Has the Ironman World Championship become too elitist?

The Ironman World Championship in Hawaii has never been a cheap excursion, but its expansion to a two-day event raises concerns for its future. Tim Heming explains…


Kona, we have a problem. If it costs athletes around £10,000 to take part in a world championship, then it’s a world championship in name rather than substance.


The Ironman World Champs has never been a cheap trip, but there has been an acceptance that travelling halfway around the world to race on a Pacific island with limited accommodation comes at a price.

And given the financial investment to reach the level needed to qualify is already high, those wanting to race long-course triathlon have long seen it as part of the rub.

Plus, diving with manta rays is kind of fun. But we might have reached tipping point.

The pandemic has meant that with no Kona since 2019, qualifiers mounted, and Ironman expanded October’s showpiece to two days – Thursday and Saturday.

While this has benefits, including, hopefully, an improved women’s race, it also puts more strain on the infrastructure of the small town of Kailua-Kona that now must host almost double the number of triathletes – more than 4,000 over the two days of racing – plus support crews.

From many I’ve spoken to, the sticking point – and most galling aspect of the cost – is the accommodation.

Professional triathlete Joe Skipper pointed out as much with a social media post explaining why he might forgo Hawaii after his previously booked apartment was cancelled on him with the option of rebooking at three times the cost or looking elsewhere.

Others have similar tales, particularly when using Vrbo, a booking platform similar to Airbnb that allows you to rent whole residences.

With limited regulation, landlords have taken advantage of the increased demand to renege on bookings and hike prices up to fourfold the original.

In one example, Michelle, an 18-time Ironman finisher who lives on Oahu, had her handy location on Ali’i Drive cancelled. She’s been travelling to Kona for the past 15 years, but is seriously reconsidering in the future.

Costs are already circa £900 for race entry, £1k-£1.3k for flights from the UK, plus transfers, car hire and food.

Some qualifiers explained how it will be the ‘trip of a lifetime’; many turned down their spot; others were honest enough to admit they’d paid up but were now regretting it.

Ironman has already confirmed next year’s World Championship will again be held over two days in Hawaii, but at what cost? There will always be super-rich individuals to fill slots, but if the majority of the best can no longer afford to go, will the rest of the best want to either?

The result becomes a watered-down event that is more elitist than ever before. Hawaii is a golden goose they need to nurture. Or we know what happens.

Illustration: Daniel Seex