Triathlon Magazine Canada
Will We Have a 2021 International Race Season?
Speaking at the Endurance Exchange Conference in January, Ironman CEO Andrew Messick outlined what he believed were the three factors that will determine whether or not the company will be able to host a race: how active the coronavirus was in the community, the vaccination status in the country and travel restrictions.
Ironman’s race model is very much based on large race fields with lots of athletes traveling to events, which will make it difficult for the company to get back on track as the world works its way back to normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first part of the year Messick believes Ironman will see events happen in countries where there is not much virus activity, for example Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam. Ironman has races in those countries, but are anticipating that the competitors will be “local” – we’ll see Aussies only at Ironman Geelong in February and Ironman New Zealand will be filled with Kiwis.
While Messick is hopeful that more regions will reach a similar point soon, he says Ironman has contingency plans in effect for all its events in the first half of the year, and hopes that the race calendar for the second half of the year will look a bit closer to normal.
With so many races already full, Messick says that athletes are desperate to get back to doing what they love.
“Athletes want to compete in races, they want to train towards a goal and orient their lives towards an event,” he says.
Vaccination programs will be a key factor in our ability to return to racing, Messick says, pointing to Israel as a country that could host a race. (Ironman doesn’t host any races in Israel, though.)
By the third quarter of 2021, Messick is hopeful the race scene will start to look better: “That’s when we’ll see Corona numbers dropping everywhere,” he says. “We’ll have a bigger group of people that’s immune because of vaccinations and have fewer travel restrictions.”
Ironman was able to host some events in 2020, including a 70.3 event in Arizona and Ironman Florida, and Messick is confident that races can be held without posing a threat to the athletes or those around them.
“We’re going to fight as hard as we can to get racing back soon,” he says. “We believe we can have safe races for the hosts, volunteers and athletes.”
Ironman will be in a desperate position to host the Ironman World Championship in October this year. There’s about a thousand people qualified already, and qualifying races in New Zealand and Australia are almost a certainty in March, May and June. Even if just a few other qualifying races can take place, it’s not hard to see the 2021 field sitting at about 1,500 or more, even if racing remains limited throughout the rest of the year. The company needs to allow that group to race so that it can start building up a normal field of approximately 2,200 for 2022.
But, will travel restrictions be lifted so that athletes can travel from around the world to the United States in October?
The status of this year’s Olympic Games remains very much up in the air as we go to print with this issue. While the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Games organizers have been adamant that the Games will start on July 23, a report from London’s The Times in January said that the Japanese government had “decided the Tokyo Olympic Games cannot take place and the country will set its sights on bidding for the next available Games in 2032.”
Polling in Japan has found that upwards of 80 per cent of the population are against trying to host the Games while the country is dealing with the pandemic – at the time of The Times story the country was experiencing a surge in cases and Tokyo and many surrounding precincts were in lockdown.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee put his thoughts forward about the decision in an interview with the Yorkshire Post.
“Last year all hell was breaking loose in March and April and by the time we got to July–August, football was on again, and you start thinking it might have been possible to have had the Olympics,” he says. “But then again, look how quickly it turned south a couple of months ago. So I don’t think even the most well-informed person knows what’s around the corner and we all have to believe it’s on until it’s off. Given all that, my suggestion would be don’t rush into a decision, put all the mitigation you possibly can in place so that if you can run it under not-so-ideal conditions – and they’re not going to be ideal let’s be honest – then you can do that.”
Other big events
Based on Messick’s predictions, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see a lot of Canadian age groupers be able to head over to Europe early in the year, but the event organizers of this year’s World Triathlon Multisport World Championships in Almere, Netherlands, are hopeful that athletes from around the world will be free to compete there in September.
The inaugural Sprint World Championships is set for Bermuda in October – hopefully by then the tiny island will be ready to host the 4,000 athletes and their families the event is hoping to attract.—KM