Saipan carves niche as sports tourism capital of Micronesia
SAIPAN—Not only do the steep hills of Saipan provide the best access to breathtaking view of the island, they can also push even the most veteran athletes to their limits.
Saipan’s terrain, which features short sharp climbs across the luscious forest overlooking the ocean, makes for the perfect setting for the island’s top sporting events, which has consistently lured elite athletes from all over the world.
“Aside from the scenic view, the course itself provides a great challenge,” Vincent Seman, president of the Northern Mariana Islands Cycling Federation, told INQUIRER.net. “Anywhere you can lots of flats, but not anywhere you can have lots of flats and short steep climbs.”
Seman, who also got into the sport of cycling because of Saipan’s captivating yet challenging courses, believes that that combination is why cyclists and other athletes alike keep coming back.
“[Saipan] just the provides a very natural environment. Just to have this kind of scenery and to be able to put up a race like this, it’s just the best of both worlds.”
Saipan is located in the Western Pacific some four hours away from Manila by plane with a population of close to 50,000— a good number of that from the Philippines.
Earlier this month, Filipino cyclists and triathletes had their mettle tested in the annual Hell of the Marianas 100-kilometer bike race and all of them admitted that the course was one of the toughest they’ve experienced yet.
“It was really hard. I hope the level of competition continues to improve because this was a great course and I know a lot more can be encouraged to join, “ said multiple Tour champion Mark Galedo, who finished third in the race last December 3, said in Filipino.
Hell of the Marianas is just one of the international sporting tournaments Saipan has regularly hosted in the past decade. There is also the annual XTERRA Off-Road Championships, where Filipinos like professional triathlete Joe Miller of Team Forza have also competed.
But there is none bigger than the prestigious IRONMAN 70.3 Saipan this March, something which is sure to boost Saipan’s reputation as a sports tourism destination in this side of the world.
“We want to promote as a fun, fit, active, and healthy destination,” said Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Chris Concepcion. “That’s how we want to brand ourselves–as a sports island and paradise here in the middle of the Pacific.”
Concepcion said Saipan’s hosting of the IRONMAN 70.3 is a first in Micronesia and the MVA is hoping to encourage participants in places where there is an MVA office like Korea, Japan, China and the Philippines.
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