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With the Ironman World Championship back after nearly three years and in a new location in St. George, Utah—outside Hawaii for the first time ever—a question in the back of the minds for both athletes and Ironman officials: Is this a one-off or will we see more events outside the race’s historic home of Kona in the future?
When the Ironman World Championship returns to Kona this October, it will be a two-day event, with the women (and a few of the men’s age groups) on Thursday and the rest of the men on Saturday. Ironman made it clear it intends for this two-day structure, popularized in the 70.3 World Championships, to stick around—and hinted that maintaining two days will be the priority over keeping the race on the Big Island.
“Having two days of racing for the future of the Ironman World Championships is going to be critical,” said Ironman CEO Andrew Messick at the press conference in St. George, noting they’ve been working with city officials in Kona to plan for future years.
“Were hopeful we’ll have a long-term solution for two days of racing in Kona, but we’re going to learn a lot this fall and we’ll see.”
The 70.3 World Championships moved to a two-day format in 2017—with all women racing on the first day and all men on the second. Since 2014, the 70.3 championship race has also rotated locations around the world, with races in South Africa, Europe, Australia, and the U.S. Due to pandemic travel restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, St. George stepped in for New Zealand to host the 2021 70.3 championship race and will do so again for 2022 this fall. The 2023 event will be held in Lahti, Finland.
It was the two-day format, however, that Messick called out as both incredibly beneficial and overwhelmingly popular.
“Creating a two-day race has been transformative for our 70.3 World Championship,” he said. Two days, he said, allows deeper and larger fields, and lets the men and women go on different days—which gives the professional athletes a cleaner race and more media attention. Separate men’s and women’s races have also been a nearly unanimous hit among age-group women, allowing them to race without interference and have their own spotlight.
However, pulling off a two-day event for a half-Ironman is quite different than pulling off two days for a full. Because athletes won’t finish until after midnight on the first day, it’s nearly impossible to have the two days of racing back-to-back in the same spot. (Athletes for the second day wouldn’t be able to check in the day before and operations staff wouldn’t be able to turn around set-up in time for the next morning.) This led to the Thursday-Sunday set-up that’s being tested in Kona this Oct. 6 and 8—something Messick called “an experiment.”
Messick also noted that in the wake of challenges around COVID restrictions, particularly travel restrictions to Hawaii, the Ironman team, internally, was ready to cancel the 2021 Ironman World Championships completely (which originally had been pushed to February 2022 on the Big Island). But, while in St. George, Utah, for the 70.3 World Championship in the fall, they were able to reach an agreement to move the race to St. George instead.
“It’s been a very difficult two-and-half years for everybody,” he said at the press conference in St. George, ahead of the Ironman World Championship race this Saturday. “There have been lots of changes. But we’re here and we’re thrilled to be here and we’re thrilled to do a bunch of things that many of us never would have thought possible.”
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