Will the Ironman World Championship stay in Kona?

220 columnist Tim Heming asks if the changes brought in for the Ironman World Championship is a one-off fix or a new dawn for the biggest tri on the planet...

Will the Ironman World Champs stay in Hawaii?

It was perhaps inevitable that the Ironman World Championship would follow its 70.3 counterpart and evolve into two days of racing. But three? 

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That’s the situation next year, although in fairness to the organisers, the first date in Utah in May is to finally get the 2021 event out of the way and clear the backlog of age-group qualifiers, some of whom earned their place as early as September 2019.

Thereafter we’ll see a return to Hawaii with the pro women lining up on Thursday, October 6, the pro men on Saturday, October 8, and the age-groupers split between the two.

After this October’s postponement for the second successive year, Ironman’s initial plans for a February race always seemed shaky. Even if Hawaii’s Covid restrictions eased, it would be peak season for the type of tourist whose swimwear won’t have been tested in a wind tunnel.

Ironman World Champs head to Utah

So here we are. Utah first, and provided Ironman can persuade qualifiers to go, which may be a challenge given how many have Hawaii on their bucket list, it should prove a worthy host.  It will have been a decade since a full distance Ironman race took place there, but in 2012 it took USA’s Ben Hoffman – a four-time top 10 in Hawaii triathlete – 9hrs 7mins to break the tape.

There’s no doubt St. George can deliver a bona fide challenge, and as this year has shown with the Ironman 70.3 World Championship set against the red rock backdrop suitably coloured by its iron content, the location is embracing its status as the ‘Land of Endurance’.

It should make for better racing with fewer triathletes bunched on the bike leg and better coverage, particularly of the women’s professional race

As for Kona over two days, it’s a thumbs up. Even with more athletes there’s enough accommodation, and as long as the age-group categories are divided sensibly, it should make for better racing with fewer triathletes bunched on the bike leg and better coverage, particularly of the women’s professional race.

Should Kona be rotated?

Change for the better often only comes from a crisis, and if Hawaii 2022 style proves successful, the switch is likely to become permanent. As it swells Ironman’s coffers, the challenge will be avoiding the temptation to just throw more triathletes onto an again cluttered course over two days. Judgement should be reserved, but history suggests profit will win out.

Not that I see this being a popular view, but what would make the racing better still, and not just benefit triathletes who thrive in the heat and humidity of the lava fields, would be to continue rotating the event, perhaps returning to Hawaii biennially or even every four years.

While I can already feel the anguish of those for whom the annual pilgrimage to Hawaii is sacrosanct, it’s a seal that has been broken by having Utah as hosts, and less frequent visits to Hawaii would only increase the Big Island’s allure.

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Illustration: Daniel Seex