A reversal of fortunes in Germany

The fight for a race in Kraichgau, Germany has taken yet another twist and appears to be now be run under the Ironman label after all. It was a Challenge race first, was then announced as an Ironman event, then went seemingly back to Challenge and today’s news is that it will be an Ironman race after all - and Challenge announced that they have thrown in the towel. It is a very confusing reversal of fortunes indeed.

At the heart of the whole issue is the dilemma of who actually owns a race. Is it the race director that has groomed it from nothing into the popular event it is today? Maybe the city who gives the permits and allows the event to take place? Or is it the brand that has given it marketing hype and support?

At the end of October 2013 World Triathlon Corporation announced a "half-distance triathlon in Kraichgau, which has operated as Challenge Kraichgau, [and] is scheduled for June 15, 2014" and the hiring of Björn Steinmetz, the race director of that popular event. This came as a big surprise to the German triathlon community, and maybe an even bigger one to the Challenge Family, under whose label the race was run the last few years.

The local community and their leaders also learned in the news of that transaction and many locals expressed anger about the deal that had caught them completely unaware.

"The whole region and I learned from the press that there was a change of ownership with the company of Björn Steinmetz," said Klaus Detlev Huge, mayor of Bad Schönborn, the hub of the Challenge Kraichgau race in mid December to slowtwitch. "Since then there has been much unrest among the many helpers who effectively carry this event, and also in the circle of the seven mayors of the involved communities. We have told Mr. Steinmetz clearly during a talk I had invited him to on Wednesday [November 20, 2013] that we found his communication with us to be unsatisfactory. With the permits we give, the services of the city, and all the volunteers from the various sport clubs and firefighters, we are the biggest sponsor of the event."

Because of a valid contract with Challenge, it was quickly clear that the 2014 race would still be run under the Challenge brand, but handled by Ironman. 2015 however was seemingly still in the air and in late December of 2013, the mayors announced that they wanted Challenge to run the race again in 2015, once the current contract had expired.

"The mayors of the 8 triathlon communities in the Kraichgau region are glad to see the great interest from various triathlon event organizers regarding this unique event. After constructive conversations with possible new partners we decided based on the regional connection and the broader sport orientation for a long term partnership with the Challenge Family starting in 2015," said mayor Huge in a press release on December 23. "We are convinced that this decision is in the interest of the athletes, and also in the interest of the many volunteers without whom this massive event would not be possible."

That in return left WTC steaming and frustrated and then their lawyers were likely pushed to earn their keep.

Folks who had been to Ironman 70.3 Mallorca a few weeks ago apparently heard rumblings of a possible new situation when Kona slots were announced for Kraichgau 2015. And today those rumblings made more sense when Challenge Family announced that they are walking away from the Kraichgau situation. In a press release Challenge stated that massive pressure of WTC on the regional mayors and threats with financial repercussions moved the mayors to change their mind and give the race now to Ironman after all.

"It is unbelievable what has happened there. A masterpiece of WTC with threats against the communities, lies, intrigue etc," said Zibi Szlufcik, CEO of Challenge Family to slowtwitch.

We asked WTC for a statement about the Kraichgau situation too, but they declined to speak about the situation.

Mayor Huge however offered a comment that came a few days after we had written this story. But it was the weekend already in Germany when we had reached out to him.

"We continued to negotiate with both parties over the last few months, and after many conversations among the mayors and with other partners decided to go with Ironman," said mayor Huge to slowtwitch on Monday June 16, 2014. "The short contract period (2015/2016) ensures that we have the option in the medium term to always select the promoter who best fits the region, and who continues to best develop the product Kraichgau Triathlon with us - for the athletes and communities."