St. George to host 2021 Ironman World Championship; event moves from Hawaii for the first time since 1978

Ironman triathlete Heather Wurtele cycling through Snow Canyon State Park, May 7, 2016 | File photo courtesy of the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —On the heels of the prestigious Ironman 70.3 World Championship held in St. George last week, Ironman announced Thursday that it is bringing its 2021 Ironman World Championship event, traditionally held in Kona, Hawaii, to St. George on May 7, 2022, according to a press release issued Thursday by Greater Zion.

Finishers’ medals, Ironman 70.3 World Championship, St. George, Utah, Sept. 18, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

The Ironman World Championship is the longest running and most distinguished endurance event in the world, but due to COVID-19 restrictions in its home state, the culminating experience in Ironman’s full-distance triathlon (140.6-miles) circuit has not happened since 2019. The 2020 race was scrapped entirely and in early August, the 2021 event slated to happen on Oct. 9, was postponed.

As travel restrictions and accessibility in Hawaii continued, Ironman executives looked for solutions and found one in Greater Zion.

“We are fortunate to have built such a strong and trusted relationship with our friends in the greater St. George region over the past 10-plus years,” Andrew Messick, president and chief executive officer for The Ironman Group said in the news release. “St. George stepped up to ensure Ironman athletes will have a 2021 world championship, even if delayed into 2022.

“We all just witnessed why this special place has been dubbed the ‘Land of Endurance’ and we are confident that we will have an outstanding championship in May,” Messick added.

Kevin Lewis, director of the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office, said the honor to host the first Ironman World Championship outside of Hawaii is both humbling an glorious.

“There are few events that hold the prestige and respect of Kona,” he said. “To be chosen as the destination with the capacity and character to host this event takes my breath away.”

Ironman 70.3 World Championship, St. George, Utah, Sept. 18, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

The 2021 Ironman World Championship will replace the previously scheduled Ironman North American Championship on May 7, 2022. The 2022 World Championship is slated to return to Kona in October 2022.

“I think we understand the weight and responsibility we now have to carry forward the cherished significance of Kona and we don’t take that responsibility lightly,” Lewis said. “We have the deepest respect for the Ironman legacy and all that has gone on before – the passion, the dreams, the gut-wrenching persistence and the human spirit of caring for one another, as we push forward to build something better.

“We now have the opportunity to truly honor that legacy in a place where the land holds a familiar spirit and the people comprehend what it all really means,” he added.

With continuing uncertainty of travel around the world, officials felt confident in the opportunity in St. George, the news release states. Moving the race to St. George in 2022 gives world-class international athletes another chance to race in the Land of Endurance, and it rewards the local efforts and the community’s commitment to success.

“It’s clear that Ironman officials respect and appreciate St. George and our surrounding communities,” Lewis said. “They have confidence in our ability to host a World Championship. They have witnessed the professionalism in our communities and the agencies that support the race. They’ve seen our capabilities, they’ve felt the spirit of our people and they’ve reveled in the beauty of our landscapes.”

Economic impact

The top three men finishers at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, St. George, Utah, Sept. 18, 2021 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

With Thursday’s announcement, St. George will now play host to three World Championship events over a 13-month period bringing millions of dollars in economic impact to the region. Last week’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship brought an estimated $18 million in economic impact to Washington County.

The event featured over 3500 athletes and brought more than 12,000 visitors to the area. Next year, St. George will host two additional World Championship events. On May 7, the Ironman World Championship is slated to host 4,000 athletes, and up to 20,000 guests and spectators. An independent study for the Ironman World Championship in Kona estimated economic impact of more than $70 million to the island annually.

Then on Oct. 28 and 29, the 2022 Ironman 70.3 World Championship will feature nearly 7,000 athletes in an expanded two day race format. Economic impacts from that race are estimated at $20-$25 million. Since its first event in St. George in 2010, the release states, Ironman has infused more than $118 million directly into the local economy. With the World Championship events in 2022, that number could easily rise to over $200 million.

Ironman 70.3 World Championship, St. George, Utah, Sept. 18, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

“We’re already seeing substantial benefits from the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, not just economically, but in positive exposure throughout the world,” Lewis said. “Much like what the Winter Olympics did for northern Utah in 2002, hosting these three back-to-back world championships showcases the qualities of this area and strengthens the fundamental economic value of our communities in an unrivaled way.

“Through them we gain credibility and respect across the globe. The benefit to our overall economic development efforts from the media exposure we gain is unlike anything this area has ever seen,” he added.

Gil Almquist, chairman of the Washington County Commission, said in the news release that this is an incredible privilege and expressed his gratitude for the earned confidence and trust of the Ironman organization.

“The positive characteristics symbolized by Ironman blend perfectly with the qualities of the people in our communities,” he said. “The enduring effort of athletes and volunteers inspires us to be better people, to be more caring and to support each other through challenges and adversity. Throughout history, our communities, agencies and volunteers have accomplished remarkable feats by working together.”

Upcoming Ironman events in St. George 

  • 2021 Ironman World Championship – May 7, 2022
  • 2022 Ironman 70.3 World Championship: – Oct. 28 and 29, 2022 (Women’s Race Friday; Men’s Saturday)
  • Ironman 70.3 North American Championships: 2023, 2025
  • Ironman North American Championships (140.6): 2024

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

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!