IRONMAN officials postpone and will temporarily relocate the World Championship to St. George, Utah, for the 2021 season. The race will return to its Hawaiian roots in late 2022 — with a renovated format and expanded pro fields.
So much for getting lei’d in Hawaii this year. The 2021 IRONMAN World Championship athletes will find themselves sweating it out in Utah instead. On Thursday, September 24, IRONMAN announced the decision to relocate this year’s comp from Kona, Hawaii, to St. George, Utah, citing logistic and health concerns from COVID.
The 2021 IRONMAN, initially slated for early October and then postponed to February, will now take place on May 7, 2022.
The maneuver isn’t terribly surprising; COVID and consequent travel restrictions blockaded the event in 2020, and this year is no different in that respect. But it does mark the first time in 40 years — and IWC history — that Hawaii won’t host the event. In Thursday’s press release, IRONMAN president and CEO Andrew Messick spoke to why they tapped St. George as a surrogate:
“St. George stepped up to ensure IRONMAN athletes will have a 2021 world championship, even if delayed into 2022. We all just witnessed why this special place has been dubbed the ‘Land of Endurance’ and we are confident that we will have an outstanding championship in May.”
That said, the move is not a permanent one — organizers are preparing Kailua-Kona for the return of the IRONMAN World Championship in October 2022.
New Format for IRONMAN World Championship in 2022
Next year’s IRONMAN World Championship competition in Kona will provide athletes with a new 2-day race format, with the women’s set for October 6 and the men’s set for October 8. The change offers vital benefits in several areas.
Next year’s race will accommodate next year’s qualifiers as well as those deferred in 2020 and 2021, which means the competitor pool will be two- to threefold its typical size any given year. The pro field will expand to include 50 men and 50 men, and an estimated 5,000 age group men and women total.
Divvying the number of participants allows race organizers to manage critical aspects more readily and cuts down on overcrowding.
“We expect the races in October of 2022 to be unique and historic,” Messick stated. “Two days of racing in Kailua-Kona address the overwhelming demand from athletes to race in a World Championship and will allow us to host our deferred athletes and place more emphasis on showcasing our women’s and men’s professional races.”
IRONMAN and the Local Economy
And then there’s the economic aspect. Kona, which has hosted the IWC since 1981, is something of a destination spot because of the event. The financial losses resulting from back-to-back cancellations in 2020 and 2021 are locally palpable. The new format could provide a much-needed shot in the arm for Kailua-Kona businesses.
“While the iconic event has provided long-lasting economic benefits to our island, what’s sometimes missed is the transformation of Kona as a lifestyle destination because of Ironman,” said Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau. “We are in full support of Ironman’s change to host a two-day race format that enables the opportunity for all qualifying athletes from the past two-plus years to compete as well as giving the local economy a chance to benefit and recoup lost tourism opportunities.”
Concern surrounding the economic hardship experienced by Kona is not lost on IRONMAN’s leadership. In July 2020, the organization launched the Kahiau Together food drive, which provides bundles of fresh, healthy food to locals in need at the Kona International Marketplace. To date, IRONMAN has served over 130,000 meals.
When asked about IRONMAN’s impact on the local region, Hawaii County mayor Mitch Roth said, “As our island’s premier sporting event, Ironman has been a trusted community partner for over 40 years, and we’re ever grateful for their willingness and ability to adapt to our community’s needs and contribute to its vibrancy.”