Tempe will count itself as the only place in the Southwest with a full triathlon after the announcement Friday by Ironman North America it is bringing the event for each of the next five years to the city.
The first event will be April 9, bringing an estimated $15 million and as many as 1,900 participants to the city during the course of four days.
Other Full Ironman triathlons include Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Lake Placid, N.Y.; Panama City Beach, Fla.; Penticton, B.C.; and Madison, Wis.
Paula Newby-Fraser, eighttime world Ironman champion and now the company’s pro liaison, said she thinks it’s about time Ironman recognized the Southwest’s potential.
"Arizona is really one of the main training hubs in our sport," she said. "It originated in San Diego and its history is in the Southwest."
Shane Facteau, communications director for Ironman North America, said one of the main reasons for choosing Tempe was it was in a major metropolitan area.
"We’ve had great successes with events in resort locations like Coeur d’Alene, but we’ve wanted to expose the event to larger-scale audiences," he said.
"People plan their entire year around an Ironman. They come and train and spend money, more than just at the race itself," Facteau said.
Paul Huddle, race director for Ironman Arizona, the event’s sponsoring organization, said Tempe Town Lake and Mill Avenue Bridge reminded him of Lake Placid, a compliment Tempe mayor Neil Giuliano used to tout the lake’s usefulness.
"At the risk of sounding redundant, this couldn’t have happened without Tempe Town Lake," Giuliano said.
Huddle cautioned locals who may be tempted to sign up just because it’s available that "an Ironman is a commitment, not a light challenge."
But, he said, "There are a lot of people who may think it’s out of the realm of possibility for them, and it’s not."
The Tempe event will be the first full triathlon each season, expected to attract many professional athletes who would otherwise be in New Zealand or elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere so early in the year, Newby-Fraser said.
"A lot of people that would be gone are now going to stay, like Europeans who want warmer places to train," she said.