The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Kailua-Kona’s biggest sporting event — the Ironman World Championship — to be postponed until 2021, an economic hit for Hawaii Island which depends on the race bringing in thousands of visitors every year in the month of October.
The 2020 race, originally scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 10, has been postponed until Feb. 6, 2021, the organization announced Thursday.
According to Ironman and a study completed by Markrich Research, last year’s World Championship generated an estimated total economic impact of $72 million for the state, as Hawaii Island hosted approximately 2,500 athletes from 75 countries and territories.
“Although the economic impact is an important consideration for our local community, we understand and respect the decision to push back the Ironman World Championships to Feb. 2021,” Wendy Laros, Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce executive director, said in an email. “With arrivals of 20,000 in past events, Ironman athletes, supporters, families and friends fly with our airlines, stay at our hotels, shop at our retail stores, dine at local restaurants and tour with local companies whether snorkeling, diving, hiking or sightseeing.”
Ironman said in a news release Thursday the decision to postpone the 2020 race came based on the travel and mass gathering restrictions put in place by the Hawaii government due to the pandemic and “factors and circumstances beyond our control, coupled with a mission to give athletes and communities as much preparation time as possible.”
“For decades, Kailua-Kona has enthusiastically embraced this race and the activities that surround this world-class event,” Laros said. “We look forward to welcoming athletes, families, friends, media, race support and fans in early February.”
The 2021 World Championship will take place as originally scheduled in October of next year. It will be the first time since 1982 that the race will be held twice in one year.
The Ironman World Championship, first held on Oahu in 1978, was moved to Kailua-Kona in 1981, and was held in February of that year. In 1982, in order to move the race from the winter to the fall season, another was held in October.
The 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run has started in Kailua Bay and finished along Alii Drive the second weekend of October every year since 1982.
“The Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce was one of the first organizations to support the Ironman World Championship. In 1981, the Kona-Kohala Chamber readily recognized the economic benefits an event like Ironman could bring to West Hawaii, said Ross Wilson Jr., Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce economic development chair, in an email. “The Ironman World Championship with its international television coverage shown a spotlight on the Kona Coast and secured our destination as an international lifestyle brand. The community looks forward to hosting Ironman again in February.”
Ironman also announced Thursday the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, set to be held in Taupo, New Zealand, has also been postponed from its scheduled date of Nov. 28. Ironman has not announced a new date for the race. Ironman said Thursday race organizers were working with New Zealand authorities to establish a new date in early 2021.
With the postponement of the two races, the qualifying window for the Ironman World Championship has also been extended for athletes.
Ironman has not announced a decision regarding the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii race held annually in Kohala. In March, the race was postponed from May 30 to Aug. 15 of this year. The 70.3 Hawaii race is a qualifier for the World Championship.
“The Ironman World Championship has been a cornerstone in showcasing our island’s attributes to the world for decades. We fully support their decision to postpone these races, and we feel that it is the right thing to do to protect the health, safety and well-being of our community,” said Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau in a press release.