Ironman to split venues in 2023

  • Ironman champion Gustav Iden. right, congratulates second place winner Sam Laidlow after he crosses the finish line. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

A two-day running of the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona will not occur in 2023.

The Ironman Group said Wednesday the 2023 VinFast Ironman World Championship triathlon will move forward with two different host venues to ensure both professional and amateur women and men have a “focused” race experience.

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Under the new format, the women will race Oct. 14, 2023, in Kailua-Kona. The the men’s race date and location outside of Hawaii is still being evaluated and expected to be announced in January 2023. For 2024, the men and women would exchange locations, meaning the men would race in Kona while the women would travel elsewhere for the grueling 140.6-mile triathlon.

“We are reinforcing our commitment for a dedicated world championship race experience for women and men to each receive an exclusive spotlight on their race. Hawaii is in our DNA and we look forward to the first-ever exclusively women’s world championship race week in Kona. At the same time, we are looking forward to announcing a co-host location for the men’s race that will be worthy of an IRONMAN World Championship and will capture the imagination of our athletes and fans,” said Andrew Messick, president and CEO of The Ironman Group, in a prepared statement.

The 2022 Ironman World Championship marked the first time in the triathlon’s over four-decade history that the event was held over two days. The decision to race on Thursday, Oct. 6, and Saturday, Oct. 8, was made to accommodate some 5,256 athletes who’d qualified since 2019 for the prestigious event that was postponed in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the race was a success, it was contentious among locals, many of whom were stuck in hours-long traffic back ups amid Thursday’s race as well as other issues in the days leading up to the largest running ever of the world championship.

Ironman said Wednesday that while the two-day format for Kailua-Kona in 2023 had already been announced and slots awarded, Hawaii County and Ironman officials concluded “together that the impact of two days of racing in Kona is not currently in the best interest of the local community.

“Hawaii County has long enjoyed partnering with IRONMAN and this year’s epic races were another example of world-class athletic competition held on the traditional Kona-Kohala world championship course,” said Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth in the prepared statement. “We learned, however, that more than one race day during IRONMAN week is too many for the community to manage. We are pleased that IRONMAN plans to return to Kailua-Kona as a co-host of the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship and look forward to more exciting events in the future.”

Roth said Wednesday that his office began having conversations with Ironman officials immediately following the race in October. He had stated on Oct. 5, the day between race days, that a two-day format was not set in stone, despite Ironman moving forward with the 2023 race.

“We realized the impacts to our community during the week were inconvenient, “Roth said. “We want them to be a part of our community. They took into consideration what it would take to keep Ironman here as an alternative every year.”

Roth said a lot of “hard work” was to put into the decision to go back to a single race day.

“There was lots of community input. Nobody realized what a strain it would be on the community to do it on a Thursday looking at the economic downput,” he said.

With the move to ensure dedicated Ironman World Championship racing for both women’s and men’s fields, the qualifying cycle and slot allocations will be slightly adjusted, race officials said. Additionally, all athletes who have previously qualified and registered for the 2023 VinFast Ironman World Championship will be contacted directly with additional information.

The first Ironman was held as a way to challenge athletes who had seen success at endurance swim, running and biathlon events. John Collins, a Naval officer, and his wife, Judy, combined the three toughest endurance races in Hawaii — the 2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the 112-mile Around-Oahu Bike Race and the 26.2-mile Honolulu Marathon — into one event.

In February 1978, 15 people came to Waikiki to take on the challenge with 12 completing the race. In 1981, Ironman moved from Oahu to Kona where traffic hazards were lower and the island’s barren lava fields presented more of a challenge to athletes with winds gusting up to 60 mph in areas and temperatures averaging in the high 80s and low 90s.

The event quickly grew from 15 people in the first race in 1978 to 1,381 participants in 1987 and over 2,500 prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced organizers to postpone the event in 2020 and again in 2021. In May, the 2021 Ironman World Championship in Utah shortly after officials announced the return of Ironman to Kona in 2022.

According to the Ironman World Championship Race Director Diana Bertsch, an economic impact study conducted by Ironman in 2019, found the race contributed $72 million to the local economy, up from $25 million in 2006. Roth estimated in October that the two-day race would contribute $100 million to the local economy.

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