Penticton appears set to host Ironman Canada again

Eight years after Ironman left Penticton, the city looks to bring Ironman Canada back.

| May 8, 2019 | NEWS

Athletes swim in Okanagan Lake during the 2008 Ironman Canada event.

Athletes swim in Okanagan Lake during the 2008 Ironman Canada event.

Photo >Jens Richter / spomedis

One of the oldest Ironman qualifying events looks to be returning to its home in 2020. Started in 1983 as an "ultra" event, Ironman Canada became the second official Ironman World Championship qualifier in 1985. Until 1999 Penticton hosted the only full-distance Ironman qualifier in North America, and was renowned as one of the most popular triathlon races in the world.

How popular? From the early 90s athletes were always fearful the event would sell out and would literally sleep in the lobby of Penticton's Lakeside Resort to ensure they would get a spot for the following year's race.

The community embraced the event, doing everything it could to ensure athletes enjoyed every minute of their time in Penticton. Athletes loved the atmosphere, the one loop bike course and the timing of the race - the end of August, giving athletes in North America the entire summer to train. The first race in 1983 had just 23 athletes. When the race celebrated its 25th anniversary, there were almost 3,000 competitors on the start line.

A few years after that, though, the city and Ironman would struggle to reach an agreement on a contract. The city chose not to renew with Ironman and instead chose to work with Challenge Family, and Ironman moved its race to Whistler.

Challenge Penticton was never able to attract anywhere near the same kind of fields that Ironman Canada had enjoyed - instead of thousands of competitors the races were bringing in hundreds. It wasn't until the city hosted the first ITU Multisport Festival, which attracted almost 4,000 competitors, that the city enjoyed anything like the heady days of Ironman.

The event in Whistler enjoyed some initial success, but in recent years has struggled to attract the kind of numbers Ironman likes to see at its races. Difficulties with the local towns over the bike course only accentuated the challenges in Whistler, which is no-doubt one of the reasons Ironman looked to make a return to Penticton.

Penticton is likely looking forward to a regular influx of athletes and their friends and family, too. In a presentation to Penticton's city council, Ironman reported that it predicts the race in Penticton will attract 2,500 athletes and over 10,000 people for the race.

According to a report in the Penticton Herald, getting Ironman back to the city won't be an inexpensive proposition: "Broad terms of the new arrangement, which still needs to be finalized, would see a gross annual cost to the city of $663,000. That includes $299,000 cash — $150,000 of which is Ironman’s licensing fee — plus another $110,000 worth of in-kind services."

That outlay would seemingly be worth it. In that presentation, Ironman officials said that the 2017 Whistler event "attracted 11,174 people and generated $8.8 million in visitor spending and $3.5 million in local wages and salaries," according to the report in the Herald.

Money aside, this is great news for Ironman athletes. Penticton is remembered as a fantastic Ironman venue by those who competed there. There will certainly be a lot of happy Ironman competitors keen for a chance to head back.