St. George picks up 2022 Ironman 70.3 World Championship; upcoming race sees changes due to pandemic

ST. GEORGE — Changes were announced for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship race to be held in St. George this September due to international athletes finding themselves unable to attend as travel and border restrictions returned in the wake of conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. These same concerns, while causing a reduction in attendees to this year’s race, also paved the way for St. George to host the world championship again in 2022.

In this file photo, bikers at the start line for the 2019 Ironman 70.3 race in Southern Utah, May 4, 2019 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

What had been slated to be a two-day race will now be a single-day race held on Sept. 18, Kevin Lewis, director of the Greater Zion Tourism Office, told the Washington County Commission on Tuesday.

Lewis brought a 55-page document with him that was a modified agreement with the Ironman Group that allowed for a reduced race this September, yet also made St. George next year’s host for the same event.

“We have continued to monitor border and travel restrictions closely, and it is increasingly clear that these restrictions are not likely to be relaxed in time for most international athletes to be able to race in St. George,” Andrew Messick, president and chief executive officer for The Ironman Group, said in a press release. “We have a special host partner in St. George and its surrounding communities, and we are looking forward to being able to host a full international two-day race in 2022.”

The press release was issued following the County Commission’s voting to approve the new contract.

The 2022 Ironman 70.3 World Champion was to be held in Taupo, New Zealand, but is now being shifted to away from there due to renewed COVID-19 concerns in that county as well.

“Ironman loves the destination,” Lewis told the commission. “They love what we’ve brought to the table, and they came back to us and said, ‘We think you ought to do this again.’ … It’s great to have the respect of a global brand like Ironman.”

Starting line of the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship, Sand Hollow State Park, Utah, May 1, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office, St. George News

Between 6,000-7,000 athletes were expected to attend the September event, but now it looks more like 3,000-4,000 may attend, reducing an anticipated economic impact to the community from up to $25 million to around $12 million to $15 million instead.

Of the athletes who will be able to make the race, many will be from across the Americas, along with other international athletes who are either already in the United States or not yet subject to travel restrictions, though the latter is subject to change, Lewis said.

The September event will be an amazing race, Lewis said, just smaller and held over the single day. On the plus side, it helps reduce some of the costs associated with it, he said.

As for getting the world champion for 2022, Washington County Commission Chair Gil Almquist said, “The fact they trust us to put it on again is amazing.”

Negotiations were had between the Ironman Group and Greater Zion related to mask requirements, Lewis said, given the commission’s recent resolution against masks and lockdown mandates.

Lionel Sanders (right) leads a pack of (from right to left) Daniel Baekkegard, Magnus Diltev and Sam Long along Red Hills Parkway in the Ironman 70.3 St. George triathlon race, St. George, Utah, May 1, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

While the Ironman Group follows the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a compromise was struck. Masks will only be required at portions of the overall Ironman event that will be held inside, such as the banquet to be held for the athletes at the Dixie Convention Center.

Concerning the end product of the negotiations and this year’s race modifications, Lewis said it wasn’t quite what everyone had been hoping for, yet reiterated the Ironman Group had a great love and respect for the St. George area and its people.

“It’s not the perfect scenario,” he said. “It’s not the world championship we hoped it would be. … It’s still going to be a really, really incredible race.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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