Anyone racing the 2014 Lake Tahoe full and half Ironman triathlon for the first time, repeat of 2013 or for redemption of a DNF from 2013 will have to wait another year for their chance. The 2014 event scheduled for Sunday, September 21, 2014, was cancelled the morning of the race due to poor air quality from nearby King Fire wildfire burning out of control.
Ironman.com posted an announcement that cited Tom Christofk, Air Pollution Control Officer for Placer County, “Due to high early morning unhealthy concentrations of particulate matter in and around various areas of the Tahoe Basin where the IRONMAN event is occurring, we feel that the event management made the right decision today in the interest of the athletes, event volunteers, and spectators.”
Just like that, the hopes and dreams of over 2500 endurance athletes that spent countless hours and miles training were smashed. Why? Because of suspected arson. “Wayne Huntsman was booked Wednesday on suspicion of arson and was being held in lieu of $10-million bail, according to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office. Officials would not say how they believe the fire was started, citing the ongoing investigation.
The King fire, burning out of control in the Eldorado National Forest east of Sacramento, threatens more than 2,000 homes after ballooning overnight from 27,930 acres to nearly 71,000 acres. Another 1,500 buildings are threatened by the blaze.”
Athletes recounted stories of being in transition setting up for the half ironman distance event while full distance racers were warming up and gathering for the start of the swim when the announcement came. Some didn’t even know it was cancelled until athletes started heading back up the beach after all had been delivered from Squaw Valley via the shuttles. Rob Reinhard recounted, “I was dropping a bottle in my bike bag when the announcer starting talking, and i thought, blah, blah, blah, they’re just going to give us the green light….i looked up for a split second and noticed not a soul was moving. i mean, you could hear a pin drop among 2500 athletes with so much tension you could cut it with a knife. at that moment i realized i needed to listen. as i stood, the announcer was saying, “….unhealthy air quality and hazardous conditions, today’s event is canceled.” as i looked around, everyone was motionless and stunned.”
The inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe in 2013 was on the brink of modification with forecasted freezing temperatures at race start with snow and freezing drizzle the night before the event. It also came with wildfires weeks beforehand that luckily were brought under control and the smoke dissipated well in advance of the race. Fortunately for 2013 racers the event happened in its entirety and the only struggles were with the course, altitude and cold. Participants for the 2014 Ironman Lake Tahoe can take some solace and pride in knowing they are part of the first ever Ironman full distance race to be cancelled in North America. Not every Ironman racer can say that.
What’s next for athletes all trained up with no official race? Some ran the entire race on their own, some swam the lake and ran a little, some ran trails where they could find clear air and some just took to post race festivities a lot sooner and got drunk. Many threads on the unofficial Ironman Lake Tahoe Facebook page lead to “what’s your next race” or “has anyone tried the HITS Triathlon series”? Many posts relay that they completely understand the decision and support it. There is, however, a hint of displeasure with the World Triathlon Corporation that owns the Ironman brand. Many athletes are hoping out loud for entry fee considerations, entry into future WTC events or some modification of the system allowing for some sort of redemption of fees paid and time spent preparing for this race. Yes, that would cultivate a lot of good faith, but hopefully we are all clear that WTC is a business and as many athletes that have broken collar bones, endured head injuries or other training injuries that forced them out of racing the event have learned, WTC wants their money. Very few if any athletes have seen a return of investment before WTC instituted the deferment program to swap entry into races if you have an issue. Unfortunately that program does not start until 2015. We could be wrong, but WTC still had to paid for all event preparations and will lose a boatload of cash in apparel sales and finisher gear sales. They most definitely are not a charity organization and will look to keep any gains they have made at the loss of this event. Hopefully there won’t be many upset athletes if WTC decides to do nothing.
Signing up for, paying and training for these events is always a risk. Every event has a clause for event modification or cancellation without any refunds. Ironman Lake Tahoe 2014 is no different on the paperwork, but who could have foreseen that air quality from a man made wildfire would have brought the shuttering of this year’s event. Here’s hoping WTC makes a good faith gesture to reward those loyal enough to sign up for such an epic event to begin with, and then train and sit around for 3 days in smoke to find out race morning if they were racing or not. You have my sympathy as a 2013 Ironman Lake Tahoe finisher.