The entire announcing team at the Ironman World Championships each October in Kona is an undeniably special bunch. They bust their butts day and night tirelessly, spreading excitement along the course throughout race day, but especially lighting up the finish line with love as they call athletes in over the final yards. One member of that core crew is Whit Raymond. He’s the guy you’ll see bouncing up and down the finish chute, his infectious energy all but spilling out of his every pore, his smile as wide as the finisher’s arch. I caught up with Raymond during my recent travels in Asia, and he shared with me a significant milestone in his career: 2012 marked his 20th and final year announcing in Kona. Below, Raymond recounts his story and honors the past 20 years working the event that he holds so dear.
Triathlete.com: You have some big news to share–the fact that you’re stepping away from announcing in Kona after 20 years. What prompted this decision?
WR: You know, 20 is a good number! I feel like I want to come back to Kona, but I want to come back in a different role. I’ve been announcing for 20 years and I love the sport, I absolutely love Ironman, but maybe there’s something else I can do. I don’t know yet what that is, but I figured why don’t I just put the microphone down. Because until I put the microphone down, there’s really nothing else I can do. There won’t be an opportunity. And look, if I did 21 years, well then I’d have to go to maybe 25 or 30 to get one of those meaningful numbers! So I started in 1993, last year was my 20th and boom, I’m done. And it’s been wonderful.
Triathlete.com: You also work at many other endurance events, so will you continue announcing those?
WR: Yes. Absolutely. I don’t want people to think that I’m done announcing. It’s just that Kona was where I started, and with the 20 year thing it just feels like time to move on to something else. But I will absolutely continue to announce Ironman races, Xterra, other multisport events, marathons, etc.
Triathlete.com: Let’s look back to that first year in Kona. How did you get a hold of that microphone in the first place?
WR: I was in Kona helping out with the Japanese athletes and Japanese media [Raymond is fluent in Japanese]. I was living in Honolulu at the time and Ironman had hired me to come over and do that. My daughter, who was born in 1992, was just about 15 months old, so I wasn’t racing that year. I was hanging out at the pier one morning while everyone was swimming, holding my daughter in my arms, and the PR director–a guy named Rob Perry–came up to me and said, “Hey Whit, what are you doing on race day?” I said I was going to watch the race, so he asked, “Can you help our announcing team?” I said, “Sure, whatever you need. What does that entail?” He said I would help Mike [Reilly] and Don [Ryder] because they needed someone to fill in and talk about the race. I wasn’t sure what gave me the credentials to do that, but Rob said, “You’ve done the race five times, we’ve seen you speak when you do the Japanese race briefing so we know you can talk to people, and we need some help!” So that was it. I picked up the microphone for the first time with Mike and Don back in 1993 in Kona, and that was my first ever announcing gig.
Triathlete.com: Tell me honestly, were you as good as you are now?
WR: I was better then! [laughing] No, no. But I do think there was something about that first year. I really had a good time and we had a great crew and I just remember I felt comfortable with it right away. I wouldn’t say I was better or anything, but instantly I felt comfortable and I liked doing it.
Triathlete.com: Thinking back over those 20 years–and I ask this knowing that there are hundreds of incredible moments each year–but what are one or two moments that really stand out to you? One or two that really moved you?
WR: Oh my gosh! Well, you know there are tons of incidents with the pros. But then I always loved to see Dick and Rick Hoyt race. And I love the emotional stories of people that turn their lives around and come and do Ironman. There are too many of those to mention. With the pros, I mean there’s Welchie winning in ’94–the Welchie and Dave Scott year where Dave came within 11 seconds of Greg at the age of 40. That was my second year on the microphone. And Welchie was the first non-American male to win. There was the year after that when Paula collapsed 400 meters from the finish and Karen Smyers came by for the win. You know, we couldn’t quite see Paula. We could see a crowd gathered down the road, it was that close, but we couldn’t see her. And then in ’97 probably one of the most dramatic finishes was when Wendy Ingraham and Sian Welch bumped into each other and fell down and crawled to the finish. Stuff like that. Those are all in the 90’s, and of course there’s more recent stuff. Every year there’s so much emotion. I mean any year, if you’re at that Ironman finish line, anytime of day but particularly in the last two hours, it’s just–I mean I’m on the microphone and my job is to generate energy and announce people’s names and be excited, but I am feeling the passion and the emotion, too. This life changing stuff is coming across the finish line and I’m breaking down and crying at times because it’s so emotional. You can’t get a feeling like that anywhere else.
Triathlete.com: Did you ever have any truly embarrassing moments or make any memorable mistakes?
WR: No, Mike made all the mistakes! Oh yes, I’ve made some blunders. But do we really need to say what they were? Three years ago Marino Vanhoenacker was in the lead and I made this statement: “If Marino wins he’ll be the first Belgian to win.” As soon as I said it I realized: No! That’s wrong! But I caught myself and went back saying, “Wait a second, Luc Van Lierde won in 1996 and set the course record in his first Ironman.” So I covered the blunder but I remember just thinking: Oh, that was the stupidest thing to say! Hopefully that was as bad as it’s gotten over the years.
Triathlete.com: What is the hardest part about announcing an event? Is it staying energized all day, is it pronouncing people’s names–what is it?
WR: The pronunciation of the names is not a problem–you just say it with confidence. As badly as you butcher it, it doesn’t matter if it sounds strong as you bring that person in. It’s the long hours, and also for me I have a different vocal set, a different voice box, than someone like Mike Reilly. My voice doesn’t last like his. So holding the voice through 17 hours of racing, when you have 2,000 people to bring across the line and call in transition or the hot corner–holding the voice through all of that throughout the day is one of the toughest things.
Triathlete.com: Your energy at events is insane–and I mean that in a really good way! There’s no other way to describe it. But you can’t possibly be that “on” 24/7. What’s your day-to-day off the microphone self like?
WR: I’m pretty high energy to begin with, but I definitely have times where I need to recharge the batteries. Off the mike I love exercising. I love the sport. I’m constantly moving my body and trying to be fit, so hopefully I have enough energy left for that. And then as far as maintaining energy on race day–I mean I’ve loved the sport from day one of my experience as a triathlete. Back in 1986 I became a tri-geek. So if anything keeps me going through the day, it’s our sport. I know what these athletes are going through. I’ve been there. And whether I’m out there swimming, biking and running or whether I’m on the microphone, I’m going through it just the same. And if there’s one little ounce of energy that I can give that makes an athlete’s day that little bit better, then wow–that’s so cool. That makes me feel good. I mean it’s a party–that’s the way I feel about it. It’s so much fun.
Triathlete.com: There’s a lot of focus on nutrition in triathlon and how athletes fuel, especially for long distance events. What I want to know is, how does a race announcer fuel for an Ironman?
WR: The same way an athlete fuels. All day long I’m eating gel and drinking whatever the electrolyte drink is that I can get my hands on. I eat a ton of Gu throughout the day. Because if you weigh yourself down with heavy food, you start to get sleepy. And caffeine–I do drink caffeine. But never, never Red Bull. Never do I drink any of those energy drinks–I just drink coffee.
TM: You studied and lived in Japan for many years and you’ve worked throughout Asia–is that your favorite part of the world?
WR: I don’t know how to answer that because there are so many places I haven’t been, so I have yet to find a favorite place. I went to school to study in Japan and that’s where I first started triathlon. So just coincidentally, through the course of things my niche has become Asia with announcing. Way back in the day, they asked me to come over for the Laguna Phuket Triathlon when it was an Ironman qualifier and there were a lot of Japanese coming over to race. So I went there in ’96 and then all of Asia just sort of became my stomping grounds for announcing. So I’ve traveled a lot in Asia, but I’d love to go other paces as well and have gigs in Europe and South America–all sorts of other places.
Triathlete.com: Outside of endurance sports, what are some of the exciting things happening in your life?
WR: I have an awesome girlfriend! My daughter is 20 and she just finished her junior year of college and is starting her senior year, so that’s super exciting. She was there at the first Ironman in ’93 when I announced. I had her in my arms because she was just a baby, and now she’s 20 years old. And she’s been there at the finish line throwing out swag for many years, though more recently she’s been in school so she hasn’t been able to come back. I’m super happy living in northern California–it’s a beautiful place to live. I have a wonderful home life. I get to travel for our sport. What else can I say!
Triathlete.com: Do you think you’d like to race Kona again?
WR: I’d participate again. But I would only do it if I qualified. I’ve done Kona five times, I’ve qualified seven times but didn’t do it twice, and if I were to go again I’d have to get my ass in shape and go out and qualify somewhere.
Triathlete.com: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
WR: You know, for 20 years I’ve been going to Kona in October for Ironman. It’s actually my birthday week, so every October I’ve been spending my birthday in Kona during Ironman. Since 1986 when I started racing, actually, so more than half my lifetime. At this point I’m not going to be in Kona this year, and that’s a little bit sad. But it’s in my blood and I want to go back in some other role, some other capacity. I’m not sure what job description that may be yet, but hopefully we’ll find something because I love it. I’ve been blessed. It was a very random opportunity that came about. I just fell into the role and it’s been a great ride for 20 years.
Follow Raymond’s ongoing adventures in endurance sports at Whitraymond.com.
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