Tragedy, Confusion Mar Ironman Utah Debut

Utah loses Ironman

The scheduled start of Ironman Utah was nearly five minutes away the morning of June 8 as hundreds of racers forged ahead into Utah Lake. Frustrated race organizers eventually succumbed to the disorganized swarm and fired their canon to start the race but than 30 minutes later officials were struggling to get everyone out of the water and revamp the event into a long-course duathlon.

Ironman Utah

Utah Lake is a shallow body of water more expansive than the neighboring metropolitan area it borders. Cold fronts rolling over the western desert mountains can churn the massive flatness of the lake into a murky washing machine in a matter of seconds. That's just what happened at 7:05 a.m., five minutes after the scheduled race start. Rhythmless 3-foot swells and 40 mph winds turned the much anticipated moment into chaos--swim buoys scattered out of alignment and racers so far off course that it became nearly impossible to track their whereabouts.

With Mt. Timpanogus looming in the background runners leave the turnaround of the abbreviated Ironman Utah run.

According to eventual pro men's winner Tony DeBoom, the scene was "unbelievable." It was unbelievable enough that Ironman North America President Graham Fraser called off the swim shortly after the winds picked up--the first time an INA swim has been cancelled. Unfortunately, hundreds of swimmers thrashing through the waves had no way of knowing what was happening and continued to struggle onward--in whatever direction they were pointed.

Well over an hour after the canon had fired, all the swimmers were out of the water and accounted for, including Redondo Beach, Ca. resident John H. Boland. Early in the swim Boland, 53, was tragically discovered unconscious and not breathing; he was pronounced dead a short time later. The cause of death has not been determined.

With their Utah premiere plans in a heap, race organizers changed Ironman Utah to a 65-mile-bike and 13.1-mile-run duathlon. The 41 pros were restarted on the bike leg in 15 second intervals. The age groupers followed in 3 second intervals. All but about 100 of the original starters continued on, including eventual women's pro winner and Xterra veteran Jenny Tobin.

Amidst a mix of emotions from frustration to relief and grief to elation, this Ironman saw something else totally unexpected--no one finished after dark.

Ironman North America pulls the plug on Ironman Utah

Ironman North America President Graham Fraser announced August 31 that Coeur d'Alene, Idaho will replace Utah as an Ironman host. Utah will be the site of a half Ironman in 2003. The Coeur d'Alene race will be held in June, 2003.