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USA Triathletes Expect High Waves On Lake Erie For Second Year

Ann Hall stands with a few dozen other athletes on Edgewater Beach, gazing out at a white-capped Lake Erie.

"I'm just trying to kind of mentally prepare myself if we have rough waters again," she says.

She's one of 4,500 athletes who'll compete in the USA Triathlon Aug. 10 and 11, as the event comes to Cleveland for the second year in a row.

Top of mind for many competitors is the swimming portion of the race. Last year, some athletes criticized organizers because they felt the lake segment was significantly longer than it should have been (the standard length is 1,500 meters for the full triathlon; 750 meters for the sprint) — but also dangerous, because of high waves and a strong current.

This year, conditions were nearly identical on Friday, the day before the race, with waves up to three feet in the forecast for the weekend.

As Hall, 47, surveyed this year's course, marked by orange and yellow buoys in the water, she couldn't help but flash back to her experience in the lake last year — one she calls the toughest of her competitive career.

"The waves are coming at you, so have to kind of adjust your stroke," she says. "You have to kind of power through and get beyond them or you'll keep getting pushed back. I remember people were screaming for help."

Last year, 33 people failed to complete the swim out of 2,983 participants. In the 2016 race in Omaha, Nebraska, four people out of 2,088 did not finish the swim.

Adding to the challenges this year is a combined sewer overflow (CSO), which released raw sewage and stormwater into Lake Erie during a heavy rain event on Aug. 6. The water was deemed too contaminated for swimming through Aug. 9.

Mike Mulhall of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission says both the commission and USA Triathlon have been monitoring conditions and that the lake will be both safe and clean enough for swimming by race time.

"All of the bacterial levels are back to normal and we're good there," Mulhall says. "Now it's just going to be a matter of monitoring the currents and I fully expect that we'll be swimming both Saturday and Sunday."

Mike Mulhall of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission says conditions are set to improve by this weekend's race. [Justin Glanville / ideastream]

If rough waters do persist, he says, the event will be converted to a duathlon — biking and swimming only.

A 75-year-old man died during the swimming portion of the 2018 competition, but there was no evidence his death was related to lake or race conditions.

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