Editor’s note: While the sports world is shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, West Hawaii Today will look back every Tuesday at memorable sports moments on the Big Island.
The end of this month was supposed to bring athletes from all over the world together on the Big Island for the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii triathlon, a qualifying race for the Ironman World Championship in October and the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in November.
The coronavirus has forced the 2020 race to be postponed from its originally scheduled date of May 30, and is now set for Aug. 15.
In 2012, Honu brought the most famous, and most controversial, cycling athlete to the island.
Just a few months before the United States Anti-Doping Agency concluded its investigation that Lance Armstrong had used performance-enhancing drugs in his cycling career, the seven-time Tour de France winner was just beginning to try his hand at the Ironman World Championship, and finished in first place at the 2012 Ironman 70.3 Hawaii race. It was his fifth Ironman 70.3 race he competed in that year.
The arrival of Armstrong gave a whole new buzz to the annual race in Kohala, even with a record number of athletes signing up for the race. When general entry closed on Feb. 13, 2012, 1,980 athletes had signed up to race, an increase from a field of 1,865 in 2011.
“‘Of course, the whole Lance Armstrong thing is going to create a lot of excitement,’ Kailua-Kona resident and triathlete Penn Henderson told West Hawaii Today’s Micah Lewter in a June 1, 2012 article. ‘It’s the biggest Honu race we’ve had around here.’”
Not only did Armstrong bring excitement that year, he brought speed.
“Saturday’s Ironman 70.3 Hawaii may have started and finished at Turtle Point, but slow and steady had no part in the race,” Lewter wrote in a June 3, 2012 article after the race.
“Former cycling great Lance Armstrong used a record-breaking bicycle time to pass his opponents and claim the event in a time of 3 hours, 50 minutes, and 55 seconds. Australia’s Greg Bennett, a former Olympian, was second in 3:57:18.”
Armstrong finished the windy 56-mile bike portion of the race in 2:01:46.
“‘It was a day I hoped for,’ he said to the crowd after the awards ceremony. ‘I wanted it to be like that. You know when you wake up and see the flags flying like that and the trees bent over; it’s going to be a day.’”
Part-time Kailua-Kona resident Chris Lieto was third overall with a time of 4:05:55.
Henderson was the first full-time Big Island resident finisher that year, 11th overall with a time of 4:20:42.
Armstrong’s moment in the Ironman spotlight only lasted briefly, however.
On June 15, 2012, just a few days after Honu, Armstrong was banned from competing in world Ironman events while he was still under investigation for using performance-enhancing drugs by the World Triathlon Corporation.