ST. GEORGE — Civic and community leaders gathered at the St. George Chamber of Commerce Tuesday as part of the first planning committee meeting for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship which will take place in Washington County Sept. 13-18, 2021.
A packed room of more than 60 people came together to learn what it is going to take to welcome nearly 7,000 athletes from over 100 different countries for a week’s worth of events, including two full days of Ironman 70.3 racing.
“I’m just thrilled with the turnout,” Kevin Lewis, director of tourism for the Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office said of the meeting. “We had 60 plus people here today representing all areas of the county and communities.”
Hosting the Ironman 70.3 World Championship is set to be a big undertaking even though the area has successfully hosted an Ironman or Ironman 70.3 event since 2010.
Lewis said that the scale of the event is akin to Salt Lake City hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics for Southern Utah, and one of the primary focuses of the planning committee will be helping the community understand and embrace the magnitude.
“This really will be the biggest event that’s ever come to Southern Utah,” Lewis said, adding that the Ironman brand is globally-known.
Marc Mortensen, director of support services for the city of St. George, said it is going to take every single community from Ivins to Springdale and all the areas in between to get involved and prepare to host an event on the world stage.
Among the entities that are lending their support is the Washington County School District, which will be adjusting their school calendar for 2021 and creating a teacher prep day Sept. 17, a Friday, in order to accommodate the two-day race which will have the women racing one day and the men the other.
The move is twofold, enabling the school children to be able to watch the race with their families – an important aspect of receiving the bid was community support – and to allow for the use of district school buses to aid in athlete transportation.
While the Ironman World Championship is held annually in Kona, Hawaii, the Ironman 70.3 World Championship rotates continents. The last time the race was in North America was in 2017. The 2019 event was held in Nice, France and the 2020 event will be held in Taupō, New Zealand.
In terms of economic impact, the world championship event will bring roughly $25 million to the county.
The Sept. 2021 race is part of a five-year agreement with Ironman that has Southern Utah hosting six races beginning this year with a full Ironman distance race. Over the course of the five years, the area is expected to see a direct economic impact of $70 million.
Lewis and a small group of organizers were able to attend the 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nice, and they identified transportation and communication as key areas to focus on as the committee moves forward in welcoming the world to Southern Utah.
Where Nice is a walk-friendly city with several restaurants and other services in close vicinity to each other, Lewis said Washington County is a rather spread out community. He is hoping that a focus on providing good transportation options for athletes and their friends and family will be a benefit both to those who are visiting and the community.
Similar to the 2002 Winter Olympics, there will be athletes coming from all over the world speaking several languages, Lewis said. Volunteers who are bi-lingual, as well as proper signage and wayfinding tools throughout the county and at the various locations within the venue, will be essential to creating a successful race.
Though there are plenty of logistical concerns moving forward in the planning process, the energy in the room Tuesday was full of positivity and excitement.
For Mortensen, who has been a key player in the city, a champion of active transportation and himself an Ironman athlete, being able to host the Ironman 70.3 World Championship is unreal, he said.
“Ten years ago when we started this whole business, I thought this was an impossibility,” he said, adding that receiving the nod to host the world championship event is a dream come true.
But Lewis – who admitted that he was naively unaware of what Ironman was when it was first pitched back in 2008 – said that once Southern Utah hosted a few successful Ironman events, he didn’t rule anything out as a possibility.
“We’ve been thinking about what this can mean to the community from the very beginning,” Lewis said. “To see it come together like this is really kind of heartwarming.”
St. George and Washington County will host the Ironman North American Championship May 2, followed by the Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championship in May of 2021 and the Ironman 70.3 World Championship Sept. 2021.