Sunday’s Ironman will be Penticton’s last

Penticton opts to join the Challenge Family of races in 2013, ending the city's 30-year relationship with Ironman

  • Aug. 23, 2012 12:00 p.m.
Celebrating the announcement of Penticton's inclusion in the Challenge Family of races Thursday morning were (left to right) Mayor Dan Ashton

Celebrating the announcement of Penticton's inclusion in the Challenge Family of races Thursday morning were (left to right) Mayor Dan Ashton

Nearly every city has its own iconic event that becomes a part of its community’s identity. Vancouver has the Pacific National Exhibition, Calgary has the Stampede, and for the last several decades, Penticton has had Ironman Canada. For Penticton however, this is about to change.

After receiving a number of presentations from both World Triathlon Corporation, which owns the licence to Ironman Canada, and the Challenge Family, which holds a number of iron-distance triathlons internationally, city council made a decision on the future of triathlon in Penticton.

Subaru Ironman Canada will end its run in Penticton with its 30th annual race on Sunday. The event next year will be the 2013 Challenge Penticton.

The Penticton race is the newest addition to the Challenge Family series of races, which have events in New Zealand, the Canary Islands, Spain and Germany. The Challenge Roth race in Germany is one of the largest long-distance triathlons in the world. The Penticton race represents the Challenge Family’s first foray into North America.

“It’s great that both races, Roth and Penticton, were about the same age and founded around the same time under the same umbrella of challenge,” said the Challenge Family’s CEO, Felix Walchshöfer at a press conference Thursday morning. “Indeed the races in Roth and Penticton have so many similarities: Community driven, athlete focused, and we are very, very happy to be able to work with these two iconic races.”

However, the WTC may not be ready to give up its Penticton Ironman Canada race.

The City of Penticton had a contract with former Ironman Canada owner Graham Fraser to hold the event through 2014. However, earlier this summer, the WTC recalled its licences, which Frasier then relinquished. While the WTC holds the licence to the race, the city’s contract was with Fraser. As Fraser was no longer involved with the race, council felt free to look at other options — namely, the Challenge Family.

Online magazine Slowtwitch reports that the WTC could be looking to give the licence back to Fraser, which would then put the city in breach of contract. However, Ashton said of the matter, “The dispute is between the licensee, which was Graham (Fraser), and (the WTC), it has nothing to do with us.”

Kelly Zwarych, a Calgary-based triathlete and sponsor of the Penticton event, said should the event go forward, due to the fact it’s the first Challenge event in North America, the race could benefit from added attention from the Challenge Family promoting their newest race.

“The Challenge series is going to want to get better exposure into North America, so they might actually encourage more of the European pros and other pros to come here, so that’s good if your looking for more pros.”

Mayor Dan Ashton said after hearing presentations from both the WTC and Challenge Family, city council debated the performance, perception and community benefits of each event.

In the end, council unanimously decided on the Challenge Family.

With the Challenge Family agreement, Ashton said, both the community and the athletes greatly benefit, noting the emphasis would go back onto the athletes. As well, he said the new deal would provide a greater boost to the city’s economy.

“The vast majority of the proceeds stay in Penticton, so it’s not leaving Penticton anymore,” he said. “This becomes Penticton’s race.”

While he was unable to provide any figures on the deal with the Challenge Family, he said it was a vastly better deal for the community.

As well, said Ashton, the event will help revitalize iron-distance triathlon in Penticton.

“Before, there was only a handful of races that these people could attend, now there’s 100 and some, and Penticton was rated at one of the two top races in the world, now we’re four, five or six,” Ashton continued. “Now we have to bring that back. You talk to the athletes, nobody offers what we offer here. We just have to shine it and polish it up again,  and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Kevin Cutjar is a local triathlete and triathlon coach who sat on the special task force council put together to help advise them on their decision. For Cutjar, it was an easy choice.

“The move to the Challenge Family is a positive thing for the triathlon community and definitely for Penticton,” he said. “The model for the business aspect of it is definitely a better deal than the city’s ever seen.”

When the Roth race made the transition to the Challenge Family, it saw a slight dip in attendance before it skyrocketed, said Ashton. However, he expects a seamless transition in Penticton, both due to the community and the city’s natural appeal to triathletes.

For longtime volunteer Sharon Hickey, the community of Penticton was what made the Ironman event special, not the Ironman brand-name.

“All of the athletes came to this race because of what volunteers did in this community,” she said. “The volunteer support, the event we put on, the beautiful scenery, there were countless times you heard athletes talk about loving to be out on the run and the bike because of the scenery here in the Okanagan and Similkameen that they drive through and ride through. I think we weren’t just an Ironman: we were a place they came to do a triathlon.”

Hickey remained optimistic about the future of triathlon in Penticton.

“I think this community can move forward and do something without the WTC,” she said. “If there is something that is done in this community to do with a triathlon event in Penticton, I think the community will come forward and step up to it.”

The new race will take place on Aug. 25, 2013 and will be different than the Ironman event, featuring a week-long festival, wave starts, relay teams and a $61,500 prize purse, over twice as large as this year’s Ironman purse of $25,000. Registration for next year’s Challenge Penticton opens at 9 a.m. Monday at the South Okanagan Events Centre box office.