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With an increase in COVID numbers in the wake of highly contagious variants and low vaccination numbers, Ironman announced today that it would be moving the 2021 Ironman World Championships to Feb. 5, 2022.
“The resurgence of the virus and new Delta strain has had significant impact on the island community of Hawaii. Combined with substantial border closures and travel restrictions for qualified athletes, there is not a viable pathway in October to host the Ironman World Championship,” said Ironman CEO Andrew Messick in a press statement.
The decision comes after much speculation in the last few days about what would happen to the event as Hawaii tightened restrictions around travel and public gatherings. On Aug. 10, Hawaii Governor David Ige announced the state would return to limiting outdoor gatherings to 25 people, and indoor bars and restaurants to 50% capacity. However, there was an exception outlined for “professional events,” which would be reviewed and approved by the county—per each event’s proposed protocols and safety guidelines. Because of that exemption, many were hopeful the world championship race could move forward.
That hope was dashed after the Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth made it clear in a county council meeting on Tuesday evening that the town was considering canceling the race over concerns about the thousands of people who come to the island to spectate. According to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, he submitted approval for increased emergency restrictions, and he was quoted as saying to the council:
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t look too positive for Ironman this year. The question with Ironman is what do you do with all the people who come to spectate…I would love to see the Ironman happen and I also realize that it’s something that helps our community, but we’re also concerned for the quick cause of the spread.”
Volunteers and medical personnel for the event were told Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning that the event would be moved, but final details had to be worked out with local officials.
Athletes who have already qualified for the 2021 world championship race will receive information directly, via email. Qualification for the 2022 event has not been changed and will continue as planned. The 2022 Ironman World Championship race is still scheduled to take place in October 2022.
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.
If this February 2022 race goes forward, followed by a 2022 championship race in October, it won’t be the first time there were two Ironman World Championships in the same year. In 1982, after the traditional race was held in February, Julie Moss’ infamous crawl to the finish spurred so much interest in the event that a second race was held in October to accommodate a large increase in numbers. From then on, October became the traditional date for the Ironman World Championship race.
Ironman also announced earlier this week that it would be making changes to the 2021 and 2022 70.3 World Championships because of COVID travel restrictions—condensing the 2021 edition to one day and moving the 2022 event from New Zealand back to St. George, Utah. In that announcement, Ironman officials noted nearly half the field was expected to be unable to attend the 70.3 World Championships in Utah next month due to ongoing border restrictions. Travel is even more tightly regulated to Hawaii, with quarantines required for all non-vaccinated travelers and vaccination records accepted only from a limited number of countries.