The push for a fully-qualifying Ironman to return to Coeur d’Alene finally crossed the finish line Tuesday night, as City Council voted unanimously to approve a contract that will bring a full version of the iconic race to Coeur d’Alene on a three-year rotation, starting in 2021.
“This event really has changed lives,” North Idaho Sports Commission vice president Britt Bachtel-Browning said. “It inspires people to set goals and push far beyond what they think they could do, embodying the phrase, ‘Anything is possible.’”
The three-year deal that runs through 2023 is a welcome return, Council members said.
“I’ve worked closely with Ironman since 2003 when they first came [to Coeur d’Alene],” Council member Amy Evans told Bachtel-Browning. “My kids grew up participating in the kids’ triathlon ... I just want to say, ‘Thank you’ for all that you’ve done.”
“I’m real supportive of it,” Council member Woody McEvers agreed. “I think it’s awesome.”
Members of the community came out in full-throated support of the race.
“As a business owner in Coeur d’Alene, I fully support the efforts to bring back a full Ironman every three years,” Riverstone’s Vine and Olive owner Naomi Boutz said. “Having previously managed a restaurant in downtown Coeur d’Alene — the Wine Cellar — I personally experienced all of the full Ironman and first two half-Ironman races. I can say, without a doubt, the economic impact to our business was substantially higher from a full Ironman compared to a half. During the week of a full Ironman, our revenue was at least 50 percent higher — and sometimes 100 percent higher, depending on the day—compared to that of a half Ironman.
“Of all the events hosted in downtown Coeur d’Alene during the summer months, the full Ironman was by far the most profitable.”
The full Ironman race — a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile marathon — serves as a national qualifier for the company’s world championships, thus drawing professional crowds to join amateur athletes. The economic impact is a roughly $6-million to $7-million gain to the region.
Theresa DeWit, member of Coeur d’Alene’s Tri Team and international flight attendant, said the event’s connection reaches competitors from all over the world.
“I met a woman on the plane when I was coming back from China just the other day,” she told the Council. “She was wearing some Ironman insignia, and we had got to talking, and I had said, ‘Oh, we’re just about ready to vote in Coeur d’Alene about bringing Ironman back. And she goes, ‘Coeur d’Alene? I love the Coeur d’Alene Ironman.’ She was so excited about the fact that we might be bringing it back.”
“We’ve actually used Ironman as a recruitment tool for my practice, if you can believe that,” Dr. Todd Hoopman said. “We have six partners now, four of whom have done the full Ironman, three of whom joined because of the Ironman. We actually recruit many physicians here to this town, and that’s a selling point that I think is an important aspect to bring forward.”
Economics aside, triathlete and owner of the Coeur d’Alene Tri Team Diego Olivieri said the benefits transcend more than just financial gain.
“I want to talk about how Ironman is an ecosystem for the community, an ecosystem of health,” Olivieri said. “The event itself creates inspiration from adults where you can be 75 years old and do a full Ironman. You can be 18 and do a full Ironman on the same course that professionals race in, which is unique to any other sports.”
Hoopman, a pulmonary and critical care physician, agreed, adding the race serves as a beacon for competitors and hopefuls alike.
“As a physician, I’m tasked with the health of my patients,” he said. “It is amazing when I can have patients talk about the inspiration they get from watching Ironman. I deal with patients who are on chronic oxygen who cannot go and run a 26-mile marathon, but they can go out and get on their treadmill or ride their stationary bicycle and they get inspiration from that. I see it in the children and the younger kids who now start to want to do cross country and swim at the pool and ride their bikes.”
The current contract with Ironman — a private, China-based company — ends with its scheduled half-race in 2020. When the new contract kicks in before the 2021 racing season, Coeur d’Alene will host the full race. The city will then see a rotational return to the half-race in 2022 and 2023.
In the past, City officials, the business community and Ironman have tinkered with the details of the full race, including moving it to August and splitting it from the half-course, with mixed results. Its timing with the October world championships in Kona, Hawaii, and its placement in the smokey heart of fire season led organizers to drop the full race In 2017, with little hope of returning again.
“I think doing this once every three years is a phenomenal compromise,” Olivieri said.
This new contract includes a partnership with the North Idaho Sports Commission, which will provide host sponsorship fees to the World Triathlon Corporation in $125,000, $62,500 and $62,500 installments. The City will provide its services to the race and its competitors. Ironman will share 25 percent of sponsorship revenue to the North Idaho Sports Commission and donate $15,000 annually to local non-profits.
“Between the three contracting parties,” Bachtel-Browning told The Press before the vote, “the City of Coeur d’Alene, the North Idaho Sports Commission and Ironman, we all worked together to create a plan that works for everyone.”