By Joe Fries
Special to OsoyoosToday
A popular full-distance triathlon that brings cyclists through Osoyoos is set to return to the South Okanagan in 2020.
After a seven-year absence, Subaru Ironman Canada is officially set to return to Penticton next August.
“I’m ecstatic to have Ironman back in the city of Penticton, not only because it’s one of the finest events that takes place in the world, but because of the vibrancy it’s going to give our city again,” Mayor John Vassilaki said to cheers from a few hundred people assembled for the announcement Tuesday afternoon at Rotary Park.
“I can’t tell you enough how much it’s going to help the economy of the South Okanagan – not just the city of Penticton, but the whole region.”
Philip LaHaye, vice-president of operations for Ironman in North America, said the company has embraced “family” as its mantra this year and kept that in mind while organizing its return to the Peach City.
“Being back here in Penticton truly is a special feeling. It literally is the greatest extension of the Ironman family,” said Mr. LaHaye.
“We truly feel like we’re coming home, and we’re excited for the future that lies ahead in Penticton.
Registration for athletes and volunteers opened immediately after the announcement, creating a line dozens of people deep. Online registration opens July 22.
Ironman’s contract with Whistler to stage half- and full-distance triathlons runs through next year. Mr. LaHaye said the full-distance event in Whistler will be axed for 2020 so it doesn’t compete with Penticton, while no decisions have been made yet on the half-distance option.
Penticton’s race will follow the traditional single-loop course with a 3.8-kilometre swim in Okanagan Lake, a 180-km bike ride through Osoyoos and Keremeos, followed by a 41-km run to Okanagan Falls and back.
Terms of the five-year deal are the same as those in a tentative arrangement approved by council in May.
The gross annual cost to the city is pegged at $663,000, which includes $299,000 cash – $150,000 of which is Ironman’s licensing fee – plus another $110,000 worth of in-kind services.
City staff has already come up with $53,000 worth of savings on top of $200,000 in commitments from the business community, reducing the net cost to taxpayers to $410,000.
The announcement marked the end of a turbulent chapter in the city’s triathlon history.
After cutting ties with Ironman in 2012 in a dispute over fees, the city covered the bills for two subsequent Challenge-branded triathlons. It then turned over responsibility for flagship summer triathlons to Michael Brown.
He staged a pair of Challenge races before switching to the Super League brand in 2018. That event attracted just 375 athletes. This year’s race had just 150 registered when it was cancelled Monday.
Mr. Brown’s five-year contract was due to expire this year anyway, prompting the city to go looking for new partners and eventually making up with Ironman.
Ironman, which is owned by the Chinese Wanda Sports Group, staged its first event in Penticton in 1986. By the time it held its 30th and final race in 2012, registrations had grown to upwards of 3,000 athletes annually.
Since then, Ironman has grown exponentially to offer 230 events in 53 countries.
Joe Fries is an editor and writer for The Penticton Herald. OsoyoosToday and The Herald share an informal editorial use agreement.