THE CHALLENGE FOR CHALLENGE (AND EVERYONE OTHER THAN IRONMAN)
TALK TO ANYONE who was at the second running of “The Championship” in Samorin, Slovakia, and you’ll hear them rave about the event. I’m biased because I once again served as the host and main announcer for the event, but unless the pros and athletes were all lying to me, everyone seemed to enjoy the second running of the race that will take place at the spectacular X-Bionicsphere for another three years.
The numbers don’t reflect the quality of the event, though. Despite a spectacular pro field there were fewer than a thousand competitors. The race hasn’t attracted the attention the folks from Challenge are looking for. That will hopefully change, but it’s not going to be an easy sell. The Challenge series has struggled in North America and is hoping to get back on track with a new event at Florida’s famous Daytona Speedway this December. While there are very successful Challenge events
across Europe and Asia, qualifying for the Championship hasn’t engendered the same kind of enthusiasm as Kona or the 70.3 world championship has.
As Ironman celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, it remains the biggest global player in the sport. Sure, there’s the ITU with the exciting World Triathlon Series and world championship events that attract some of the world’s top age group athletes. There’s the Challenge series, with almost 40 races on its calendar for 2018. Penticton will host a new qualifying event for the Super League Triathlon Series this August, but Super League is very much a work in progress, albeit a very interesting one.
But when it comes to triathlon, Kona’s the event that really seems to inspire participation. As you’ll see in Raymond Britt’s story (p.52), 80,000 athletes competed in 39 full-distance Ironman events last year, all of which served as qualifiers for the big show in Kona. There are even more athletes who compete in the half-distance Ironman-branded events around the world – two years ago, there were 103,000 athletes who competed in the various qualifying events and even more races were added in 2017.
It is hardly a surprise that the Ironman
brand leads the way. They put on quality events around the world, have the world’s most iconic and well-known triathlon event as their crown jewel and have steadily expanded their business to include marathon and cycling events to attract more people to the sport. A few years ago, Ironman bought the company that put on many of the WTS events around the world (Lagardere), so they’re now a major player in that series, too. Ironman isn’t likely to go anywhere but up in the foreseeable future.
So, it’s totally worth your while to participate in an Ironman event, but why not support some other races, too? In Ontario, there are many different race series, for example, the Multisport Triathlon Series, as well as independent events like the Toronto Tri Festival that put on outstanding races. Montreal and Edmonton’s WTS races are sure to be spectacular events, too. As is the return of the Kelowna Apple later this year, Edmonton’s Great White North Triathlon and so many others.
I get the lure of Kona and the Ironman name that put the sport on the map 40 years ago. But I’m also very aware of just how good many of the independent and smaller series races are. I hope you’ll support them as much as you support the Ironman brand.
Heidi Thranum exits the water at the Challenge Championship