Victoria a contender to land Ironman Canada, but time running out

Victoria ideal to host race with 3.8-km swim,180-km bike, and 42-km run, but other cities could be further ahead in the race

Jasper Blake of Victoria wins the 2008 half Ironman triathlon at Elk Lake. Blake has since retired. During his competitive career he used Elk Lake as a training race for Ironman Canada. Adding Ironman Canada to the summer schedule would only benefit

Elk Lake is a leading candidate to be the new home of Ironman Canada.

The only problem is, Greater Victoria needs someone to rally the community in a hurry if it’s going to happen.

“Vernon kept popping up on the shortlist as well as did Kelowna, Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler,” said managing director of global race operations for the World Triathlon Corporation, from Tampa, Fla.

The WTC, which owns the Ironman brand, has openly expressed interest in relocating to southern Vancouver Island after its recent divorce from a 30-year marriage with Penticton.

“The beautiful thing about Victoria, there is a communication pipeline, as an existing race (Subaru Western Triathlon Series) has done half the work, if not more than half the work,” Steve Meckfessel,

There are millions of reasons Victoria should want the race, as wherever it lands, it brings millions of dollars of economic impact.

But there are plenty of challenges to be met and questions to be answered if Victoria is to be considered as the new permanent home, beginning in August 2013.

The WTC has posted a Sept. 24 deadline for proposals, and is hoping to announce its selection by Oct. 10.

“It all has to happen quickly, we were only approached by Ironman last week,” said Hugh MacDonald of SportHost Victoria.

MacDonald has a rich history of bringing major events to Victoria including the Americas Rugby Championship next month and the 2013 Ford World Men’s Curling Championship in April. But even he will need an energetic response from the community to make this happen.

“The early deadline will be hard to meet, as it’s now (SportHost’s) job to check with the triathlon community to see if there’s enough will,” MacDonald said.

“Before SportHost can endorse this as a good idea, we need to do the due diligence to see what’s required.”

One expert says the impact on the local economy could reach $100 million within 10 years. But there are also questions around why the event was no longer welcome in Penticton, which opted for the German-based Challenge Family for 2013. The latter organization is a rival to the WTC, and will offer a triathlon called Challenge Penticton that uses the same distances.

“The race developed over many years, and was great for Penticton, but it must mean something’s not right,” MacDonald said.

Reports out of Penticton mention little of the monetary controversy, however, and more to do with a convoluted fallout between Penticton, previous Ironman

Canada organizer Graham Fraser and WTC, which bought up the world’s Ironman licences.

Assuming Ironman in Victoria would draw its annual minimum of 2,500 athletes, the event should be celebrated, says Lance Watson, co-organizer of the Subaru Western Triathlon Series.

“Victoria would be an awesome choice. It’s a triathlon hub of North America. Hosting it at Elk Lake is very doable, but it’s going to require a tremendous amount of political will.”

Watson, who is known for coaching Simon Whitfield to gold at the 2000 Olympics, has been at the helm of the half-Ironman triathlon at Elk Lake that takes place every June. He knows what it takes to get Saanich and the surrounding municipalities on board.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard is receptive to the idea, but is wary of municipal costs up front.

“We like to be involved at the start of these things,” Leonard said. “If we’re in early and at the front end, it can be affordable.”

What’s needed in Greater Victoria is someone to champion the Ironnman cause and align all the municipalities with Saanich at the heart of it, Meckfessel said.

Central and North Saanich would also be key districts affected by the expansive bike and run loops. Victoria, View Royal, Highlands and Sidney are also on the potential bike loop, especially if it runs in one lap of 180 kilometres, though it can be split in half, while the run can be broken into thirds, or even quarters.

“Ironman Europe in Frankfurt (Germany) is a four lap run, it sells out every year and it’s the European championship,” Meckfessel said. “We can make it work.”