Ironman Tahoe: Officials ‘disappointed,’ yet optimistic about future |

Ironman Tahoe: Officials ‘disappointed,’ yet optimistic about future

In what would turn out to be an ironic gesture, Sonja Wieck blows a kiss to the crowd after placing first among women in the Ironman Lake Tahoe on Sunday. Ironman announced on Tuesday that the event will not return.
Courtesy Harry Lefrak / Lefrak Photography |

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — While local officials are disappointed Ironman will not return to Lake Tahoe in the foreseeable future, they are grateful for the time the triathlon did spend in the area.

Citing “adverse environmental and weather conditions,” the World Triathlon Corporation, which organizes, promotes and licenses Ironman, announced on its website Tuesday its decision to discontinue the full and half Ironman Lake Tahoe events.

The abrupt decision came three days after the 2015 Ironman was held amid a sunny day with temperatures in the 80s throughout the North Shore and Truckee.

While WTC declined to comment on a majority of the Sierra Sun’s questions this week — including if other factors played into the decision ­— the corporation did indicate its choice does not violate the contract it entered into with the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association/Chamber of Commerce/CVB for Lake Tahoe to host the Ironman competition.

“The contract for the event was for three years (2013-2015), with Ironman holding the right to renew for another two years (2016-2017),” according to a statement provided to the Sun. “The contract will automatically terminate 30 days after the 2015, event unless renewed by both parties.”

JT Thompson, chief marketing officer for NLTRA, agreed, saying that Ironman has “100 percent fulfilled their contractual obligations with us.”

While Sunday’s race saw optimal weather, the previous two Ironman Lake Tahoe events were faced with less-than-ideal conditions.

In 2013, temperatures hovered around the freezing mark in the morning when swimmers hit the water; in 2014, the race was canceled at the last minute due to wildfire smoke.

“It’s hard to predict the weather in the shoulder seasons,” Thompson said. “It’s difficult for (WTC) to continue going, not knowing what the weather would bring.”

WTC has to be confident that on race day there will good weather, Thompson added, considering athletes train for months and spend thousands of dollars on registration fees, travel and equipment in order to participate.

As for moving the event into the summer months when ideal weather is more likely, Thompson said that’s not a viable option, given that summer is Lake Tahoe’s peak tourism season.

“For (Ironman), it was a business decision, and we understand why they can’t continue right now,” he said.

While a statement on the Ironman Lake Tahoe page does not go into the factors of the decision, it does read: “…We appreciate the efforts and support of the city, volunteers, sponsors, and everyone else involved in putting on this triathlon. We would also like to thank all of the athletes who have raced with us here.

“We appreciate your dedication and understand your disappointment with not being able to race.”

Despite only hosting the event for three years, the North Shore has gained much and will continue to reap the benefits, NLTRA officials said.

“Ironman provided a significant economic benefit to the area and aligned well with our human powered sports marketing initiatives,” CEO and Executive Director Sandy Evans Hall said in a statement. “… We’re confident this will pay off for many years to come.”

The triathlon helped put the region on the map for endurance training and make it attractive to other events that want to be known for being tough, Thompson added.

“We’re disappointed that they are leaving, but the positives will outweigh the negatives for years to come,” he said.

Other business association and tourism officials also expressed disappointment this week in the loss of the event, as it brought a positive economic impact through participant spending and exposure to the region.

“While it is a short-term loss to North Lake Tahoe, I don’t believe the loss of Ironman Lake Tahoe will pose significant economic challenges in future years because I am confident that NLTRA will bring in another event to take the place of Ironman,” said Joy Doyle, executive director of the North Tahoe Business Association.

As of Wednesday, the resort association is looking to replace Ironman with other events that could result in similar economic benefits for the region, Thompson said.

As for the possibility of Ironman returning in the future, Thompson said he’s hopeful something could be worked out, but it’s unclear as of now whether that would happen.

“It’s just a matter of time,” he said.

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