Ironman 70.3 World Championships
2013: Henderson, Nev.
2014: Quebec, Canada
If there was any doubt about the legitimacy of Chattanooga's Ironman identity, Tuesday erased it.
Ironman and the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau announced that the Scenic City will host the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championships, a marquee outdoor event that will bring an expected 4,000 of the world's best triathletes from nearly 100 countries in the latest leap forward for the city's outdoor persona.
The city was chosen for this event over Lake Placid, N.Y., and St. George, Utah. Chattanooga had never hosted an Ironman event of any sort before September 2014.
Now it is in line to be the first in a worldwide network of Ironman cities to host a 70.3 Ironman, a full-distance Ironman and the men's and women's 70.3 Ironman World Championships.
"I don't want to say it's been a surprise, but it hasn't happened often in our history," Ironman CEO Andrew Messick said of the quick progression of the relationship between Ironman and Chattanooga.
Messick flew in from Ironman headquarters in Tampa, Fla., for the announcement, which was made at the conclusion of the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau's annual luncheon at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
The main hall was packed with local business leaders who applauded vigorously when a staged video making the announcement cut in above CVB President Bob Doak as he thanked people for attending.
Messick then took the stage. He received a standing ovation, but he doled out generous praise for Chattanooga.
"This is a place our athletes are going to want to go," he said.
The announcement came two days after the closest finish in Ironman history during the 2015 Ironman Chattanooga, which was the city's second full Ironman and third Ironman event overall.
Ironman events are triathalons in which competitors swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles. An Ironman 70.3 event cuts those distances in half.
The first Ironman event was in 1978, and the organization has been holding 70.3 events since 2006. There will be more than 100 of the 70.3 events held around the world in 2017, with the top finishers earning spots in the world championships.
The 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championships will be the first on U.S. soil in four years. Quebec, Canada, hosted the event in 2013 and 2014. Austria hosted it this year, and Australia will get the event in 2016 before it comes to Chattanooga.
"These things come together because of the community and because of the outpouring of volunteers and the logistics that have to happen to bring in athletes," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said. "That's what our community is going to witness in September of 2017. This, again, gives us an opportunity in this area to showcase not only great athletes, but our community as well."
Last weekend's Ironman featured more than 2,500 registered participants and was expected to bring about $11 million to the city's economy. The 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championships will bring about 4,000 participants, and will fall two weeks before the city's full Ironman — which will be in the fourth year of a five-year contract.
"September of 2017 is going to be off the charts when it comes to revenue for this city and an influx of international visitors I don't believe this town has ever seen," Doak said.
Chattanooga rose to Ironman prominence last year when its inaugural event received a 97 percent approval rating from competitors, second worldwide only to Australia.
Soon after that eye-catching emergence, Ironman officials approached the city about potentially hosting an Ironman 70.3 event this summer. That happened in May, and successfully enough that Ironman officials felt confident discussing the possibility of holding the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championships here.
"We wanted to make sure that event went well, but we felt that the support of the CVB, the support of Hamilton County and the city of Chattanooga, all of those were such that we had a lot of confidence that we'd be able to deliver the type of experience to our athletes and partners that we feel is necessary," Messick said. "In every respect, Chattanooga was able to address all of our concerns and give us a lot of confidence."
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke stressed the collateral benefits of hosting the world championships, benefits that extend beyond the financial boon and reputational boost.
"At some level, what I love to see is the way that it brings us together so that residents here, who may not be participating, can enjoy the experience and bond with each other and, in the long run, have greater pride in the place that we live," Berke said.
The most difficult part of landing the event and making the announcement was keeping it a secret for about two weeks, Doak said.
"Nothing is more fulfilling than doing what we got to do today," he said.
Long after the luncheon crowd had returned to their jobs and as a side room began to empty after a news conference, Doak started to assess Tuesday's announcement in the context of his career.
"It ranks up there," he said.
Then he paused, tilted his head a bit, and resumed with more authority.
"No, I'll tell you what," he said. "It probably was my best day in this business."
When Messick addressed the luncheon audience, he was speaking to a business-savvy audience that certainly understood the financial benefit of hosting such an event, but he also made sure to emphasize what Sept. 9-10, 2017, will mean to the competitors.
"These athletes," he said, "will be culminating an extraordinary journey of commitment, of effort."
Just like the city that will host them.
Contact staff writer David Cobb at email@example.com or 423-757-6249.