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Is Kona really going back to one day next year?

We decided to dig deeper into the rumours

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

The crew at Professional Triathlon News (@protrinews) set the triathlon world abuzz with a social media post yesterday, suggesting that next year’s Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, wouldn’t, in fact, be a two day affair.

As the above post makes abundantly clear, all this is gossip and rumour, but the reason that so many people are up in arms about all this talk is that it’s not hard to imagine that there’s some truth to it all.

The day after the men’s race in Kona this year, Sunday, Oct. 9, West Hawaii Today posted a story with the headline “Mayor says 2-day running of Ironman World Championship in 2023 not set in stone, though race officials are moving forward.” Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth told the newspaper that “A review of the 2022 event will take place in the coming months to determine whether holding a two-day race in 2023 is ‘feasible.'”

Roth was one of the hundreds of locals and athletes who were stuck in traffic after the women’s race on the Thursday.

“We are re-evaluating whether we do (the race) either two times, or whether we do it on a weekday at all because we realize there were a lot of issues that came up because it was on a weekday, or whether we just do it one day. But we’re trying to get through this week,” Roth said. “We are going to be discussing a lot of it and we have been discussing a lot of it with the people at Ironman. I think they understand as well that there was some things that happened that didn’t go as planned.”

Huge crowds were on hand for the races in Kona.

Ironman was fully aware of the strain on the community. As we reported after the press conference a few days before the women’s race, Ironman CEO Andrew Messick acknowledged the challenges the community were facing thanks to an influx of an estimated 20,000 athletes, family, friends and spectators.

“We’ve learned a lot and we’re committed in 2023 to have a day purely for woman and another day purely for men,” Messick said. “We’re learning how to do that so we can integrate into the community.”

When approached for comment by West Hawaii Today, Ironman pointed out that Roth had been quoted in the announcement of the two days of racing slated for 2023. (See our story below.)

Related: Ironman World Championship returns to Kona in 2023 with dedicated men’s and women’s race days

“We announced the two-day format for 2023 with the support of the County in July of this year and have athletes who have already qualified since the 2023 cycle began in August,” Ironman said in a statement to West Hawaii Today. “For over 40 years, we have worked with the community to create an event that redefines what is possible, unites all through sport, is synonymous with monumental achievement – and does so while providing significant benefit to the Island of Hawaii while minimizing the level of disruption to the lives of people within the community.”

“We are committed to working with the community to improve the event experience for all and have already begun to implement changes for 2023,” the statement continued. “We look forward to the continued work in the coming months with the Mayor and County of Hawaii, town of Kailua-Kona, and all other constituents to minimize the impact of the event as we meet the needs of the community.”

Roth also admitted that there probably wasn’t enough consultation with the community about adding another day of racing both this year and next.

“I’ll take the responsibility,” he told the paper. “I think we probably should have had more community discussion than we did — the things you look back on hindsight is always 20/20. A lot of decisions were made coming out of COVID with some of the difficult positions we were seeing — some of the struggles our community members were having at that time.”

You have to feel for Roth, though. As he points out, the community is coming out of the pandemic, where travel to the island was curtailed for a long time. This year’s race is reported to have contributed over $100 million to the local economy – which certainly would have been an attractive influx of cash for the county.

Despite all that, though, Roth made it clear to West Hawaii Today that there was no guarantee that there would be two days of racing in Kona next year.

“If we have a two-day race — it is definitely being reassessed — if we go forward with a two-day race there will be much more community input,” he said.

All of which puts Ironman in a bind. Qualifying is well under way for next year’s race – with 3,800 qualifying spots on offer at the various qualifying races around the world. That’s a lot of people to try and put on the course all at once. (I can remember the days when the Hawaii race directors used to tell us that there wasn’t room for more than 1,800 bikes on the pier – this year they set up over 2,500 each race day and it was packed!)

Andrew Messick also made it abundantly clear at the press conference in St. George earlier this year (and, yes, we reported on this, too – see the link below) that the future of the Ironman World Championship was two days of racing. He was clear that if necessary, the championship would move again.

Related: Will the Ironman World Championship move from Kona? Ironman CEO says maybe

“At the end of 2022 we’re going to have a lot to think about around what world championship racing is going to look like in the Ironman ecosystem,” Messick said at the press conference in St. George.

Based on Ironman’s inability to fill the world championship event in St. George, and the huge number of athletes who competed in Kona last month, it seemed pretty clear that athletes are attached to Kona. That said, you can be sure that there are some lucrative options for Ironman to move the race around – various regions would no-doubt jump at the chance to write the company a big check in order to host the race. Whether or not the athletes will go for that scenario, though, remains a big question.

And whether or not that’s going to happen in less than a year is an even bigger one. Ironman would take a lot of flack from athletes who have already qualified for Kona and booked their accommodations and possibly even flights if they changed the venue at this point. Which makes some of the rumours kicking around – the race will be split between Kona and Nice, France, for example – seem a little far fetched. It would appear that the most likely options available are to negotiate some sort of compromise with the county, or run the race on one day. My guess is we’ll see the former.

We reached out to Ironman to see if they had any comment or statement on this, but have not received any reply. We’ll update this story accordingly if we do.