ST. GEORGE — The weather forecast looked rough for May 6, but race morning brought calm skies, nice temperatures and a surge of enthusiastic athletes, volunteers and spectators for Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championship St. George, an event that again energized the community and electrified the local economy.
More than 12,000 visitors infused an estimated $6 million-$7 million into the region, information gathered by the Washington County Office of Sports and Outdoor Recreation suggests.
“It’s a major undertaking to pull off an event of this magnitude,” said Kevin Lewis, director of the St. George Area Sports Commission. “This race generates enormous excitement in the area and it’s nice to see the economic boost each year.”
The community has hosted an Ironman event for eight straight years. In that time the positive exposure it creates has benefitted the St. George area well beyond race week. Surveys show that more than 90 percent of the participants return to vacation and train, bringing millions more in revenue each year.
“The positive exposure it creates for our region is beyond measure,” said Lewis.
As the North American Pro Championship, the St. George race attracts the most elite field of athletes of any Ironman race outside of its world championship. This year’s pros had a combined resume of six world championship wins, eight regional titles and more than 70 individual wins at Ironman races.
In his highly-anticipated first career Ironman race, two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee put on a dominating performance, leading almost from wire to wire.
“Ironman events have been pivotal in promoting the overall brand and culture of the St. George region over the years,” said Roxie Sherwin, director of the St. George Tourism Office. “We encourage our visitors to color outside the lines and we find, especially with our first-time guests, that the beauty and diversity of our landscape makes a return trip all but inevitable.”
A breakdown in race statistics shows:
- 2,127 competitors started the event.
- 79 professionals registered.
- 31 countries were represented.
- 43 states were represented.
- 12,000 estimated race visitors.
The 2017 race introduced two new champions – both from the United Kingdom. Brownlee, stormed out to a huge lead on the bike, then held off defending St. George champion Lionel Sanders in the run to capture the Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championship with a course-record time of 3 hours, 41 minutes, 58 seconds.
On the women’s side, Ironman 70.3 World Champion Holly Lawrence won her fourth straight Ironman 70.3 start this year with a time of 4:12:07. Lawrence, who finished second in St. George in 2016 said we’ve only seen the beginning of what she hopes for.
“I honestly don’t think I’m anywhere close to being where I can be,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence came in first among women’s pros racing Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa in California one week later, setting a new course record time there, 4:13:20.
The top male finisher from Washington County was Ty Neumann of St. George (5:00:22), and Amber Blair of Washington City (5:40:12) was the top female in the county.
“For me this never grows old,” Lewis said. “There is so much more to it than simply racing to the finish. It’s the energy of the community, the beauty of the landscape, the diversity of the terrain, the dynamics of the weather and the inspiration of the athletes. Every aspect of the event seems to bring out the best in individuals – from its organization and operations to its stringent demands for safety and support, it calls for excellence, and the people in this community provide it. Everywhere you look you see someone engaged in a quest to conquer with a determination to do whatever it takes to succeed. The way it all comes together is fascinating.”
St. George has hosted an Ironman race every year since 2010 and is one of only six Ironman 70.3 Regional Championship destinations in the world. Offering a professional prize purse of $100,000, the race awarded a total of 75 age-group qualifying slots for the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, which will take place in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Sept. 9-10. Agreements are in place to continue hosting the Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championship in St. George through 2019.