When half is the right amount

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Ironman Coeur d’Alene has been racing against an opponent it can’t beat.

Lethargy.

The Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce and World Triathlon Corporation announced that the full 140.6-mile race will be discontinued here after this year. It’s scheduled for Aug. 27.

The half-triathlon — 70.3 miles of swimming, biking and running — will continue through 2020, according to the new contract. That race is June 25.

This is a good move for all concerned. While World Triathlon Corp. used the announcement to advertise this year’s full race and blame its departure on challenges cited by athletes, the press release included two sentences that were on point:

The new agreement is aimed at cutting down on event fatigue and will ease the strain on the recruitment and steep number of volunteers needed for multiple events. Under the agreement, interruption to businesses in the downtown core will be greatly diminished, while the intangible, healthy lifestyle and cultural benefits of the relationship to an IRONMAN are kept intact.

Last year’s advent of the half-triathlon was an obvious success. Scores more locals participated in that race, and the crowds were boisterous. But when the full meal deal was served, the table was nearly empty. Where downtown streets typically have been packed, sometimes several people deep, there were big gaps of empty concrete. The joyful cowbell crescendo had left town.

So part of the new reality is that “event fatigue” referenced in the press release. Coeur d’Alene has hosted 14 Ironman events dating back to 2003, and clearly, putting up two races each summer didn’t double anybody’s pleasure. It diminished the product overall and cast a brighter light on whether the pros still outweighed the cons.

Economic studies have shown Ironman’s direct impact on the area as somewhere in the $7.5 million range, a questionable figure when you consider that minus Ironman, many of the hotel rooms and seats in restaurants would be occupied by someone else. It’s not like Coeur d’Alene’s summertime tourist cupboards were bare before Ironman arrived.

It’s also notable that this is a highly subsidized event for a Chinese company that’s all about making a profit. Thousands of local volunteers replace what would otherwise be an expensive workforce that could have a powerful economic impact, not to mention the fact that the chamber pays a substantial sponsorship fee for the privilege of keeping our area on the Ironman map.

One of the hopes in bringing Ironman to Coeur d’Alene years ago was that it would become an employment driver, enticing successful business owners and executives to move their enterprises here once they discovered the many benefits our region has to offer. That has not proved to be the case on any significant level.

Ironman has its ardent supporters, primarily participants and volunteers, and its detractors, who find it an inconvenience if not a business hindrance. For now, anyway, the half-triathlon establishes a middle ground that perhaps everyone can live with.

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