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Ironman Races from 1978 to 2013

The post looks at Ironman Races from 1978 to 2023. How did the series grow from its humble beginnings in 1978 to more than 40 full-distance events under the Ironman label? All in all, I could identify 67 different Ironman races across the globe in these years – some of them no longer being held in recent years. As usual, my specific focus is on Professional racing. Up until 2014, Ironman races always had a Pro category (as noted below with one exception), in recent years more and more events are held as an agegroup-only event.


Here’s a graphical overview of the Ironman history, showing the number of races and their geographical distribution (click for a hi-res file):

All IM Events

Main developments:

  1. In the early years, Hawaii was the only Ironman event. After Honolulu from 1978 to 1980 the location was moved to Kona on Big Island.
  2. The first international events added were New Zealand (Auckland) and Japan (both 1985) followed by Canada (Penticton) in 1986. After that it was Europe (Roth) and Australia (Foster) in 1988. Lanzarote (added in 1992) is the oldest event that is still held in its original location.
  3. The next expansions started around 2000: Switzerland in 1997, followed by Austria and Brasil in 1998. Lake Placid and Florida in 1999 were the first US additions. In 2000 and 2002, four new events per year were added.
  4. The expansion of the race continued at a steady but more leisurely pace in the 2000s. WTC also started to eliminate non-Ironman-branded events as Kona qualifiers, such as Wildflower, St. Anthony’s or Chicago.
  5. In 2008, WTC (owner of the Ironman brand) was sold to Private Equity, and they started to take over licensed events and to run them on their own rather than licensing the Ironman brand to other organizers. They also added more races: Five new events in 2012 and a record six new events in 2014. With 35 Pro races, 2014 also had the largest number of Pro events on the full distance – “Peak Pro Ironman”. 2014 was also the year with the most Pros, 662 athletes finished a professional ironman, compared to 519 in 2006 and 489 in 2023.
  6. Starting with the 2015 season, not all Ironman events also offered a Pro category. Before that, AG-only events were very rare (the only one I was able to confirm was IM Malaysia 2010, the other “grey blip” in the graph above from 2005 to 2007 was from single-gender Pro races). In 2015 there were  nine AG-only events and ten in 2016, almost all of them in North America. (That number went up to 15 AG-only events in 2023.) Ironman also re-introduced “single-gender Pro” races and rolled this out to more events, in many years there are three or four “race pairs”. (Each single-gender event counts as half a Pro event and half an AG event in the totals.)
  7. The total number of Ironman events stayed almost the same between 2015 and 2019 but each year there were typically three new races – and three events that were discontinued.
  8. With Covid, there was of course a huge reduction of racing and Pro racing in 2020 (only 3 events) and in 2021.
  9. The number of events increased after Covid, but a growing number AG-only races and single-gender Pro events led to a reduction of Pro Ironman races: From 35 Pro events in 2014 the number went down to only 21 races in 2023.

Which changes in Ironman racing are we going to see in the next years? Which impact is the new Ironman Pro Series going to have?

I also expect another major change in Pro racing: The current qualifying system for the World Championships started as “only Ironman champions will race in Kona”, now races have up to six Pro qualifying slots! I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ironman Pro Series as the main way to qualify for Kona. There might be some additional Pro races, but likely with a smaller prize purse. What will a reduced number of Pro events mean for the overall number of Ironman races?

North America

Here’s a more detailed look at the North American races in 2005, 2013 and 2023, clearly showing an “inverted V” (first an up, then a down) of Pro racing in North America:

Event 2005 2014 2023
IM Hawaii X X W
IM Texas X X
IM Coeur d’Alene M X X
IM Lake Placid W X X
IM Mont Tremblant X W
IM Canada X X
IM Wisconsin X X
IM Boulder X
IM Chattanooga X
IM Louisville X
IM Cozumel X X
IM Los Cabos X
IM Arizona X X
IM Florida X X X
IM Maryland X
Total 6 14 7

For 2023, you might add IM Canada which was planned in Penticton but had to be canceled a few days before the race because of wildfires.


Here’s a similar table for European Pro races:

Event 2005 2014 2023
IM Lanzarote X X X
IM Austria X X X
IM Germany X X W
IM France X X M+M
IM Switzerland X X M
IM Sweden X W
IM Wales X W
IM Copenhagen X
IM Mallorca X
IM Barcelona X
IM Hamburg M
IM Vitoria W
IM Italy M
IM Portugal X
Total 6 11 7,5

Even though single-gender races started in North America, in 2023 there were a lot more in Europe. With Nice, they even had a location that had two men’s races in the same year: First, IM France as a qualifying race for MPRO, then the men’s World Championships in September.

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