4020 years of numbers with the sport’s biggest name IRONMAN TURNS
The legend of the inaugural Ironman in 1978 is well known and this year marks the fortieth anniversary of that groundbreaking event. Fifteen brave, and somewhat anxious, athletes began that first race, 12 finished. Gordon Haller won with a time of 11:46:40.
A few months shy of the first Ironman’s 20-year anniversary, I completed my debut Ironman brand race: Ironman Canada. My time: 11:47:40, just 60 seconds slower than Haller. I was hooked.
Since then, I’ve spent the 20 years closely involved in the sport: 10 years as an active athlete, with 29 Ironman finishes at 12 global race venues, including racing at the Ironman World Championship in Kona three times. After retiring, I’ve remained deeply involved by attending three to four events per year as a journalist, analyst and photographer.
When I started racing Ironman events, there were eight global races: Australia, Canada, Europe, Kona, Japan, Lanzarote, New Zealand and Switzerland. Within a year, I had finished four: Canada, Europe, Switzerland, New Zealand and I would get to Kona soon after.
My observations were that each seemed to be challenging, but excellent experiences, well organized, and, importantly, not overcrowded (yet). The athletes in these races were, for the most part, serious about racing, highly
prepared, and able to deliver fast times.
Near the end of Ironman’s second decade, however, the dynamics of the sport began to change. Rather than a month or two passing before certain races would fill up, suddenly, they could be sold out in one day. I remember hundreds of us who completed Ironman Canada 1998 in stifling heat sitting in the line to register for the next year’s race a mere 12 hours later.
A surge of interest in racing and becoming an Ironman had begun and has not waned, for the most part, for the next two decades. I call this the “Ironman Race Boom.”
1998 2010 2012 2014 2015 2016 2017
The Ironman Race Boom
Then, it seemed everything changed, leading to a staggering amount of Ironman races available all over the world.
It seemed that announce- ments of new races were released every few months. For example new races in Panama City Beach, Fla. and Lake Placid, N.Y., came along in 1999, as did a new races in Europe and Asia. In the U.S. more races were soon added at California’s Camp Pendleton military base in 2000, Madison Wisc. in 2002. I raced in each one, including Austria in 2001.
More were added over the ensuing years, including wildly popular events in Frankfurt, Brazil, France, South Africa, U.K. and Western
Australia. At the same time, however, Ironman Europe, one of the original eight, was discontinued to great disappointment, as was Japan, and the new addition Ironman California was scrapped after two years.
Races added between 2005 and 2011 represented a bit of a learning experience, as eight races were added, but five were eventually discontinued. Cozumel, Louisville and Texas were added and remain extremely popular; China, Regensberg, St. George, along with Malaysia and Korea were added, but over time, removed from the schedule. (Although Malaysia and Korea have returned.) The 2010 Kona qualifying races for 2010 are shown in the top right chart.