The first time I heard of Brent Imonen was from the Keauhou-Kona Triathlon back in May of 1998.
At the time, the competitive half-Ironman distance that featured a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run along Kona’s coastline, was the only qualifier in the state for October’s Ironman World Championships. And, it brought out some healthy competition.
While local bragging rights and pre-race predictions were the talk of the town in the weeks leading up to the big event, none would materialize to be more dramatic than the heated battle that went down between the State’s top two professional triathletes — Imonen and Luis De La Torre.
That year was probably one of the closest finishes in the event’s history as only 9 seconds separated the top two.
Imonen, who was 29 years of age and had won the event three times from 1993-95, took turns swapping the lead with De La Torre (29), who was the defending champion.
Listening to updates that periodically trickled in to the announcement booth near the decorated finish line at the former Keauhou Beach Hotel, only ramped up the excitement as one thing was for sure — it was going to come down to a sprint finish.
On the final stretch of pavement on Alii Drive, Imonen made his final and most decisive move.
He surged past De La Torre in an all-out sprint, winning his fourth Keauhou-Kona Triathlon title in a time of 4 hours, 3 minutes and 18 seconds. De La Torre finished just nine seconds back in 4:03:27.
The crowd went wild.
Now, nearly two decades later, Imonen is still making headlines but this time, as a race director.
The 50-year-old Kamuela resident, who recently purchased the Kona Marathon Events and Volcano Rainforest Runs, shared his thoughts on his new role, his vision for the future of KME as well as opportunities he would like to explore, and the greatest lesson learned from all of his experiences.
Q: How does it feel to be the new owner and race director?
It’s great to have an event on Hawaii Island that I can focus on and be close to my family and friends. I spend time on Oahu working with Carole Kai Charities (Great Aloha Run) and Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation (Duke’s OceanFest) among other events. Don’t get me wrong — I love Oahu and was raised there, but there is nothing like being home on Hawaii Island.
Q: In my previous interview with Sharron Faff, she mentioned that going into the 25th anniversary she knew it would be her last. What was it about the Kona Marathon that sparked your interest?
My family has always had a special place for Hawaii Island. I’ve spent a lot of time, vacations as a keiki, training for Ironman, and as a resident on Hawaii Island. I new the race was a good one. Both Jim (Lovell) and Sharron have done great jobs with it, and my hope is to continue to move it forward in the years to come.
Q: What would you like to see in the future for the Kona Marathon and would you make any changes?
I’ve spent a lot of time as an athlete and a marketer on the event side of the business. Life is about experiences these days, and I’d like to add to the Kona Marathon experience this year with a similar template as past years (with small enhancements), but move forward with some ideas of my own in the years to come.
I think there are opportunities for some of the other Hawaii Island major runs and events to work together and sell the “Hawaii Island Experience” via our races all year long. I enjoy collaborating with others and my hope is that we can look at our marketing and experiences from a global perspective — everyone/event playing a role in the other’s success.
Q: Being the race/event director for some big events over in Oahu like the Great Aloha Run, Duke’s Oceanfest, the Honolulu Ekiden &Music Festival, as well as owning Pacific Rim Sports is no easy feat. What would you say is your greatest lesson learned?
Lessons learned … You can’t succeed without good friends and family. Both take work, but in the end they make it all worthwhile.
The events and organizations that I work with are bigger than me alone. I try to keep grounded and remind myself that to stay on top you have to accept other perspectives and ideas. In the end, I’d like to be known as a great person, a family guy, a friend who happens to have and/or work on some pretty cool events that provide an experience that you can’t find elsewhere. Hawaii is a great venue for this.