World Rowing Championships still on schedule for Sept. 23 start, with only minor damage reported at Nathan Benderson Park

About 900 athletes expected, down from 1,500 estimate two weeks ago

Shipping containers with team equipment stands on the grounds of Nathan Benderson Park on Aug. 25. Rachel Hackney photo

Although Nathan Benderson Park was affected by Hurricane Irma, along with the rest of Sarasota County, the 2017 World Rowing Championships remains “full steam ahead” to open Sept. 23 and run through Oct. 1, County Administrator Tom Harmer announced during the Sept. 13 County Commission meeting.

“There’s been some minor damage [to the park],” he added, so work was underway to resolve all the issues before the event begins.

County staff conducted “a lot of discussions” with representatives of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA), which manages the county-owned facilities, and FISA (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron), which is the governing body of the world of rowing, Harmer pointed out.

A statement from the organizing committee, posted on the event’s homepage on Sept. 13, says, “First and foremost, we would like to thank the Sarasota County Emergency Management Department and all of the local and state officials for their preparation, communication, and mobilization efforts in keeping the community safe. … The Sarasota/Bradenton area did not come under the direct impact of the hurricane as predicted … [so] luckily, damage is limited. Tampa and Sarasota airports are operational, [and] our hotels, caterers and transport partners are confirmed ….”

The World Rowing Championships will begin with a free public event, the Opening Ceremony, on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m.

A graphic prepared for the Aug. 30 County Commission meeting shows the countries (in blue) that planned to send teams to the World Rowing Championships. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In a news release, the event’s organizing committee announced that Kristen Hartley, manager of athlete services, “remains in constant communication with Team Managers from each country, confirming their arrival schedules.” Many of those teams still planned to get to Florida before the end of this week to begin training, the release indicated.

Although Meredith Scerba, the executive director of the 2017 World Rowing Championships, told the County Commission on Aug. 30 that she and her staff were expecting about 1,500 athletes from 71 countries, the event staff this week reported that more than 900 athletes from 69 countries would be participating.

The original goal was 1,700 competitors from more than 60 countries, as Scerba reminded the board during her presentation.

Even before Sarasota and Manatee counties formally submitted a bid to FISA to host the event, Paul Blackketter, then president of SANCA, told local leaders that the Championships would have an estimated $25-million economic impact on the region.

The event will be held in the United States for the first time in 23 years, Scerba pointed out on Aug. 30.

The United States Rowing Association is sending one of the biggest teams — 75 athletes — with entries in 25 of the 26 boat classes, the news release said. Great Britain plans to send 67 athletes; Italy, 60 athletes, the news release added.

Rowers will progress through from heats to semi-finals and finals, the release explained.

The Finish Tower, a key piece of infrastructure needed for the World Rowing Championships, stands at Benderson Park. Rachel Hackney photo

The men’s single sculls event has attracted the highest number of entries: 39, the release noted. “These rowers are a mixture of new talent as well as well-known veteran competitors,” it said. A new competitor in that event this season, Robert Manson of New Zealand, already has achieved a World Best Time, the release pointed out. He will be up against Olympic medalist and single sculls world champion Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic, Olympic silver medalist Damir Martin of Croatia and World Cup medalist Angel Fournier Rodriguez of Cuba, the release added.

Among entrants in the women’s single sculls are Olympic medalist Jingli Duan of China, European champion Victoria Thornley of Great Britain and 2017 World Cup gold medalist Jeannine Gmelin of Switzerland, the release pointed out.

The event also will feature are five para-rowing boat classes, the release added, noting that this year marks the first season that para-rowers will participate at the 2,000-meter race distance.

Keep track of results, race information, photographs and live blog on, the release said.