Cyclo-Cross World Championships: Louisville Delivers, Come Hell or High Water

Andy KontyCorrespondent IIFebruary 6, 2013

The Metro Sewer District threw up this dike in less than 12 hours.
The Metro Sewer District threw up this dike in less than 12 hours.

It seems that Louisvillians appreciated the honor of hosting the 2013 UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships and had a good time in the process.  An online poll at the Louisville Courier-Journal's website reveals that by a ration of 2.5 to 1, the folks in the metro area support the event.

And why not? We're talking about a bona fide world class sporting event right there in one of their city parks.

As I reported earlier, Louisvillians appreciate elite-level sporting events and are willing to put up with some inconvenience for a chance to showcase their fine city to the rest of the world. 

Louisville is a great sports community. The University of Louisville sponsors 21 NCAA Division I sports teams including men's and women's perennial hoops juggernauts, nationally ranked soccer teams, diamond teams, pool teams, women's field hockey and volleyball.

The city has hosted several major pro golf events, cycling events in all disciplines including a BMX national this weekend, and of course the Kentucky Derby.

Three years ago Louisville began planning its bid for the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championship.  Since the event had never been outside of Europe before, this effort was a big step in an uncertain direction.

That foresight and effort paid off.

The Louisville Sports Commission can't take all of the credit for the bid, but the organization is responsible for bringing in and organizing "inbound sports travel events" in Louisville and was responsible for operations, marketing and logistics support.

The Commission's mission is to bring high-level sporting events to the city that attract traveling visitors with the twin goals of promoting economic activity and healthy lifestyles. These two goals are not unrelated.  When businesses relocate they often cite "quality of life" as an important criteria in selecting a city and Louisville employers benefit from a healthier workforce.

The Louisville Sports Commission is just one piece of an intentional plan by government and business to make healthy living a component of the Louisville brand. 

The Commission's Executive Director, Karl Schmitt, takes this charge seriously and he takes a lot of pride in the Louisvillians' response to events like the cyclo-cross world championships.  

Nearly 500 people from the local community volunteered their time to work in the cold and wet conditions last weekend. All of the volunteers I chatted with wanted to be part of a big-time sporting event while showing visitors that Louisville is a world-class city.

Local media "did a wonderful job" according to Schmitt.  The Courier-Journal covered the event from every angle and assigned a reporter, Michael Grant, to cover those angles. Schmitt was impressed by the paper's coverage and Grant's writing, a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly concur.

When one of the primary sponsors for the race pulled out at the list minute, area business leaders stepped up to cover the tab.  Schmitt cited the generosity of Papa John's, David Jones Sr., Sam Swope and Baptist Hospital East.  Particularly useful was Whayne Supply, which specializes in heavy machinery and outfitted the race with an array of equipment--everything from industrial generators to pumps--that visitors marveled over.

The true marvel for me occurred on Friday when the Ohio River and its tributaries started to rise.  The Metro Sewer District sent men and supplies who erected a temporary dike between the rising waters and the race course.  Massive pumps worked overtime on Saturday and the races went off in Louisville style.  

Louisville was determined to put on an elite event in wet, frigid conditions and, come a cold hell or high water, did just that.  

The metro area got back some of its investment almost immediately with a $5 million infusion into the local economy. But, the bigger payoff may come in the long term. The event was broadcast live, during prime time, in the European Union.  

In some of the eurozone, cyclo-cross is top-rated television and that audience saw Americans hosting the event for the first time and doing it in style.  The TV commentators, in multiple languages, surely related the stories of the enormous effort put out by Louisvillians.

The novel Hans Brinker (aka The Silver Skates) introduced Americans to the Dutch sport of speed skating. The novel is also the source of the mythology of the Dutch boy who discovers a hole in a dike and plugs it with his finger, saving his village.

When the icy waters threatened America's introduction to world championship cyclo-cross and Louisville's introduction to the world, Louisvillians were there to plug the hole in the dike. 


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