Sarasota/Bradenton area seen widely thanks to people behind the scenes

Live Streaming Broadcasts to Rowing Enthusiasts in Six Continents Showcase Nathan Benderson Park • By Nick Gandy

For five days during the 2019 World Rowing Under 23 Championships scenes from Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota/Bradenton are being seen in six continents worldwide.

Aerial shots from drone cameras are not only showing the athletes gliding through the 2000 meter, six-lane course, but also “beauty shots” from sites around the 600-acre park located just off Interstate 75.

Rowing enthusiasts in Europe are seeing the six-story finish line tower.  Those following their teams in Central and South America see traffic crossing the bridge on North Cattlemen Road just past the finish line.  Friends and family of rowers from Asian countries are seeing the lush landscaping surrounding the waterways of the park.

These scenes are being made possible through a live streaming broadcast being produced by World Rowing.  The production is also available on ESPN3, the network’s live streaming sports avenue.

“It’s the biggest thing we’ve done for USRowing,” said Willie Black, USRowing coaching education manager, who is overseeing the production from the fourth floor of the Benderson Family Finish Tower.

USRowing’s Paul Wilkins, left, mans a camera inside a car driven by Nathan Benderson Park volunteer Ernst Waldeck. The pair drives up and down the park’s floating wave attenuator in a Nissan Versa to provide images for television. Photo by Douglas E. Jessmer

Black and the production crew are directing seven cameras providing the pictures from the water.  Capturing the early leaders is a handheld camera manned by USRowing staff member Paul Wilkins, in a Nissan Versa, being driven on an attenuator by Ernst Waldeck, a local volunteer.

The attenuator is a floating breakwall that also serves as a road on the water, approximately 10 feet wide, to provide the camera shots.

Wilkins and Waldeck shoot the early part of the race from the 500-meter mark to the 1500-meter mark.  The final 500 meters are made possible from two drone cameras from heights of 25 to 150 feet.

Cameras are also positioned at the 1000- and 1500-meter marks as well at the finish line on the fifth floor of the Tower. An eighth camera will be added behind the start line for Sunday’s A Finals.

Waldeck takes instructions from Wilkins in the backseat whether to accelerate or fall back to keep the leaders in his shot. Waldeck says the Nissan Versa travels, “about 9 or 10 miles per hour, maybe 12,” depending on the number of rowers in the boat.

At the 1500-meter mark, there’s a platform where Waldeck can make a three-point turn and return to the 500-meter mark, where he does the same before starting over again.

“We can go about 40 miles an hour on the return trip,” said Waldeck, a Sarasota resident who has been volunteering at Nathan Benderson Park since 2011.

He has served in a variety of volunteer positions over the last eight years and signed up as the camera car driver on the park’s Sign-Up Genius online site.

Brent Meyer operates a drone camera for the webcasts of the 2019 World Rowing Under 23 Championship. Photo by Nick Gandy

Calling the action for the worldwide audience is Dave Wyant, a Sarasota attorney who has served as a rowing coach and was the varsity coxswain for the Wesleyan Rowing team, Colleen Saville, a collegiate rower for Ohio State and Northeastern University, and Mark Perzell, who was a mainstay on Cincinnati Public Radio before moving to North Carolina.

Besides the worldwide television audience, photographers and journalists from around the world are providing stories and photos back home to the media of the more than 50 countries worldwide.

Kentaro Sabashi, an editor/journalist for Honda Style magazine and its website, is in Sarasota/Bradenton covering the Japanese team.

Keeping fans of the Italian team up to date is a three-member delegation from the Italian Rowing Federation (FIC).  Head Press Officer Claudio Trinquilli, photographer Mimmo Perna and editor Niccolo Bagnoli are distributing stories and photos to media outlets throughout Italy. The Italian team achieved great success in the 1980s and 90s according to Bagnoli and still has a strong following.

The 2019 World Rowing Under 23 Championships also has a strong social media following with the #WRU23Champs designation.  On Facebook and Twitter alone, the hashtag has the opportunity to reach nearly 600,000 followers through a variety of social media outlets following the sport of rowing worldwide.

Saturday’s action at Nathan Benderson Park features A and B Class Semifinal Races and A through D Class final races beginning at 9 a.m.  The final event is scheduled for a 1:20 p.m. start.  Immediately following the finals races, medals will be presented to the gold, silver and bronze medalists on the stage in front of the grandstand seating.