Welcome to Ironman Week!

It’s officially Ironman week in Louisville! Most people living in the city won’t know this until Saturday or Sunday, but in my circle of triathlon friends, it’s all anyone is talking about.
I thought that I would use this post to take a look back at the history of this event. But before Ironman came to town, there was a triathlon known as “TriAmerica” held in the Derby City. This Olympic Distance race was held here from 2002-2006. It was part of a series of races held around the country. Right on the heels of this race series leaving Louisville after 2006, Ironman swooped in.
On October 4th, 2006, it’s was announced that Ironman was bringing a full-distance triathlon to Louisville. Rumors were that the event was going to be a Half-Ironman, but after getting a look at the city and seeing the possibilities of it being a huge event, they decided to go with a Full (one of only eight full IM’s in the country at that time). Here is how the official announcement from Ironman read:

“The 2.4 mile swim for Ford Ironman Louisville will take place in the Ohio River and the bike and run course will take athletes throughout various areas of Louisville to include not only downtown but also Prospect, Clifton, the city of LaGrange, Clarksville, Ind. and Butchertown.


Athletes can register for the event beginning on October 21 at 3 p.m. EST by visiting www.ironman.com. The 2007 event will reach capacity at 2,100 athletes and includes a $50,000 professional prize purse. For event-related questions, contact the Event Director, Steve Meckfessel via email at steve@ironman.com.”

The thing that make IMLOU unique was the swim in the Ohio River. At this point, all Ironman races started on a shore and were a mass-start. Logistically, this was impossible to do here in Louisville; so they came up with a time-trial start. Athlete’s would enter the water one and a time. This original contract was to have the race in Louisville for five years (2007-2011). This was also the first venture for the World Triathlon Corp. (WTC) into the event organizing helm. 
Chris McDonald just after winning the Inaugural IM Louisville.
Australian Chris McDonald crossed the finish line first to win the inaugural race, which was sponsored by Ford. His time was 8:38:39. The female winner was Heather Gollnick (9:23:22). After that first year, the finish line at Fourth Street Live! became a huge selling point for race organizers. The unique finish shoot was featured in several triathlon publications and word spread quickly online that this finish line rivaled that of the World Championship in Kona, HI.
The 2008 race was won by Max Longree in 8:33:58 (including a 2:48 marathon), with previous champion Chris McDonald coming in 21 minutes after Longree. Max quickly became a fan favorite after he gobbled down a huge cheeseburger from the Hard Rock Cafe, which is right at the finish line. He came back and trained here in the summer of 2009, gaining lots of local support. The women’s winner in 2008 was Mariska Kramer-Postma with a time of 9:54:17.
2009 was the first year that I volunteered at the race. After completing my first triathlon (a sprint) in the summer of 2008, I was hooked on the sport and just wanted to be around an Ironman event. I volunteered in T1 and got see everyone exit the water and start the bike. In the third year of the race, there was a third different champion. This time around it was Viktor Zyemtsev in a course-record time of 8:25:27.  Max Longree finished 5th. The weather was very cooperative (high was 81F) and the times showed it. The woman’s winner was Nina Kraft in 9:20:21 – another course record.
As ideal as the weather was in 2009, it was the opposite in 2010. With temperatures reaching into the mid-90’s, athlete’s and spectators suffered. I was again volunteering in T1 and I remember it being very hot…at 8am! The average finish time was over 47 minutes slower than the year before. A fourth different champion was crowned when Paul Ambrose crossed the line in 8:29:59. Rebekah Keat won the women’s title in 9:33:15. I signed up for IMLOU 2011 a few days after the 2010 race…I was officially going to be an Ironman!
2011 was the fifth year of the race and just a few days before the gun when off, it was announced that WTC extended the contract another five years (through 2016). Stats showing that Ironman pumps over $5 Million into the local economy each year were released. The fact can’t be argued that this is a huge event for the city of Louisville and almost everyone was happy to see the contract extended. 2011 delivered the first 2-time IMLOU Champion when Chris McDonald once again ran down the finish shoot at Fourth Street Live! first with a time of 8:27:36. Nina Kraft became the first repeat women’s Champion with a time of 9:38:14.
With the contract renewal came a new title sponsor. The 2012 race was officially called the Norton Sports Health Louisville Ironman. I was back to volunteering, this time at the swim start. With temperatures back in the mid-90’s, the times were slower. The top finisher on the men’s side was Patrick Evoe. His winning time of 8:42:44 was the slowest in the six years of the event. The women’s race was the closest yet, with Bree Wee winning in 9:36:27, just 1 minute and 47 seconds ahead of Jackie Arendt.
What till the 2013 race look like? I’ll preview the pro field tomorrow.
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One Response to “Welcome to Ironman Week!”

  1. Melissa C August 19, 2013 at 6:54 PM #

    Very nice to know the history! This week is so exciting and I’m not even racing!

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