Athletes flock to St. George for Ironman 70.3; one week to race day

U.S. Pro Champion Meredith Kessler, Ironman 70.3 St. George. St. George, Utah, May 3, 2014 | Photo courtesy of St. George and Zion National Park Tourism, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Thousands of athletes from across the world are making their way to an expected sunny St. George for the 2015 Ironman 70.3 St. George North American Pro Championship that will take place on May 2.

The race marks the sixth consecutive year that St. George has hosted an Ironman triathlon. This year the event has received an elevated designation as the new championship qualifier for all of North America.

“The new championship status means we’ll continue to see top professionals coming to St. George,” Roxie Sherwin, director of the St. George Tourism Office, said. “The rivalry among athletes fuels competition gives spectators an exciting race to watch.”

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 Video courtesy of St. George and Zion National Park Tourism, St. George News

As part of the new championship status, the St. George race will now offer 30 qualifying slots for the 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Austria. In addition, the prize purse that is distributed among the top 10 male and female finishers has increased from $75,000 to $100,000.

Athlete's bike across St. George, St. George, Utah, May 3, 2014 | Photo courtesy of St. George and Zion National Park Tourism, St. George News
Athlete’s bike across St. George, St. George, Utah, May 3, 2014 | Photo courtesy of St. George and Zion National Park Tourism, St. George News

St. George is one of only four regional Ironman 70.3 Championship destinations in the world. The course has quickly become an athlete favorite because of its intense topography, unmatched scenery and helpful volunteers.

After winning last year’s Ironman 70.3 St. George, German Olympic gold medalist Jan Frodeno said:

“I’ll be honest, that was probably the toughest thing I’ve ever done.”

Eight-time Ironman champion Mary Beth Ellis wrote after the 2014 race that the number of professional competitors in St. George made the event “basically a world championship.”

“St. George thrives as an Ironman 70.3 destination because the athletes love the challenge,” Kevin Lewis, director of sports marketing for the St. George Tourism Office, said. “It’s a tough course for even the best athletes, especially this early in the season.”

Besides attracting some of the world’s most famous triathletes, the sold out field of nearly 3,000 participants includes thousands of amateur athletes who will race alongside the pros. The competitors come from 23 countries and 40 states. Utah is the most represented state with 788 athletes. The oldest competitor is 76 years old; the youngest is 18.

Athlete's get ready for their swim, St. George, Utah, May 3, 2014 | Photo courtesy of St. George and Zion National Park Tourism, St. George News
Athlete’s get ready for their swim, St. George, Utah, May 3, 2014 | Photo courtesy of St. George and Zion National Park Tourism, St. George News

The list of professional athletes registered for this year’s Ironman 70.3 St. George is impressive and includes both the male, Sebastian Kienle, and female, Mirinda Carfrae, champions of the 2014 Ironman World Championship.

Other notable pros gearing up for the race include former St. George champions Ben Hoffman, Meredith Kessler, Brent McMahon and Heather Wurtele. In all, nearly 70 professional triathletes will battle it out along the brutal yet beautiful course through southern Utah’s red rock desert.

The course offers spectators and athletes unrivaled vistas and variety as they make their way through a 1.2-mile swim at Sand Hollow State Park, a 56-mile bike ride through Snow Canyon State Park and a 13.1-mile run that ends at Town Square Park in the downtown historic district.

An economic analysis of the 2014 Ironman 70.3 St. George revealed that the race attracted more than 7,500 visitors to the area and pumped an estimated $5.5 million into the local economy.

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