Friday, September 28, 2012

Ironman Canada Update # 4

And then there were three.  WTC has announced the final three finalists shortlisted to host IMC2013.

Here's the release;

"Today, World Triathlon Corporation (WTC, d/b/a IRONMAN) announces three finalists from the bid process to host the 2013 IRONMAN Canada: Kelowna, British Columbia (BC); Huntsville, Ontario and Whistler, BC.

The selection of the three Canadian communities was based on criteria as stated in the bid process that closed on Sept. 24.  There were seven communities in Canada that submitted bids.
As part of the next phase in the selection process, IRONMAN staff will conduct in-depth visits to each finalist community.  IRONMAN expects to announce the host for the 2013 IRONMAN Canada, as well as additional event-related details, by mid-October."

I must say I'm a little surprised that Kamloops and Victoria didn't make the list in place of Huntsville/Muskoka.  Muskoka no doubt put forward a very compelling bid with a strong resume of other triathlons which it currently plays host to, including Muskoka 70.3.  However a race so far east would give up the western Canadian market to Challenge Penticton.

For Kelowna, the committee took the bidding process quite seriously, sending a delegation down to Florida to make the pitch directly to the WTC.  The city is aggressively pursuing Ironman Canada 2013 and I've even heard that they would intend to place Ironman Canada on the same day as Challenge Penticton.  I would be lying if it didn't seem that Kelowna was trying to capitalize on the WTC's desire to keep other races out of their sandbox, a pretty transparent move that I know would alienate a lot of triathletes.  Two major Ironman distance events, on the same day as each other, 80km apart is just plain dumb.  I think a lot of athletes, whether on the Ironman or Challenge side, would rather see the triathlon pie expand rather than be cut in two.  This is evidenced by the results of the poll which I held over the past few days which saw only 3 of 74 respondents say they'd like to see IMC move to Kelowna.

So I'll come out and say it now, my hopes are on Whistler.  Of the three options I think that they'd put together a fantastic event and if they can manage the logistics, it could be one of the most spectacular courses around.  I spend a few days in Whistler over the Olympics in 2010 and the facilities, scenery, and accommodations really are world class.  The Sea to Sky Highway would be an excellent bike course, and a run along the BC coast would be truly spectacular.

We'll find out where the race ends up on October 10, around the same time as the Ironman World Championships in Kona Hawaii.   Until then, we'll let the speculation continue.

I've updated the poll on the right to reflect the three finalists.  When the list was still seven, this was the standing;

1.     Victoria - 25 votes or 33%
2.     Kamloops - 14 votes or 18%
3.     Whistler - 12 Votes or 16%
4.     Vernon - 8 votes or 10%
5.     Muskoka - 7 votes or 9%
6.     Mystery City - 5 votes or 6%
7.     Kelowna - 3 votes or 4%

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ironman Canada 2013 - Update # 3

So the September 24 bid submission date for IMC2013 has come and gone.  And now its time for me to do a quick round up of who has tossed their hat into the ring.  I'll try and put together a comprehensive list of municipalities and info here, and if anyone has any other inside info they'd like to share, please feel free to add it into the comments below.

Without further ado, the bids (that we know of);

- Kamloops- Kamloops has tossed their hat in the ring and if you're an athlete in Western Canada, whether your sport is soccer, hockey, swimming, or any other, you've probably been to Kamloops once or twice.  Dubbing itself the Tournament Capital of Canada, the city has played host to tens of thousands of athletes over the years and has found a niche in providing hospitality and support for athletics of all levels.  Nestled in the heart of BC, a race in Kamloops could mimic the feel of Ironman Canada from years past while keeping a safe distance from Challenge Penticton and not splitting the market.  Kamloops would rightfully be a front runner for the race if you ask me. More on Kamloops' bid here.

- Kelowna- Kelowna has submitted a bit and basically had to submit a bit almost by default.  Ironman Canada was originally offered to the city of Kelowna some thirty years ago but they turned it down.  I'm sure some would see this as an opportunity to make right on that ill fated decision.  Less than an hour north of Penticton, Kelowna would be a shoe in for the race and an easy switch for many athletes.  The city already hosts the Kelowna Apple Triathlon and the addition of IMC could be a blessing and a curse for Canada's top short course triathlon.  My biggest gripe with Kelowna as a potential host it that it really does split the market and puts one race in direct competition with the other.  The course would be familiar, and it would be beautiful, but this is one suitor that I'm not so sure of.  More on Kelowna's bid here.

Muskoka-  Muskoka with the full support of the town of Huntsville and the surrounding areas has submitted a bit to WTC to host IMC2013.  What Muskoka has going for it is its proven track record of being able to host world class events and triathlons including; Muskoka 70.3, Subaru Muskoka 5i50, and a couple of the Multisport Canada series triathlons.  Going against Muskoka is its proximity to Mont Tremblant and several other major IM events on the east coast.  WTC has expressed a desire to keep IMC in Alberta or BC, but who knows, a lot of those races sell out very quickly and with a strong compelling bid perhaps IMC could go east.  More on Muskoka's bid here.

- Vernon - Vernon was one of the first cities to outwardly express interest in hosting IMC.  Though the support wasn't unanimous, the city does see the opportunities and exposure that comes with hosting an event of this magnitude.  This is one of the smallest municipalities to be submitting a bid and the race would likely draw on surrounding communities for support in terms of volunteers, logistics, and course routing.  That being said, Penticton and Vernon are both pretty small towns, and one thing that I really like about Penticton as a host to this sort of event is that the whole town gets right into the race, something I think that would happen in Vernon as well.  You can actually find more info on the route specifics from Vernon's bid right here.  I like Vernon as a contender but worry that it could be tight for accommodations similar to Penticton, which could be a big strike against.  Additional reading on this bid is also available here.

Victoria- Victoria has submitted a bit put together by SportHost Victoria and Tourism Victoria.  The route would be scenic and involve 10 of 13 municipalities in the Greater Victoria area.  No stranger to top level sports with athletes such as Ryder Hesjedal and Simon Whitfield calling the island home, Victoria would be a  more than suitable host for an event such as IMC.  The island has ample accommodations to support a race of this magnitude, though getting to the island via ferry or flight can be awkward for some.  With a strong bid, I'd expect Victoria to be a top contender for the race.  More on Vic's bid here.

- Whistler - Considered to be an early favourite by many, of course Whistler has submitted a bid to play host to Ironman Canada.  With Mont Tremblant's unbridled success as a ski resort hosting an IM and a 70.3, and Whistler's world class hosting of some 2010 Winter Olympic events, its hard to dispute this popular west coast ski resort as a front runner for IMC2013.  Though the logistics wouldn't be without challenges as there aren't many large lakes in the area and those in the vicinity can be quite chilly.  I've also heard from locals that the transition and spectator areas might be a bit tricky.  But IM Coeur d'Alene seems to be able to overcome its issues with cool water temps, and Whistler wouldn't be the first venue that's had to get creative with its transitions and spectator viewing areas.  The resort town has no shortage of empty hotel rooms at that time of year, and is outdoorsy as they come, so this could be it.  More on Whistler's bid here.

The Mystery City - Steve Meckfessel, managing director of the World Triathlon Corporation, told Vernon's Kiss FM that they received seven bids before Monday's deadline, but he wasn't prepared to name the other contenders.  I've listed six of the seven bidding cities here and haven't been able to figure who's the mystery city.  Noticeably missing  from the list is Calgary.  I speculated on Calgary being a contender for IMC2013 a couple of times here and on Twitter and maintain that it would be a good easy fit to play host to IMC based on its existing relationships with WTC, WTC's late penchant towards moving major races to cities, and Alberta/Calgary tourism aggressively marketing the province.  but according to Triathlon Magazine Canada, Tourism Calgary did not submit a bid.  Is Calgary out of the running?  Or with Ironman Calgary 70.3 did the bid go through an entirely different channel?

We'll know soon enough who is on the short list for IMC2013 as municipalities expect to know by the end of this week whether they have made the shortlist for hosting.  An official announcement to where IMC will take place next year is expected in early to mid October, I would expect around the timing of the Ironman World Championships in Kona on October 13.

Weigh in on which of these cities you would like to see host IMC2013 on my poll in the right hand column.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ironman from the other side of the finish line

I meant to write this blog post a couple of weeks ago but with all the commotion around Ironman Canada and Lance Armstrong I never really got around to it.  

Lululemon Cheer Squad on Lakeshore Drive
This year at the 30th and final Ironman Canada held in Penticton, BC, I had the opportunity to volunteer as a finish line catcher.  I raced IMC last year and decided pretty shortly thereafter that because of other life commitments I would not be racing the Ironman distance again in 2012.  But still wanting to be a part of the experience, and wanting to give back to the sport and race that gave me so much, I decided I'd volunteer with Shirley as a catcher.

The role of the catcher at Ironman is to wait at the finish line to guide, aid, and sometimes literally catch finishers as they cross the line.  Having done the race I'm grateful to every single volunteer on the course, from the first volunteer who packs my race goodie bag days before the cannon blows, to the last volunteer taking down the finish line hours after the finish, and every volunteer in between, I'm grateful.  But the catcher waiting at the finish line to say "congratulations, we're going to make sure you're looked after now", was the one who stood apart for me last year.

So taking up that role this year was a special experience for me and I made a lot of cool observations.

We started our shift shortly before the 10hr triathletes came in, generally the fastest of the age groupers.  The energy in the last few minutes as the clock ticks towards the double digits is amazing.  The crowd begged and willed the last couple guys to come in at 9:59:XX and you could see the athletes were laying it all out on the line for those few seconds.  Its hard not to feel a little jealous of the athletes out on the course breaking that barrier when you yourself are a triathlete.

Volunteering at the finish line you see people come in shaping up all across the board.  A lot of the guys we caught were in great shape save for a little exhaustion and dehydration.  The athletes were a little tired obviously, but we didn't have anyone faint or throw up.  I know some of the other catchers weren't so lucky as the worst cases are generally fainters or people letting up all the fluid they'd taken in for the past couple hours.  As you catch your athlete and ask how they're doing you're always on your toes as things can go from good to bad in just a few seconds, sometimes as soon as they cross the line, and sometimes a full 15 minutes after they finish.

You see a lot of people come across the line after sprinting the last hundred meters, and suddenly the switch shuts off and they need your help to simply stay upright.  At one point the head nurse was yelling into the face of an athlete to stay conscious while 3 or 4 volunteers held him up.  Another athlete barely crossed the line and then needed to cling to the finish arch to keep from falling.  The worst we saw was a lady who crossed the line and went straight down, and had to be carried straight to medical.  It really makes one wonder, why do we do this?

But then you see the other side of it.  I don't know what it was but my eyes welled up with tears when I saw one athlete just break ten hours and cut straight through a line of waiting catchers to his pregnant wife.  He gave her a big hug over the fence and all she said "I'm so proud of you baby", and all of the sudden I could feel a strange salty discharge filling my eyes.  Another athlete, my friend Shayne, grabbed the finish tape in triumph as he crossed the IM line for the first time, the expression on his face for a half second can only be described as 50% yelling, 50% sobbing.  That's when it all started to come back, that's when I remembered why we do this, to simply commit yourself to an accomplishment, for whatever reason, and to achieve it.

I can also see why people come back time and time again to volunteer.  So many of the athletes we caught were so appreciative that we were there to help them, I was simply floored by the overwhelming gratitude expressed for the volunteers.  When someone has been racing for 13 hours and all they can do is eat, drink water, and say thank you a thousand times over, you feel pretty special.

It ain't easy.
Oddly enough, and I have to note this, Shirley and I caught a disproportionate number of Texans.  And I've got to take my hat off to them, the Texans we caught were incredibly gracious, and on average probably the furthest from fainting or throwing up of all the athletes we caught in the 5 hours.  So props to you guys, you did your state proud, and your grace, resolve, and acclimatization to hot weather did not go unnoticed.

Having finally been on the other side of things, volunteering, I'd like to express my gratitude once more to all the wonderful, giving, and caring people who volunteer their time to support amateur sport.  Without you races like IMC, and so many other sports, simply wouldn't happen.  Whether its a local charity 5km, Ironman, or the Olympics, volunteers make the world of sport go round, and for that, I take my hat off to you and say thank you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ironman Canada vs Challenge Penticton- Part II

So its been about a week since I posted on Ironman Canada vs Challenge Penticton and I can certainly tell from the web traffic and all the comments the post has received that its an issue a lot of people feel very strongly about.  The topic has been pretty divisive with supporters for both sides spread across first timers and seasoned vets alike.  Whether you're for or against the changes I have to say its refreshing to see this sort of response to the topic, it shows the passion and dedication to the sport that I think really characterizes triathletes.

I thought I'd post a quick update on how things seem to be coming along for the future of Ironman Canada.  A disclaimer right away though, a lot of this is based on rumour and conjecture, WTC has been pretty tight lipped around the process for where IMC is going to land.  So I'll start with what I know and then I'll work my way into the heresay.

Challenge Penticton

Registration for Challenge Penticton is open and they're signing people up for next August.  They actually had a registration area set up in the Convenction Centre in Penticton after IMC last week.  From what I read and heard it sounds like it was a well put together sign up with the Challenge Family CEO Felix Walchshöfer on hand to personally thank people for their trust and registrations.  Athletes who signed up last week in Penticton received a special loyalty price of $599 (online registration is now $675).  As a side note, the Challenge series has a decent refund policy with full refunds offered for 60 days after sign up, after which there is a $100 cancellation fee for athletes up to 30 days before the race.

The Challenge series has been doing their social media work to get the race out there with sponsored Facebook ads, an active Twitter feed, and a pretty sweet YouTube video on their website specific to Penticton.

The series is definitely taking their debut in the North American market seriously and I do think this bodes well for next year's Challenge Penticton.  We all know Challenge is a very well run race series and they know how important it is that they be well received in their inaugural event on our soil.  Whether it'll be enough to sway some of their detractors remains yet to be seen, but you have to admit, they get points for effort.

Ironman Canada 2013

So now starts the speculation.

Its been reported in Triathlon Magazine Canada and the Vernon Morning Star that municipalities have been given until September 24, 2012 to submit proposals to the WTC to host Ironman Canada.  An announcement is expected to be made by October.

A number of BC municipalities were put forward in the Triathlon Magazine Canada article including Vernon, Whistler, Victoria, Vancouver, and Kelowna.  To me that just sounds like a list of towns and cities in BC and I'd expect that only two or three of them are actually being seriously considered.

In order to put on an event the type and the size of Ironman Canada there are a number of pretty major considerations that need to be accounted for.  "Borzoibob" on the slowtwitch forums actually summarized a few of the logical criteria quite well pointing out that considerations like; lake and transition area size, proximity to major trauma centre, availability of volunteer and traffic control resources, and spectator friendliness might actually rule out a few communities straight out of the gate (probably Vernon and Whistler, maybe even Victoria if you think of how awkward it can be to get to).

Kelowna does keep popping up in the lists, but I've heard that they aren't interested.  They already have the Kelowna Apple Triathlon which is an important race in the Canadian triathlon calendar with its own heritage. Opening the doors to Ironman in Kelowna might be a bit of another headache for locals, and it could hurt Apple, and of course it does split the Ironman market between Penticton and Kelowna, given that the timing of Ironman Canada 2013 will still be August/September.  It seems to be Kelowna and Ironman Canada might be one of those perfect relationships in another set of circumstances, but not this time.

In my last post I speculated about Calgary 70.3 being converted to an Ironman.  It still makes sense and given the WTC's penchant for moving races to big cities, it could be an easy answer, perhaps even as an interim 2013 location.  I say Calgary and not Vancouver just because Calgary already plays host to an event and it seems like the relationships are already in place with the City of Calgary to host this type of event.  Vancouver on the other hand would require starting from scratch with a city that while beautiful, already leaves something to be desired in terms of urban planning.


No matter what, it seems like the date has been set and this October we'll know where Ironman Canada will make its new home.  I'll be watching this with a keen eye and keep you all posted on anything I hear.