Ironman World Championship canceled for first time in race history due to coronavirus

  • Tim O’Donnell, Jan Frodeno and Sebastian Kienle celebrate their finish at the 2019 Ironman World Championship. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today File Photo)

  • Jan Frodeno crosses the finish line to win the 2019 Ironman World Championship. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today File Photo)

For the first time in its history, the Ironman World Championship has been canceled.

The 2020 edition of the annual 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run was originally postponed from its Oct. 10 date to Feb. 6, 2021. However, because of health concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty of the future of international travel, The Ironman Group announced Tuesday the 2020 race will not take place.

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The cancellation of Kailua-Kona’s largest sporting event is a big blow for the town and island’s economy and tourism industry. The race brings thousands of participants and spectators to the Big Island every year.

“The coronavirus strikes again at the heart of Kona. While the reasons for canceling are understandable, how can Kona not be disappointed? It reminds me of an old friend or a family member that delays a trip to visit but you know they’re coming next year,” said Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce economic development committee chair Ross Wilson. “All of Kona looks forward to next year’s event slated for Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. We wish all the athletes and their families the best and Kona looks forward to welcoming them back next year.”

According a study completed by Markrich Research, last year’s World Championship generated an estimated total economic impact of $72 million for the state. Kona hosted approximately 2,500 athletes from 75 countries and territories who were registered for the race.

The 2020 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Taupo, New Zealand, was also canceled.

“It is with a heavy heart that we have made the decision to cancel the 2020 editions of the Ironman World Championship and Ironman 70.3 World Championship. While we were hopeful that we could welcome our athletes, their families, and supporters to these events in early 2021, the continued impact of the pandemic makes this impossible,” Andrew Messick, president and CEO for The Ironman Group, said in a press release. “It is tough to make this decision in July, but it will provide the necessary clarity for our athletes, host cities and partners.”

The Ironman World Championship was first held on Oahu in 1978, and moved to Kailua-Kona in 1981, where it’s been held every year since.

Last year’s winners of the World Championship were Germans Jan Frodeno and Anne Haug. Frodeno, a three-time winner, set the record at last year’s race with a time of 7 hours, 51 minutes, and 13 seconds.

“It is disappointing not to be able to provide our racing community with the opportunity to compete in the Ironman World Championship for the first time in our 43 year history and our Ironman 70.3 World Championship for the first time since inception in 2006,” Messick said. “We will endure, however, and look forward to the day when we will again assemble the greatest professional and age-group triathletes in the world and crown world champions.”

The 2021 Ironman World Championship in Kona is scheduled for Oct. 9, 2021.

“We respect Ironman’s decision to cancel the 2020 World Championships and understand this is the prudent action to take,” Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce executive director Wendy Laros said. “We know this is a time to make difficult decisions, but look forward to this grand event in October 2021.”

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The Ironman Group said athletes who qualified for the 2020 editions of the Ironman World Championship and Ironman 70.3 World Championship race will be contacted directly and will have the opportunity to race in the 2021 or 2022 editions of the races.

The 2021 Ironman 70.3 World Championship will take place Sept. 17-18 in St. George, Utah.

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