the games’ website notes. The venue will be the Stade nautique de Vaires-sur-Marne, the website adds.

This is a rendering of the Olympic rowing venue for the 2024 Paris Games. The image is shown on the Games’ website

Seven rowing events are shown on the schedule.

“With such prestige on the line this year more than ever,” the Benderson Park news release continues, “athletes [have arrived] not weeks but months prior to the events to fine tune their skills on NBP’s world-class course. Top rowers began arriving in October from all over the country, especially from the northeast region,” it adds, because of Sarasota’s milder weather “and the controlled, Olympic-level competition course at NBP.”

Benderson Park has been ranked the No. 1 rowing destination in North America two years in a row, the release further notes. The park features a 10-lane, 2,000-meter, protected competition course with starting docks, the release adds. The course can be adapted for 500-meter, 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter races, the release points out.

Moreover, the release says, “The course features a floating wave attenuator to ensure calm water and a coach’s lane that spans the entire length of the course.”

Additionally, adjacent to the 2,000-meter course,” the release notes, is a protected practice area with an adaptable number of lanes that can be as long as 1,500 meters.

The 2021 Fiscal Year report of the Nathan Benderson Park Conservancy — formerly the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA) — to Sarasota County leaders included these comments: “Team training has become a tradition for NBP and the Sarasota-Bradenton region. Once an activity that just included collegiate rowing programs during the winter months, team training now spans from December through June and includes not only organized teams, but training camps as well. NBPC is responsible for the promotion and booking of training teams for all Sarasota locations including NBP. Team training contributes to the generation of tourism, and supports that value outcome.”

The February 2021 U.S. Olympic Rowing Team Trials at Benderson Park drew 700 attendees who combined for 1,785 hotel nights during the event, the 2021 fiscal year Conservancy report pointed out. The state sales tax generated by those attendees totaled $19,266, the report noted, along with $7,979 in county Tourist Development Tax revenue. (See the related article in this issue.)

A chart in the Conservancy’s 2022 fiscal year annual report lists numerous university team training events at the park. Among them, the Harvard team training from Jan. 12 through Jan. 22, 2022 brought 187 people to Sarasota and Manatee counties, the chart says. They generated $20,032.18 in state sales tax revenue and accounted for 1,028 hotel room nights in the region.

This is a partial list of events at Nathan Benderson Park during the 2022 fiscal year, as shown in the Conservancy’s annual report.

For another example, the Northeastern University Rowing team training, from March 12 through March 19, 2022, brought 52 people to Benderson Park, with $4,536.87 generated in state sales tax revenue, with 232 hotel room nights sold in the region.

Thanks to the efforts and support of Sarasota County’s tourism office, Visit Sarasota County, the recent news release explains, the park “attracts attention from aquatic sports teams and organizations from around world. The area has become an ideal destination for visitors to return each year, benefitting local businesses, shops, restaurants, hotels and area attractions. In fact, many rowers who visit the area for a competition often end up moving here and become permanent residents. They are drawn to the area for the access to world-class aquatics, close proximity to both retail and leisure activities, and the emphasis on quality of life.”

“Sarasota has made a remarkable investment in the community,” Casey Galvanek, head coach with Sarasota Crew and the men’s lead sweep coach for USRowing, the national governing body for the sport of rowing in the United States, said in the release.

“Thanks to this investment, we have been able to bring events of this caliber to the area,” Galvanek added. “The organizations and their athletes receive great support from the community and local businesses, which encourages them to plan multi-year events and keep returning. These teams share their positive experiences with other organizations and the ripple effect is felt far beyond what you would imagine. I’m so grateful to be a part of these efforts locally and on the national scale.”