“Not quite Croke Park, but the Aviva Stadium”, is how triAthlone chairman Liam Heavin is describing the 50,000-strong influx of visitors expected over the four days of this year’s European Triathlon Championships.
The event, which takes place over four days from July 1 to 4 and was launched earlier this week, will see the single biggest influx of visitors to a regional town in Ireland this year, and is on course to be the biggest European triathlon competition ever staged.
Almost 4,000 bed nights have already been sold in the region, as hotels and B&Bs in Athlone and neighbouring towns and villages continue to fill up with bookings from athletes, their backroom teams, and supporters.
And with over 4,000 national and international competitors taking part, the event will provide a major boost to the local economy, valued in excess of €9 million by Athlone Chamber of Commerce.
“We are working very closely with Failte Ireland, Mid Ireland Tourism, and athlone.ie to get people into quality accommodation. People are staying in Roscommon, Tullamore, Clara, Ballymore, Mullingar, and we have B&B owners offering to drive people in and out of Athlone, we are getting a fantastic response,” says Mr Heavin.
He says the aim is to give visitors a top quality Irish experience, right down to night-time entertainment and children’s play areas.
“We have to bear in mind the image people have of Ireland and make sure we fulfill every expectation. Everything from the race village to the medal ceremonies needs to be done with a distinctive Irish and Midlands flavour. We want to make it the best European Championships ever held.”
Between the Irish and British teams alone, up to 1,200 athletes, in addition to 300 elite athletes, have already registered for the event. On top of this, the organisers are expecting to match the 2,500 people who took part in the triAthlone last year - making a total of at least 4,000 competitors. Teams have been confirmed from as far away as Macedonia, Malta, Ukraine, and Russia.
“It is the single biggest European Triathlone Championships ever held. With 4,000 competitors we will be the third biggest triathlon in Europe behind London and Hamburg, and one of the biggest in the world. It is also the first time the European championships are being held away from mainland Europe,” says Mr Heavin.
“As difficult as issues such as traffic management can be on the ground, we are still on track to exceed what we set out to do.”