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Ironman World Championship, 2011
8 October 2011

Swimmers Crowd Ocean
The annual Ironman World Championship Triathlon took place this Saturday here in Kona.  It is an all day event.  There are a couple thousand participants that swim, bike and run a total of 140.6 miles.

Pretty much all of downtown is closed for the entire day as well as the main road between Kona and Hawi.  A couple weeks before the event the "Caution: Athletes in Training" signs go up along all the roads.  Even without the signs, it is obvious that there are far more bicycles and joggers than usual.

Burgers Many locals are less than fond of the Ironman.  It causes a huge influx of people with the corresponding increase in traffic.  The restaurants, stores and beaches are all extra crowded too.  Up here on the farm it is stays nice and peaceful so we don't have any complaints.

Our annual tradition is to get Burger King for dinner and eat our french fries as we sit on the curb and watch the athletes run past.  Being near the end of the race, the athletes have been going for about 12 hours at that point.

This year we saw Tara, the woman from TV's "The Biggest Loser."  It was around 5:30 p.m. and she had just starting the running portion with over 20 miles to go.  She was moving at a decent pace though and ended up finishing the entire triathlon in just under fourteen hours.  That's pretty darned good, especially considering that she used to weigh nearly 300 pounds.

Bicycles Road

I witnessed some other Ironman drama this year, though less inspirational.  I had gone down early to watch the start of the race.  That is the most crowded time of the entire day.  Not only are there huge crowds of spectators, all those spectators soon become trapped.

With all of the roads closed, everyone is forced to park way up the hill and walk down to the waterfront to see the race.  After the swim portion is the bike portion.  That means that all those spectators are now down at the water and can't get back to their cars without crossing the road which is filled with a couple thousand athletes racing by on their bicycles.

Athletes racing by on bicycles, mixed with confused tourists pushing strollers, is not a great combination.  In my opinion, the event organizers should be required to install more barricades and make some Officer kind of designated crossing zone with signs and crossing guards.  As it is, I'm surprised there aren't more collisions and injuries.

I didn't see any collisions this year but I did see several shouting matches.  One of the worse offenders was a police officer.  He was standing in the middle of the road, yelling indiscriminately whenever people tried to cross.  He didn't signal to stop the crowds before they crossed, or offer a place or time where they could cross safely, instead he'd wait until people were half way across the road then yell things like "Stop right there!", "Get out of the road!", "Read the signs!", "Are you deaf?!", "Do you speak English?!"

Yes, he was actually yelling at people that they should speak English.  Keep in mind that this is the "Ironman World Championship" so there are athletes and spectators from all over the world.  It was obvious that this young officers wasn't as angry about people in the road as he was upset that not everyone was listening to him and respecting his authority.

Messages I went up to this angry young officer and asked him what he was yelling about.  He then proceeded to yell something about needing to read the signs.  When I asked what signs, he yelled that I needed to read the signs and listen to what he was saying.  I calmly asked again what signs until he admitted that there weren't any signs.  Then I asked how people were supposed to know where they could cross the road safely.  That just made him angrier so he ignored me and started yelling at others instead.  I took his picture.

I understand that people should have avoided crossing the road during the race.  It's too bad the race organizers don't have a better solution.  It's not like this is a new race, it's been held here in Kona since the 1980's.  When several thousand spectators are trapped behind the road for several hours, people will inevitably try to cross it.  Most of the police and volunteers do a much better job of handling the crowds.  Someone needs to explain to this inexperienced young officer that yelling "Do you speak English?!" is not an effective way to keep people safe.

That was my Ironman drama for the year.  The crowds will slowly thin out over the next week then we will be back to our normal levels of tourism.  Overall, I enjoy the event and don't mind the crowds because they often buy Kona coffee.  After all, Kona coffee does make an excellent gift.


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