When it came time to decide which of the bid cities would win the right to host Ironman Canada in 2013, and for the four years after, Whistler had a few major assets that organizers could not ignore.
"The biggest thing that stands out from my perspective, and I'm essentially responsible for the operation of the event, is the ability of the partners and the host community to be able to partner with us to get the event off the ground and running in a short period," said Keats McGonigal, race director for the 2013 Ironman.
He was in Whistler on Tuesday to begin working out the considerable logistics for hosting the event, which left Penticton after 30 years following the event in August. He said Whistler and its partners in the resort stood out — notably bid organizer Tourism Whistler — for their ability to get events off the ground.
"I'm certainly looking for a municipality that works well together internally already as far as communications between different departments goes, and based on my interactions here I could see that Whistler had that going for it," said McGonigal.
"The second thing we looked at was the spectacular nature of the course. We're going to be able to send our athletes through some amazing terrain in the mountains, and showcase the Valley Trail system on the run course. There were other factors, but those are two highlights that made Whistler stand out."
The race will take place on Aug. 25, 2013, and includes a 3.8km swim course on Alta Lake, a 180km bike leg — from Rainbow Park to Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan, and an out and back to the end of the Pemberton Meadows — and two laps of a run course out to Emerald Estates totaling 42.2km.
While the event takes place the same day as Challenge Penticton, the long distance triathlon race that replaced Ironman Canada, McGonigal is confident they will sell out rather than split the ultra community in two.
"We started selling registrations about four hours ago and things are going very well," he said, referring the pre-registration offered to past racers and people who attended the last Ironman race to sign up for next year. Public registration doesn't get underway until today, Thursday, Oct. 18.
"We will certainly see a sell-out of this event. I would anticipate that event registration will be full by the end of this weekend.
"I don't know the exact number of spots, but between 2,000 and 2,500 athletes end up starting the event every year."
Tourism Whistler confirmed that the race might move to July for 2014 through 2017 to avoid conflicts.
Whistler was shortlisted to host the event along with the City of Kelowna and the Muskoka region in Ontario at the start of October, and was confirmed as the host city on Oct. 11 before the start of the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.
McGonigal acknowledged that they still had a lot of planning to do, but had some ideas how they would manage the swim mass start at Rainbow Park — an event that draws 10,000 spectators in Penticton.
"We're going to do some things to be creative with the space that's available, and we're looking hard at the transition layout and how things are going to work at Rainbow, but certainly there will be opportunities for spectators there," he said. As well, he said they would use the finish area at Whistler Olympic Plaza.
"The other thing we're going to do throughout the day, and particularly with the swim start, is to have live video feedback to Whistler Olympic Plaza so people can be observing the race and watching what's going on there. We'll have it set up so people can see specific athletes they're looking to see — and then, depending on how it's routed (spectators) will be able to watch athletes come out of the water at Rainbow, and then walk down to the highway to see the athletes ride past."
It's still unknown how the race will disrupt local traffic, but McGonigal said they hope to get those details soon to share with residents. "In the months leading up to the event, there will be a resident notification which will announce specifically which roads are impacted and the time frames and all of that," he said. "We're certainly aware that the impacts to the local community based on us coming to town will be there, and we will do everything we can to minimize the impact as much as possible."
Whistler is contributing $100,000 in provincial Resort Municipality Initiative funds to cover the fees for hosting the event, plus other in-kind and support services. The total cost to host the event could be in the neighbourhood of $250,000.
However, the economic benefits are potentially huge.
Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler, thanked all the partners in the bid, including the Resort Municipality of Whistler.
"All of our resort partners supported the bid as well, with the hotel community unanimously supporting it as well as the business community that will benefit from the estimated 15,000-plus room nights the event will generate. We had the support of Pemberton, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, CN Rail, the Ministry of Transportation. There are lots of things still to be confirmed, but we're exceptionally excited that Whistler was chosen.
"This was a team effort, where Tourism Whistler took the lead in submitting the bid and in the negotiations and presenting the bid, and in turn the municipality has certainly stepped up, mayor and council and the team from the municipality, in supporting it through RMI funds."
Registration opens today, Thursday, Oct. 18 at www.ironman.ca.
Ironman facts and figures
• Ironman, like many great races, started as a bet. At the conclusion of a race called the Oahu Perimeter Relay in 1977, some of the athletes continued a long-running debate over which event was the most difficult — the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (3.8km), the 185km Around-Oahu Bike Race or the 42.2km Honolulu Marathon. Rather than test their hypotheses separately, athletes decided that they could do all three events in a single day. There were 15 men at the start line in February 1978.
• The race continued in Hawaii for several years, moving to the "Big Island" of Hawaii in 1982. Canada was the first country to make it an international race in 1983, but the series has grown since then to 26 events.
• Ironman Canada in Whistler is classified as a P-2000 race with a prize purse of $75,000 U.S. As well, there will be 100 age group slots available for the 2013 Ironman World Championships.
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