KAILUA-KONA -- King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel on the Big Island
has been the headquarters of the Ironman Triathlon World
Championships since 1989, and the property is gearing up for this
year's competition, to be held Oct. 18.
About 1,500 athletes will swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run
26.2 miles in the 25th annual race.
Preparing meals for this group isn't easy, according to hotel
chef Michael Oldham.
He orders more than 20,000 pounds of food to feed athletes,
families and support crew. At the carbo-loading party alone, 600
pounds of tomato sauce and 300 pounds of noodles will be used in
The Kona Beach Hotel does more than serve approximately 15,000
meals during Ironman week. Its parking lot and tennis court areas
will become the new transition area for the swim-to-bike and
"This year's 25th anniversary race particularly is significant,
with as many as 50 different nations represented. Together with the
international media attention, it's expected to be greater than
ever," said Mark McGuffie, director of hotel operations.
"From a business perspective, I would estimate that Kailua-Kona
hotels can attribute a full 10% of the entire month's occupancy to
Ironman," he said. "It is an extremely important event for the Big
And for small businesses that depend on tourism, it can be a
lifesaving transfusion. Take the case of B&L Bike and Sports in
Kona. Owner Gerry Rott said the Ironman has helped her small
"It's half our gross for the year in one month," she said.
Even after 9/11, the Big Island was spared the drop in tourism
suffered on most other islands thanks to the Ironman, which drew
20,000 people in 2001 and generated $14.9 million in direct sales,
according to the state's Department of Business Economic
Development and Tourism.
The idea for the Ironman took shape over a few beers. In 1977,
Navy Cmdr. John Collins gathered with family and friends at an
awards party after the Oahu Perimeter Relay, a 112-mile running
relay race that travels around the island.
After the race, Collins debated with friends about which
athletes are most fit: swimmers, runners or cyclists.
Collins later announced he would organize a race that combined
the Waikiki roughwater swim, the around-the-island bike ride and
the Honolulu Marathon.
"Whoever finishes first," Michael Collins recalled his father as
saying, "we'll call him the Ironman."
Michael Collins, a teenager at the time, helped his father that
first year by coordinating the finish. It amounted to little more
than sitting in a car with a friend at Kapiolani Park late into the
night, waiting for people to cross the Honolulu Marathon finish
line. Twelve people finished.
The Ironman triathlon moved from Oahu to the Big Island in 1981
to alleviate traffic issues and enable the race to grow. And it
has. The finish line now is a 700-person operation (excluding a
medical staff of 150), with more than 7,000 volunteers for the
The television exposure alone is worth its weight in gold, said
B&L's Rott. "If [visitors] have seen [Ironman] on TV, they know
[the Kailua-Kona area] because of it," she said.
For more information on King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel, call
(800) 367-6060 or visit www.konabeachhotel.com. For more details on the
Ironman Triathlon, visit www.ironmanlive.com.
To contact reporter Katherine Nichols, send e-mail to [email protected].