Andrew Messick on the Two Venue IM World Championships

It has been a whirlwind 24 hours in triathlon media, with the news that, from 2023 onwards, the IRONMAN World Championships be split into two events in two venues. President and CEO of the IRONMAN Group Andrew Messick joined us to talk about how we reached this point and what the future may hold for world championship racing.

ST: Thanks for the time, Andrew. How are you and the team holding up?
Andrew Messick: We are busy. 8 weeks ago nobody thought we’d be going through the past 8 weeks.

ST: Can you give some insight in terms of how the process of getting to this point happened? It felt like a two-day Kona, as an outsider, was locked in.

Messick: I think all of our expectation was two days. We made that decision in conjunction with the county and the mayor over the summer. And we always knew that we were going to be putting on two days in 2023 and communicating that to our athletes before two days in 2022. We were confident in the plans we developed to work with community groups, notify people what traffic impact would be on Thursday. [World Championship Race Director] Diana [Bertsch] and her team did an enormous amount of work to communicate and get the community ready in Kona for disruptions, particularly on the Thursday.

It was clear, though, that only until the race — the impact on the community was higher than what the community expected. And that impact related to people’s ability to move through town, park, getting to work. So we certainly thought that on the Sunday after the second race, we were cautiously optimistic, although we were hearing through the mayor and his office that there was a lot of feedback from the community. Ultimately, we’re guests there. We don’t have the ability, nor the desire, frankly, to impose ourselves anywhere.

We fairly quickly found ourselves in the position that one of the two fundamental promises we made — men and women would have their own day, and everyone in Kona — that we weren’t going to be able to keep both. We had some quite difficult conversations. If you have to choose one or the other — which one do you choose? Ultimately, the path forward for IM, and all of our efforts around encouraging women to race, was that the right path was two days of racing, with women having their own day. Reverting to a one day Kona was going backwards.

ST: What were some of the alternatives offered to the County of Hawai’i to try to be able to produce a two day Kona?

Messick: We looked at everything. We looked at doing Thursday-Saturday; Friday-Saturday; two Saturday’s two weeks apart; doing two races with one in April and one in October.

In reality, and it wasn’t a fun one to absorb, but — it [Kona] is prepared for the show to come in once a year for one day. At its heart, that was what we were told and what we sensed. Our team lives in Kona. They raised their children there, deeply involved in the community. They go to the grocery store, or to church — they see people everywhere. The message was clear.

ST: Given that you don’t officially have a location for the men’s race, why announce anything yet?

Messick: We’re sensitive to the fact to the people that have qualified for a race location that we know isn’t going to happen. We have a sense of obligation to the men who are not going to be racing in Kona in 2023 to tell them don’t make non-refundable travel. We can’t tell people where they will race, but we can tell them where they won’t. And we don’t want our partners or our athletes to make iron-clad commitments in terms of time or money at this point when we know that it is going to change.

It’s better to tell people where they aren’t going to be, even if it will take time to tell them where they are.

ST: With that in mind, then, why keep one of the days in Kona at all and not just keep men and women together in a single locale?

Messick: Kona is magical. To have everybody back in Kona was fantastic. It has its challenges, but it’s a magical place, and a magical race.

ST: For what it’s worth — I agree. Our sport is too young to give that up. But along those lines, do you foresee a future where men and women will race Worlds together in the same location again?

Messick: I don’t know. I really don’t know. Kona is not ready for a two day Kona. But who knows what the future holds. It’s not my intention to take the World Championships out of Kona entirely. But if the last three years have taught us anything, it’s that anything is possible.