Ironman returns to Hawaii

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An aerial view of the start of the swimming portion of the Ironman World Championships. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

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.

State of play: The field was about twice as big as usual due to 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 is it important: 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 say : “The story of Ironman and women is one that we are extremely proud of,” Ironman Group CEO Andrew Messick told Axios.

  • “There was never a time when women were expected to do less than men. It was always a distance, and either you were able to do it or you weren’t.”
  • “For us to be able to run a race where a woman crosses the finish line first and be the sole center of media attention is something that we think is a long time coming.”
Ironman Finish Line
An aerial view of the finish line. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The big picture: Kona missing three years of world championships was a blow to triathletes and Hawaiians alike.

  • The small town on the west coast of the Big Island is considered the birthplace of the sport, and some of these athletes “waited for years for their chance to be on the pier, to swim in Kona Bay, to ride the ‘Queen Ka’ahumanu highway and running Ali’ I drive,” Messick said.

More: “This is the biggest event happening on the West Side of Hawaii,” Messick said. About 30,000 people come each year and the local economic impact of the 2019 race was estimated at $72 million, Hawai’i Public Radio reported.

Iron Man
The sun sets during the running part. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

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

  • There is a children’s race (the Keiki Dip ‘N Dash), a Hoala training swim from 2017 which gives fans the ability to virtually swim the actual course and even a Running in underwear.
  • More than 5,000 volunteers work to make the race possible. These include “people catchers”, whose job is to catch exhausted runners in danger of collapsing after crossing the finish line.
Chelsea Sodaro
Chelsea Sodaro celebrates her victory with her daughter Skylar. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Results: In case the name of the race doesn’t warn you, just finishing an Ironman is borderline absurd. It includes a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run.

  • Women: 18 months after delivery, Chelsea Sodaro (8:33:46) became the first American winner since 2002 and the first American winner since 1996.
  • Men: Norway Gustav Iden (7:40:24) erased the course record by more than 10 minutes, as did the front 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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