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IRONMAN World Championship Postponed

By Max Dible
August 19, 2021, 10:50 AM HST
* Updated August 20, 9:30 AM
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Anne Haug, Germany, Women’s 2019 VEGA IRONMAN World Champion. PC: Tiffany DeMasters

The best triathletes in the world will be forced to wait a little longer before returning to Kailua-Kona to traverse the sport’s most iconic course.

For the second consecutive year, the IRONMAN World Championship has been pushed off its traditional schedule due to the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically held in October, the race was postponed and ultimately cancelled in 2020. Now, it has been postponed again.

Originally set for Oct. 9, 2021, the triathlon has been bumped to Feb. 5 of next year. The decision was announced by IRONMAN Chief Executive Officer Andrew Messick during a Zoom meeting with race directors and coordinators on Wednesday evening, Aug. 18. Big Island Now (BIN) confirmed the decision with two independent sources who heard Messick make the announcement live.

An official statement from IRONMAN was released late Thursday morning.

“The resurgence of the virus and new Delta strain has had significant impact on the island community of Hawai`i. Combined with substantial border closures and travel restrictions for qualified athletes, there is not a viable pathway in October to host the IRONMAN World Championship,” Messick said. “After extensive consultation with governmental and community leaders in Hawai´i, we believe that the best course of action is to delay the event until February of 2022.”

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IRONMAN expressly stated to BIN in March its intention to move forward with this year’s World Championship.

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“To date, the event remains as scheduled and preparations have been ongoing,” the IRONMAN communications team wrote in an email on March 19.

Despite the race’s intentions, it became clear earlier this week that the event may not continue on as planned. Hawai´i County Mayor Mitch Roth said in a meeting with the County Council on Tuesday, Aug. 17 that a postponement or cancelation of IRONMAN was likely due to deteriorating public health circumstances. The diversion from plans to hold the race as normally scheduled is tied directly to the resurgence of coronavirus throughout Hawai´i and the world, as international athletes and fans descend on Kailua-Kona annually from every corner of the globe.

Hawai´i has endured its worst stretch of the pandemic, which is now nearly a year and a half old, over the last several weeks. That has mostly been due to the emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

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More than 6,000 cases of the virus have been identified on the Big Island since the State Department of Health (DOH) began tracking infections last year. As of Thursday, the Big Island’s two-week average was 118 new cases daily. Statewide that tally is 713 new cases daily, which health experts expect is vastly underreported, accompanied by a dangerously high test positivity rate of 7.6%.

According to Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, a total of 339 people were hospitalized due to COVID infection across all islands as of Wednesday, which has stretched hospital resources dangerously thin. Several intensive care units (ICUs) throughout the state are operating above 100% capacity, rendering staff shortages and a lack of bed space serious concerns for both newly infected COVID patients and others seeking more traditional forms emergency care, like heart attack and trauma patients.

Vaccinations offer some hope and have stemmed to a crisis what would otherwise be a bona fide public health disaster across the Hawaiian Islands, as wide community spread is aided by the tens of thousands of tourists pouring into Hawai´i each day.

Despite the worst stretch of the pandemic, the state is noticeably absent social restrictions. A strict approach to social gatherings and visitor arrivals defined the first wave of infections in Hawai´i, which was characterized by shelter-in-place lockdowns that lasted weeks and mandatory travel quarantines that cut visitor arrivals down to almost zero for several months.

Governor David Ige recently limited social gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, rolling back restaurant and bar occupancy to 50% across the state. However, he has shied away from more serious restrictions such as mandatory lockdowns, the abandonment of in-person learning and enhanced travel requirements.

As of Thursday, all public schools across Hawai´i remain committed to in-person learning, despite strong opposition from the teacher’s union. Vaccinated travelers may also visit Hawai´i without receiving a pre-travel test, despite scientific proof that the inoculated can still carry and transmit coronavirus, particularly the Delta variant.

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations.
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