For anyone walking through the Ironman expo at Ross's Landing — or other places throughout Chattanooga over the past several days — the sound of many different languages has been hard to miss.
Thousands of athletes and other guests from around the world descended on the Scenic City for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Ironman officials said the approximately 4,500 triathletes represented 91 countries from around the world.
By most accounts, the international guests — many making their first visit to Chattanooga — will be leaving town impressed with the host city, its people and the race course used to crown several new world champions.
"Coming here to Chattanooga was just great," German professional triathlete Andreas Dritz said after finishing eighth overall in Sunday's men's competition. "The weather was very comfortable, and the people are friendly. You can get around very easily, and the bike course with Lookout Mountain was very scenic."
Dritz, making his first appearance in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, finished the course in three hours, 56 minutes and 34 seconds, less than seven minutes behind race winner Javier Gomez of Spain. His positive experience was echoed by competitors in the age-group competition as well.
"The organization was perfect," said Dariusz Korecki, from Poland, who competed in the 40-44 age group. "I loved the running course. It was uphill and downhill, but there were lots of people and plenty of food stations."
This was Korecki's first visit to America, and he will leave today with a positive impression that confirmed his image from pop culture.
"I think that the atmosphere of the city is quite good," he said. "Also, this is my first time in the U.S., so I am discovering how you live here.
"And it was what I expected; it has been like what I have seen in the films."
At least one international guest has seen how Chattanooga has made the transformation from small town to international center for outdoor recreation.
Roger Madrigal first experienced Southeast Tennessee as a member of the Costa Rican Olympic kayak team when the whitewater competition was held on the Ocoee River during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He has continued to return to the area for events and work over the years, and has developed a fondness for the area.
"I was here in the 1996 Olympics, and Chattanooga has changed in the most beautiful ways since 1996," said Madrigal, who was here this time to watch and cheer on several athletes from Costa Rica. "It's a city that invites you to come back constantly. You get to do so many things here. There's stand-up paddling, creek boating, so many triathlons and biking everywhere.
"It's just beautiful."
Contact Jim Tanner at JFTanner@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JFTanner.