Ironman Hints World Championships Could Be Moved From Kona

CEO Andrew Messick says they're exploring all options—including hosting the 2022 race not on the Big Island.

Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

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Ironman CEO Andrew Messick suggested today that the Ironman World Championship—which throughout nearly its full 40-year history has been staged in Kona, Hawaii—could be moved, saying that the company is considering all possibilities.

Speaking at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship press conference in St. George, Utah, Messick noted the challenges they’ve faced with staging a world championships and with handling the ongoing uncertainty during the COVID pandemic. “We’re exploring every option,” he said, “that includes potentially taking the race out of Kona.”

CEO Andrew Messick made the suggestion at the press conference before the 70.3 Worlds race in Utah. (Photo: Nils Nilsen)

Just last month, Ironman announced that this year’s world championship race, scheduled to take place in Kona on Oct. 9, would be postponed to Feb. 5, 2022, due to a resurgence in COVID numbers, the rise of the Delta variant, and the impact this has had on the island of Hawaii. Yet with COVID cases continuing to remain high and vaccination rates low, there is concern and speculation that—even by February—it could still be a tall order for Hawaii to safely stage triathlon’s biggest and most prestigious race of the year. Travel is currently tightly regulated to Hawaii, with quarantines required for all non-vaccinated travelers and vaccination records accepted only from a limited number of countries.

It is the uncertainty, more than anything, that presents a challenge for Ironman, race organizers, and athletes, said Messick. Because of the ongoing and fluid COVID situation, he said it’s hard for them to know what the local and state authorities will decide in terms of allowing and permitting an event the size of the world championship. And, more importantly, it’s not currently clear when those decisions will be made—i.e. if local and state authorities will decide next month, the month before the event, or even weeks before whether to move forward with the February race and even how the 2022 October race will shape up.

“There’s no sense of when those decisions will be made,” he said at the press conference. It is that uncertainty that makes planning challenging. And it is why, he noted, they’re exploring every option, from hosting the 2021 World Championships in February 2022 to moving the event to another location. He did not say whether they’re considering a temporary move during the pandemic or a more permanent situation that could resemble the current rotating structure of the 70.3 World Championships.

This news will no doubt be met with polarized opinions, as Kona has been the home to the Ironman World Championship since its moved from Oahu in 1981, but many have been calling for the race to be moved so that it can go ahead without speculation.

Last year, during the rise of the COVID pandemic, Ironman first announced a postponement of the 2020 Ironman World Championship race to February 2021. In June, that postponed Kona race was then canceled.

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