Jan 13, 201209:24 AM
From Web Editor Alex Gecan
New Orleans Triathletes Get Their Cake Back—and They Can Still Eat It
Image Courtesy of ObesityHelp.Blogspot.com
In early November, Premier Event Management—captained by Bill Burke, the godfather of Big Easy multisport events—announced that the IronMan 70.3 New Orleans (IMNOLA) and 5150 New Orleans races would be held on the same day in late April for the 2012 season. This would have meant that local tri-jacks had to choose between the long-course (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bicycle ride and 13.1-mile run) and international-distance (1.5K or 0.9-mile swim, 40K or 25-plus-mile ride and 10K or 6-plus-mile run) races for their home games.
IMNOLA draws athletes from all over the globe; IronMan-sanctioned long-course races are rare, and “destination races” rarer still. Ditto 5150 New Orleans; as Burke rightfully asserted, there are no other 5150-series races in the surrounding states (save Texas), so regional athletes would need to come to New Orleans or leave the area entirely for a shot at qualifying for the Hy-Vee triathlon in Des Moines, the championship race for the 5150 series. In other words, both races probably would have had a full roster, even if they had been held on the same day.
The local multisport community, however, was unenthused by the synthesis of the two races. “They were disappointed that they were on the same day,” said Rick Montgomery, who coaches athletes at Kona Fitness Cafe.
Kona owner, USATriathlon-certified coach Jen Novak, agreed: “A lot of people wanted to do both races.”
Enter the U.S. Navy. Fortunately for everyone concerned, the Blue Angels will be performing an air show on April 21 and 22—and the November announcement placed both races on April 22. This spelled an overwhelming bottleneck at the lakefront by the University of New Orleans, where both races would begin their first leg (swimming), where athletes would transition from swimming to biking and biking to running—and where the Blue Angels would be performing their supersonic acrobatics.
Burke decided that while two could be good company, three was too crowded. He split the race dates.
Last week, the 5150 New Orleans website changed to indicate that race day was no longer April 22 but was now June 24. IMNOLA will still be held on April 22—but the format will be slightly different than it has been in years past.
Burke confirmed that the shorter race will in fact be held in late June. “It’ll be better,” he said. “It will give triathletes who want to compete in both races time to train.” While top slots in 5150 New Orleans get olympic-distance aces into the Hy-Vee triathlon on Sept. 4, IMNOLA laurels earn athletes admittance to the 70.3 world championship in Henderson, Nev., held a week later. Training for the two distances is drastically different.
Neither race existed until 2009, when Burke directed the inaugural IMNOLA. Last May he directed the inaugural 5150 New Orleans. Since he began directing races here, safety has been his paramount concern. The New Orleans races have an unusually high ratio of safety personnel to racers, particularly during the swim portion. In fact, in 2011, the management team cancelled the swim legs in both races due to unsafe conditions in the unpredictable Lake Pontchartrain.
The other major change for this year’s races is the finish line. IMNOLA has ended at Jackson Square for the last three years, but the naval vessels accompanying the Blue Angel will be occupying ports along the Mississippi River, said Burke, making a French Quarter finish unfeasible—and, in any case, keeping the finish line downtown would “cost $100,000, between road closures and police detail.” That’s a hefty price point on an already-expensive project.
Premier Event Management is still deciding on a finish line and will announce it next week but, according to Burke and Montgomery, IMNOLA athletes in April 2012 will have to settle for finishing closer to the Lakefront—under the screeching afterburners of a flight of F/A-18 Hornets.