Herculean effort may win Ironman

Kelowna mayor, Walter Gray, feels the Ironman Triathlon is too important to leave the Okanagan.

He feels so strongly in fact he was willing to skip the Union of BC Municipalities convention in Victoria this week in order to personally present Kelowna's bid to host the Canadian Ironman Championship to the powers that be in Tampa, Fla.

City Manager Ron Mattiussi, Recreational and Cultural Services Director, Jim Gabriel and Jim Bates, the first race director of the Apple Triathlon all accompanied Gray to the World Triathlon Corporation headquarters in Tampa.

"We know in our heart of hearts that Kelowna is where it should be. We feel a lot is riding on it," says Gray.

"The city manager and City Council made the decision that this cannot leave the Okanagan - this is too important."

The race became available when Penticton decided, after 30 years, to drop the Ironman race in favour of a different triathlon model.

The WTO which owns the rights to the Canadian Ironman Championship event asked for interested communities to put in a bid.

Kelowna, Vernon, Kamloops, Whistler, Victoria, Cranbrook and Calgary have all bid on the event.

"We rolled up our sleeves, frankly working night, day and weekends to get our application together and then said 'hey guys,' if you are going to be a salesperson why would you make a phone call, why not deliver it in person."

The Kelowna delegation did that on Tuesday.

Gray says they were surprised Kelowna wanted to come down in person as opposed to sending it electronically and believes they were impressed with what they saw.

"You do get a read when you are are face to face. They were very close to the chest, very professional. They don't necessarily want Kelowna to have an advantage over everybody else," added Gray.

"But I have to believe they were impressed because we know it was an incredible bid. Just the pictures of the Okanagan and the aerials of City Park which would actually be the start and finishing point for this huge event."

He says the WTO does want to hold the event on the same weekend as it was held traditionally in Penticton, the week before the Labour Day long weekend and the week after the Kelowna Apple Traithlon.

Gray adds that Kelowna would not entertain holding the Ironman if it harmed in any way the Apple Triathlon.

"The marching order from City Council when we decided to pull out all the stops on the Ironman was this could in no way negatively impact on the Apple," says Gray.

"We would renew our focus on the whole opportunities of triathlons and help them if they wish us to to rise to new levels."

In fact, the mayor believes holding the two races a week apart with additional community celebrations and events in between would only strengthen the Apple Triathlon.

He also believes a new volunteer initiative devised during airport layovers to and from Tampa will assist not only triathlons but all other community events as well.

"Whether we win or lose the bid we are already on a path to come up with a strategy to help all major events to create a larger (volunteer) pool," adds Gray.

"We are going to come up with a focus on recruiting, rewarding and retaining volunteers for major events. We are already on that path - we are already working that. We are really serious about that."

Gray says the volunteer focus could help the Apple Triathlon become even greater than it has for the first 30 years.

As for skipping the UBCM in favour of the Tampa trip, Gray says he believes he did the right thing.

"UBCM was going to involve four members of City Council anyway. I would have been the fifth out of nine. The call was to deal with the biggest business of the day which was our application for Ironman."

The bids are supposed to be shortlisted soon with a final decision expected October 10.


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