‘Unfavorable conditions’ cancel swim portion of Sunday’s Chicago Triathlon: ‘It was a bummer’

Participants competed in a duathlon starting from the swim start area on the lakefront path adjacent to Lake Shore Drive and Balbo Avenue.

SHARE ‘Unfavorable conditions’ cancel swim portion of Sunday’s Chicago Triathlon: ‘It was a bummer’

Triathletes run along the lakefront path during the 2019 Chicago Triathlon | Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

Some athletes participating in Sunday’s Chicago Triathlon were upset to learn that “unfavorable swim conditions” had prompted the last-minute cancellation of their favorite part of the three-leg event.

“It was a bummer. My background’s in swimming, so I was probably on the more disappointed end of people,” said Johanna Rayl, a Ph.D. student studying economics at the University of Chicago.

Weather conditions on the lakefront sparked swim warnings at Chicago beaches over the weekend, and elevated water levels had already forced race organizers to slightly adjust the swim entry at Monroe Harbor.

“There’s probably also a lot of people that saw the waves and were very nervous by the idea of getting in there,” said Rayl, who has participated in the annual Chicago Triathlon the past two summers.

Rayl and the other triathletes instead competed in a duathlon — a run followed by a bike ride and another run — that started from the swim start area near the intersection of Lake Shore Drive and Balbo Avenue, according to a statement from the event’s organizers. 


Johanna Rayl relaxes in Grant Park after completing the 2019 Chicago Triathlon on Aug. 25, 2019 | Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

On Saturday, prior to the outright cancellation of the swim portion, organizers were giving athletes who had signed up for the longer of the two Sunday events the option to swim a shortened 750-meter course (as opposed to the 1,500-meter swim) or simply participate in the duathlon.

Andrew Schranck was also bummed the swim was canceled. Having swam competitively at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, he was hoping his overall score would get a bump during the swim portion.

“It’s one of the most fun parts of the race, even though it’s the shortest,” said Schranck, who lives in South Bend, Indiana, and was competing in his fourth Chicago Triathlon.

Jack Hoffman, of the Milwaukee area, said the swim portion was one of the things that drew him to this weekend’s event. Hoffman previously participated in a shorter triathlon in Door County, Wisconsin, but wanted to try out the Olympic-distance race in Chicago.

“I really wanted to do the longer swim because I haven’t done it before, and it looked like a really nice swim,” Hoffman said.


Jack Hoffman traveled from Wisconsin to take part in the 2019 Chicago Triathlon on Aug. 25, 2019. | Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

In announcing their decision to cancel the swim, race organizers stressed they wouldn’t do anything to risk athlete safety. Despite their disappointment, all three triathletes said they understood the move.

“I think they did the right thing,” Hoffman said. “I don’t have any complaints about it. I’m just sad about it.

“If you do triathlons, you gotta expect things happen and things get shortened or canceled,” he said. “That’s just the way it goes.”

On Saturday, organizers made changes to the swim portions of the kids’ triathlon and the shorter super sprint triathlon “to provide a safe yet thorough event for all.” Children were given the opportunity to participate in a “Splash ‘n Dash” — allowing them to run through a portion of the swim course — while the other participants were able to swim through a shallow course.

Danny Gee, a triathlon spokesman, said it was unclear whether the swim portion of Chicago’s race had ever been canceled in its 36 previous years.

The Chicago Triathlon isn’t the first area endurance event this summer to be affected by weather conditions. Organizers of the Wauconda Triathlons canceled their entire sprint and Olympic distance events in mid-July because thunderstorms drenched the course.

Nearly 9,000 people from 48 states and 22 countries participated in this year’s events, falling just short of the number of participants in 2018, according to a statement from organizers.

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