‘The world is already here’; Crowd gathers to welcome Ironman 70.3 selection committee

ST. GEORGE — St. George and Chattanooga, Tennessee, were recently named finalists to host the 2021 Ironman 70.3 World Championship triathlon. A surprise pep rally was held Tuesday evening at Town Square Park for the committee that will decide which of the two cities will receive the honor of hosting the world’s best triathletes.

A large crowd gathers to welcome the Ironman World Championship site selection committee at a pep rally held at Town Square Park, St. George, Utah, March 26, 2019 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

St. George is already the current host of the Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championship and will host its 10th Ironman or Ironman 70.3 triathlon May 4.

The crowd at Tuesday’s rally was buzzing with excitement as athletes, area dignitaries, business owners and endurance sports enthusiasts chanted “we want Ironman” while awaiting the site selection committee’s arrival.

Among the most excited at the rally were members of the Southern Utah Triathlon Club, who came out in full force to show their desire to host the world championship race in Southern Utah.

Triathlon club board member Spencer Harmon said hosting the prestigious event would mean the world to him and the other members of the club, many of whom have competed in the Ironman 70.3 St. George as well as other Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events around the globe.

The selection team spent Monday and Tuesday touring the area and meeting with city and Washington County leaders. Their visit culminated with an overview of the current Ironman 70.3 St. George course, after which the committee thought they were heading out to dinner, said Diana Bertsch, senior vice president of world championship events for Ironman.

Senior Vice President of World Championship events for Ironman, Diana Bertsch, speaks at the Ironman pep rally held at Town Square Park, St. George, Utah, March 26, 2019 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Instead the committee was brought to Town Square Park where the gathered crowd enthusiastically greeted them, many wearing Ironman branded gear, cycling and triathlon kits.

“It was a great surprise, and it made us all very happy,” Bertsch said.

One of the keys to hosting a successful world championship event, Bertsch said, is having a strong sense of community support, which is something she said she felt in St. George.

“It’s so wonderful to see the support that this community has, the enthusiasm that they have for Ironman,” she said.

Since 2010 the residents of Washington County have consistently shown their support for the world-class sporting event, with hundreds if not thousands of volunteers lining the course every year to make the athlete experience the best it can possibly be. And it seems to have paid off, as Ironman 70.3 St. George ranked 9th in the “Overall Host City Experience” category in the 2018 Ironman Athlete Choice awards.

“It’s pretty cool to see the community rally around these types of things,” said Colby Neilson, volunteer director for Ironman 70.3 St. George.

Neilson has spent the past 10 years gathering and organizing the many race volunteers and has seen first hand how the event brings people together.

It’s an awesome feeling to be part of something this big and see everybody just coming out to make it work,” he said.

Bertsch told the crowd she compared the spirit she felt from the community Tuesday to “ohana,” the Hawaiian language word for family and the theme for the 2019 Ironman World Championship held in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

While the Ironman World Championship is held annually in Kona, the Ironman 70.3 World Championship rotates continents. The last time the race was in North America – in 2017 – it was held in Chattanooga.

Members of the Southern Utah Triathlon Club gather for a group photo at the Ironman pep rally held at Town Square Park, St. George, Utah, March 26, 2019 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

St. George was among the top-three contenders to host the 2017 event but lost out to Tennessee. This year area leaders hope for a different outcome, Neilson said, and have done as much as they can to earn the bid.

“We’ve done a lot,” he said.

The pep rally was hosted by 95.9 The Hawk radio personality Bill West and Erik Sorenson, who does public relations for the St. George Area Sports Commission and is also a multiple time Ironman and Ironman 70.3 finisher.

The evening featured brief remarks from Washington County Tourism Director Kevin Lewis, Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox, St. George Mayor Jon Pike, Southern Utah Triathlon Club member and Ironman and Ironman 70.3 finisher Heath Snow and a special presentation by students from Dixie State University’s International Center.

The students spoke in Russian, Chinese, German, French and Spanish telling the committee that they want the world championship to come here.

“The world is already here,” Sorenson said to the committee, “we just need the rest of them to join us.”

Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox addresses the crowd at the Ironman pep rally held at Town Square Park, St. George, Utah, March 26, 2019 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Attendees were treated to free root beer floats, pizza and special Ironman themed cookies, as well as music from 95.9 The Hawk.

Following their visit to St. George, the committee will be visiting Chattanooga, and then they will go through the process of reviewing the criteria for all the aspects of the race, Bertsch said, including the venue, the course, the logistics and the community.

The 2021 Ironman 70.3 World Championship will be a two-day event with the professional women and age-group women racing on one day and the professional men and age-group men racing on the other. If selected, the race would likely be held in the month of September and would be in addition to the Ironman 70.3 St. George held each year in May.

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Email: hollie@canyonmedia.net

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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