Provo bids to become fourth U.S. city to host Ironman

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    By Miriam Meek

    Provo is racing to be the host city for the 2002 Western USA Ironman triathlon.

    Bidding against Madison, Wis., and Austin, Texas, Matt Starley, sports promotion director for Utah County, hopes Provo will be the fourth permanent location for the event that involves swimming, biking and running. The winner will be announced in April.

    When Starley submitted a 12-page application, as did 43 other cities, to Ironman organizers in November, he had one major goal in mind: muscling some economic strength for the area.

    “Every hotel room in the county would be filled for a week for the race, and we estimate that about $7 million to $10 million would be spent in the area,” he said.

    The triathlon can draw up to 30,000 spectators and competitors are often a well-educated, affluent group, Starley said. Most of the 1,500 to 1,800 athletes are professionals or executives with an average annual income of $94,000, according to demographic studies by Ironman USA.

    Economic development could continue to “spawn” even after the triathlon is over, Starley said. The race would expose competitors to Utah County, which may encourage some to hold conferences or open businesses in the area, he said.

    Although the race has put dollar signs in the county”s eyes, it has them seeing green in more than one way. Starley wouldn”t disclose figures, but said the county needs to double its offer to outbid Madison.

    Running what he calls a “one man show,” Starley has been asking city governments and businesses in Utah County to contribute money.

    But it hasn”t been easy. Even the possible host city itself doesn”t have any extra funds to give away, said Leland Gamette, director of economic development for Provo. Right now, Provo”s only contribution will come through sales taxes that the county already collects from the city”s businesses.

    However, at this point no one is out of the game, said Shane Facteau, communications director for Ironman USA. With the media attention Utah will grab from the 2002 Winter Olympics, as well as the infrastructure to accommodate large crowds, Provo has several factors working in its favor.

    Topography to support a course is another one. If the competition came to Provo, athletes would swim 2.4 miles in Utah Lake, bike 112 miles around West Mountain and run 26.2 miles up Provo Canyon. They would have from 7 a.m. to midnight to complete the course.

    “For the long term, being in the final three is definitely a good thing because if you don”t get it this year, who knows, you could get it later,” Facteau said. “This is a pretty popular event, and as long as there is a high demand, we will continue to try and provide good sites.”

    Ironman hosts 16 races worldwide, three of which are in the United States: Lake Placid, New York; Panama City Beach, Fla.; and Oceanside, Calif. The world championships are held in Kona, Hawaii.

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