Are some Ironman Athletes behaving badly in Kona?

Every year thousands of Triathletes and their supporters visit the picturesque island of Hawaii for the Ironman World championships.

From a PR point of view, playing host to a high profile event such as Ironman Kona is any tourist boards dream. Kona and the island of Hawaii are both showcased by photographers and journalist and then beamed around the world for potential visitors to see. Local businesses benefit from a massive influx of revenue as Ironman athletes and supporters spend their money in Konas restaurants, hotels and stores. In short, the event is a gold mine for the local economy.

A few days ago we received an email from some members of the Kona community, highlighting their concerns about some “Ironman athletes behaving badly” in Kona. But what are their concerns?

In a nutshell there are two main issues which are stepping on local toes, ie. Road Safety & Rude Athletes. It seems that while in town, a certain contingent of competitors have been continually breaking speed limits, running stop signs and ignoring the traffic laws. For locals that can be a headache”I almost was hit in the middle of the crosswalk last year as 4 men came through town not even slowing down.” said one local. Others might say that this is just something which goes with hosting such a big Triathlon, but for the people who live in Kona it makes a difference.

The attitude of some of the Ironman athletes during the race also seems to be alienating the local community, many of whom volunteer their time and energy in order to marshall at the race. It’s understandable that this would get on peoples nerves. Giving up your free time to help out in a race is a generous thing to do and receiving abuse or being treated rudely will obviously make you think twice about doing it again. One local spoke up about his frustrations : “A gent that was helping me clear my property last year said he and the two real estate agents he worked for were not going to be volunteers for the Ironman event this year, because they were treated so rudely the last couple of years.” 

But what does this mean? Cyclists break lights and some competitors are rude at all events. It’s not acceptable behaviour but it’s the minority who are usually to blame. Are some locals in Kona just getting tired of having such a large event in their town?

The reality of the situation is that whenever you get thousands of people suddenly descending on any location, there are going to be issues. The disparity between the visitors mentality and the locals priorities enevitably leads to friction. The vast majority of Ironman athletes are well behaved and experience a warm and supportive welcome from their Kona hosts. Likewise the community of Kona is pleased to host the Ironman event and to reap the benefits which go with that responsibility.

Some Triathletes may feel that it’s no big deal if some cyclists break the lights, but when you have thousands in town every year for 30 years, the locals do care. Likewise some athletes may not be too bothered about people being rude to marshals, but again.. the local really do. It’s these small differences of opinion that can dictate whether any event is a race which the local community want to support or not.

So back to the email. Are Ironman athletes behaving badly in Kona?

Overall I think the answer’s no, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few bad apples who are making Kona residents feel a different way.

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Let us know your thoughts below!

Safe training!



7 responses to “Are some Ironman Athletes behaving badly in Kona?”

  1. Kimberly Grogan says:

    I was in Kona this year for my 2nd time racing and I noticed the change in locals attitudes from 5 years ago. It is probably many things combined that cause the attitude, but from the way I see it, a big corporation comes in, demands space, volunteers, etc to make millions and a handful of people of the island make a few thousands bucks for their frustration and time. I wouldn’t volunteer at an aid station for $500 for my charity, works out to be about $1 per person per hour or less! The aid stations were not very well run this year and I don’t blame the people, I blame WTC. What other world championship gets volunteers to be their workers?

  2. John S. Rabi says:

    I have lived in Kona for 21 years and I sure have seen the Ironman grow. Of course, change always comes with growth, and the week of the Ironman has really became a stress on the local community. After being an enthusiastic road side cheerer for the first few years, I became a proud volunteer. However, once the novelty wore off I became more and more aware of the misbehaving of the race participants and the drawbacks of the race. I live two miles from the finish line, but I could still clearly hear the “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” yellings until midnight ! We eventually got to the point that we hate the race and the week leading up to it. It eventually got to the point that we, including most of our friends, migrate to the East side of the island for a long weekend during the Ironman. This way we only have to deal with the triathletes for four bad days, Monday through Thursday.

  3. Christine S. says:

    I have lived in Kona for only two years and I have already come to dread that time of year. I don’t think that the athletes should be allowed to ride their bikes in the downtown area of Kona, along Alii Drive, at all. They weave in and out of cars on BOTH sides of the road, disobey traffic laws, and basically act like they own the road down there. I was very cautious when passing them and gave them as much room as I could, but I just don’t see why they need to ride on Alii. I understand a lot of them stay in the hotels and condos there, but I think they should have to dismount from their bikes and walk them up to other streets that don’t have as much pedestrian traffic and other locals that are trying to get home and to work.

  4. Yvonne Taylor says:

    This was my first Ironman as a resident of Kona (not an athlete!). My son and I volunteered at an aid station and we had the time of our life! To see the capabilities of the human body were awe inspiring. From my house I could hear “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” later that night and every time I cheered because each shout represented someone’s dream being achieved. Yes, there were some egotistical athletes, but the gratious ones way outnumbered them. Yes, we need the athletes to be respectful visitors but we, residents, also need to appreciate the large amount of money and publicity that the race brings to our little town. Residents need to pick which battles are the most important to fight and forget about the other ones. What we don’t want is the race going somwhere else.

    Perhaps in 20 years, I’ll feel differently, but I don’t think so! Embrace the good in everything!

  5. Kellie says:

    Aloha,

    I would also like to say I love the Ironman event, but I would like to remind those who are coming from other countries – that it is customary in the United States to tip your servers for their service. 15%-20% depending on the type of service that is being rendered. We work hard – just like you work hard and we rely on tips to live. I understand that in some countries it is not customary to tip, but here it what we pay are bills with as we make minimum wage – and in some states less than minimum wage.

    So if you didn’t realize this – hopefully next year you will come to Kona and be more generous.

    Mahalo.

  6. I’ve lived in Kona for the last 25 years and as Yvonne said, “Perhaps in 20 years I’ll feel differently.” I suspect you will. As was stated by the author, it’s a small minority that don’t show respect for the community, our laws and our service people. Unfortunately, those are the ones that remain forever imbedded in our memories. As to the “You are an Ironman,” so what, one night a year is no big deal and it means a lot to the people making it to the finish line. It’s no different than fireworks on New Years or the 4th of July.

    In the past, participants had their race numbers on their bikes a week or so before the race. There was a ‘hotline’ number advertised that we could call in on to report an athlete’s number that was breaking the law. The athletes knew they could be identified and I think they were more careful because of that; they could actually be disqualified from the race for multiple infringements. I looked this year but wasn’t able to see the race number nor was I aware of a phone number to call or email address if I wanted to report bad behavior.

    The athletes and WTC have to remember that for the majority of Kona’s population, the Ironman is nothing more than congestion in an already congested town. Many residents, while this is a vacation destination, don’t really care whether more people know about Kona or not; we’re here because it is, “a sleepy drinking village with a fishing problem.” For the residents, we need to remember the aloha that drew us here. Whether we like or benefit from the event, it is important to some of us and it is most definitely important to the athletes. It offers them a unique environment in which to challenge themselves. So, a little give and take from both sides, like in most things in life, may lessen the challenges for both parties. Remember, ” . . . this too shall pass.” Congratulations to all the competitors and congratulations to Kona for being such a great place to live (and visit). Aloha

  7. Michael Ristow says:

    One of the best parts of the Kona Ironman for us locals is when the athletes go home.

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