Heavy smoke and poor air quality force cancellation of two Okanagan triathlons

Officials say two triathlons in the Central Okanagan have been cancelled due to heavy smoke and poor air quality from wildfires burning throughout the province.

'It's a beautiful part of the world, I wish I could have seen more of it'

Sean Green only got to complete two of three races at the Super League Triathlon in Penticton,B.C., this weekend. (Super League Triathlon)

Officials say two triathlons in British Columbia's Central Okanagan have been cancelled due to heavy smoke and poor air quality from wildfires burning throughout the province.

The remaining races for both the Super League Triathlon in Penticton and the Kelowna Apple Triathlon were cancelled early Sunday morning.

"I've learned more about air quality in the last three few days than I have in my entire life," said Super League co-founder and managing director Chris McCormack. 

Athletes from 19 countries are in Penticton for the race, some from as far as Australia and Venezuela. The event is a qualifying race for the championship series, which features top athletes from around the world. 

McCormack said organizers made the call Saturday to cancel the last of three races for the amateur athletes and Sunday's race for the professionals. 

Taste of burnt wood

He compared the conditions to the dystopian film Blade Runner, with the smoky haze limiting visibility to 500 metres. 

"You can definitely taste the burnt wood in the air," McCormack said. 

As racers could not ride, swim, and run on Sunday, Super League organizers said the top 10 male and female professional triathletes racing in Penticton would be graced spots in the first round of the world championship series being held in Jersey, U.K., in late September.

Despite this year's conditions, McCormack said organizers intended to keep the event in Penticton next year.

'That's part of being a triathlete'

Sean Green was one of the amateur athletes competing in the race. Green, a 51-year-old bike mechanic from Hamilton, Ont., had been training since April. 

"It is disappointing from an athletic point of view. We've all trained and prepared and gotten ready for this race," he said. 

"But that's part of being a triathlete. It happens more often than you think when weather conditions can mess up a race."

It was Green's first time travelling to Penticton, a former Ironman site and well-known destination for triathletes. 

"It's a beautiful part of the world, I wish I could have seen more of it," he said.

Green competed in the first two races on Friday and Saturday morning. He said he could feel the soot from the air in his lungs during one of the climbs on the bike portion of the race. 

'Very high risk' air quality

At the Kelowna Apple Triathlon, the cancelled races included a make-up for a cancelled 2018 national championship event that was initially scheduled for Saturday and subsequently pushed to Sunday.

Triathlon Canada CEO Kim Van Bruggen says the safety of the athletes and coaches is her organization's top priority, and thanked the directors of the Apple Triathlon for their support.

A statement from Triathlon Canada says they and the Canadian Olympic Committee would take the cancelled races into account for selection to the Pan American Games.

Environment Canada rated the air quality as "Very High Risk" for the Central Okanagan on Sunday, scoring over 10 on its index.

Meanwhile on the B.C. coast, the Squamish 50, in which participants choose between a gruelling 50-mile, 50-kilometre, or 23-kilometre trail running race through coastal forest near Whistler, went on despite the smoky conditions

And in Whistler, the Crankworx mountain biking festival closed off its 10-day event on Sunday. 

Smoky conditions at Crankworx in Whistler blocked out views of the mountains on Sunday. (Ash Kelly/CBC)

With files from Anita Bathe and Maryse Zeidler