Sometimes it’s the other way around. Then the supposed deficiency turns out to be a gain. Endurance trainer Dan Lorang spontaneously decided to travel to Kailua-Kona again this time. His main job is head trainer at the Bora-Hansgrohe cycling team, so you don’t always know months in advance whether you can look after your triathlon protégés at the other end of the world, on the famous long distance Hawaii in this week.
Only: where to find a hostel in a hurry? The apartment that the German long-term winner Jan Frodeno usually rents for his entourage was eliminated: Frodeno postponed his career break by a year, after various injuries. Lorang didn’t want to spontaneously settle down with his other athletes, such as the defending champion Anne Haug. Friends finally offered him a couch, which, as he reports in an interview, turned out to be a spacious pull-out bed.
Lorang knows how lucky he was. The famous endurance triathlon on the Pacific island, 3.8 kilometers on water, 180 kilometers on a bike and 42.2 kilometers on foot, is no longer the romanticized adventure of the past: when the Prince of Bahrain flew in in his jumbo jet for a long time and some amateur entrants paraded their small car-equivalent race bikes down Ali’i Drive. But this year, athletes, coaches and fans will once again have to delve into new worlds of financial pain.
Not only has the number of participants doubled, but so has the price of a trip to Hawaii
The organizer iron man started the race, the first since 2019, this year. Instead of 2500 professionals and amateurs in one go, twice as many start on two days: first the women and some of the so-called Age Groupers on Thursday, then on Saturday the men and the rest. One of the main arguments is that the women want to get more attention. It’s not just Lorang who is skeptical. He’s happy to be convinced otherwise, he says, but he’s wondering “whether it’s not more commercial-driven.” This is not a daring thesis for an umbrella organization like Ironman, which recently migrated from Chinese to American investors, in which the scene is often overwhelmed with criticism for its profit-driven nature. 5000 instead of 2500 starting places, that should definitely pay off, this time with a starting fee of 1120 dollars per athlete.
Ironically, the expansion means that supply is shrinking at the same time. Lorang has observed that the infrastructure for guests in Kona has hardly changed in years. At the same time, the cost of living has generally swelled, with many mainland Americans relocating to the island during the pandemic. “It’s also utopian to think that they’re building more hotels or accommodation here now,” says Lorang, the big rush only rolls across the island during the two or three weeks of racing. Until the very end, many participants had to plan around 10,000 euros for flights, accommodation and meals. New projections assume the double. Some recently even reported 30,000 euros that landlords called for commercially available apartments for three weeks. If only the bank account decides whether someone starts here, he would think that would be a shame, says Lorang: “But that’s exactly what’s being provoked at the moment.”
Incidentally, Ironman recently informed the German Press Agency that unfortunately the travel costs cannot be influenced. That sounds original: It was the organizer who expanded the starting field – and thus really fueled the demand.
Even some professionals have thrown it off in this price carousel. “The costs are higher than I could ever afford,” commented the German Svenja Thoes, who recently won two long distances, about her decision not to start. This also exposes a problem that has been known for a long time: A small elite lives very well on sponsorship money, tinkers in the wind tunnel on how to shift the bike saddle by a few millimeters in order to be even better prepared for the fall winds on Hawaii. The rest try to scrape together a living.
In addition to Ironman and Challenge, a third race organizer is now involved in the market, the Professional Triathlon Organization (PTO), which offers millions in fees for some races. But it remains to be seen how sustainable the newcomers will remain. Ironman, still the best-known brand, “drastically reduced” its prize money two years ago, as German Laura Philipp said at the time, one of the co-favorites on Thursday. This time, the Hawaii winners will be paid around 130,000 euros, the tenth with 11,000 euros. Isn’t it nice when you can pay a third of the most blatant hotel bills?
The former spirit of the race is finally blown away. That Hawaii was once a meeting place for a manageable scene that also drew its strength from the fact that everyone was standing at a starting line. Which also left room for adventurers, as Hannes Blaschke, fourth in Hawaii in 1985 and today travel entrepreneur, recently told the FAZ: When he first started, he scraped together “the last bucks” for the flight, washed cars on site and packed fish, in order to to be able to buy potatoes in the supermarket, which he cooked and put in his shirt as provisions. “Someone like me back then no longer flies to Hawaii today, no chance,” said Blaschke. This is a case for the first class today.