Saturday, October 15, 2022

The Return of the Iron Man


From Axios Sports:

The Ironman World Championships descended on Kona, Hawaii, last week for the first time since 2019, returning to the sport's spiritual home after three years of pandemic delays, Jeff writes.

State of play: The field was roughly twice as big as usual because of the long delay. To accommodate the volume, organizers split the event into separate races for women (Thursday) and men (Saturday) for the first time in its 44-year history.

Why it matters: This gave Ironman a chance to showcase women on their own day, continuing the organization's longstanding commitment to gender equality. They plan to make the change permanent.

What they're saying: "The history of Ironman and women is one that we're enormously proud of," Ironman Group CEO Andrew Messick tells Axios.

  • "There's never been a time when women were expected to do less than men. It's always been one distance, and either you were able to do it or not." 
  • "For us to be able to have a race where a woman is going to cross the finish line first, and be the sole focus of media attention, is something that we think was a long time coming."

The big picture: Kona missing out on three years of World Championships was a huge blow to triathletes and Hawaiians alike.

  • The little town on the Big Island's west coast is considered the sport's birthplace, and some of these athletes "have been waiting years for their chance to be on the pier, swim in Kona Bay, ride the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway and run Ali'i Drive," Messick says. 
  • Plus: "This is the biggest event that happens on the west side of Hawaii," says Messick. Roughly 30,000 people come each year, and the local economic impact of the 2019 race was an estimated $72 million.

Between the lines: The 5,000 athletes from 92 countries are the main attraction at the World Championships, but the festivities in the days leading up to the races — Kona Week — add a unique element.

  • There's a kids race (the Keiki Dip 'N Dash), a Ho'ala training swim that gives fans the opportunity to swim the actual course and even an Underpants Run. 
  • Over 5,000 volunteers work to make the race possible. Those include "people catchers," whose job is to catch exhausted racers in danger of collapsing after crossing the finish line.

Results: In case the race's name doesn't tip you off, simply completing an Ironman is borderline absurd. It comprises a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.

  • Women: 18 months after giving birth, Chelsea Sodaro (8:33:46) became the first American winner since 2002, and the first American female winner since 1996.
  • Men: Norway's Gustav Iden (7:40:24) obliterated the course record by more than 10 minutes, as did the entire top four, who all finished within five minutes of him.

1 awesome thing ... Chris Nikic (16:31:27) became the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete the Ironman World Championship.

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