PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP)-- What started out with less than 100 racers in 1983 and went on to become one of the premiere half iron-distance events in the country is now starting a new chapter.
The Gulf Coast Triathlon, which at its peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s featured a field of more than 1500 athletes, has been sold to Ironman. The race, which will still take place Mother's Day weekend, will now be known as Ironman 70.3 Gulf Coast.
“Panama City Beach has been a home to IRONMAN for 18 years, and each year it is an unforgettable experience for athletes from around the world,” said Jeff Edwards, Vice President of Operations for IRONMAN. “We are pleased to add such a well-regarded event in a location that we are very familiar with to our spring calendar, as we continue to offer athletes an opportunity to race in a beachside setting with a welcoming community.”
“The Gulf Coast Triathlon Foundation Board of Directors would like to thank all the people and organizations who have supported the Gulf Coast Triathlon for the last 34 years. Their involvement has allowed to us to put on a stellar long-course triathlon all these years and give back to the community where we live and operate,” said Dave Garret, Gulf Coast Triathlon Foundation Chairman. “To ensure the continued presence of our triathlon, the Board felt the time was right to bring in an organization with the larger resources needed to operate in the competitive sports world that exists today. Our hope is that the people and organizations that supported us will now put their efforts in the new IRONMAN 70.3 Gulf Coast triathlon event. We look forward to seeing the continued benefits of this event for many years to come."
The new race will still be the same format and distance as the old race, featuring a 1.2 mile swim in the Gulf of Mexico, a 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run. It will start and end at Edgewater Beach Resort, which has served as home base for the race the last two years.
“Panama City Beach looks forward to welcoming competitors from around the globe to compete in the IRONMAN 70.3 Gulf Coast triathlon,” says Richard Sanders, VP of Sports and Events for Visit Panama City Beach. “Having IRONMAN united with an event and a course known for beautiful beaches, personal records, and good weather, is a perfect opportunity for athletes and their families to have a real fun race.”
The biggest change for the new race will be the availability of "slots" in other Ironman races. In the past, the Gulf Coast Triathlon served as a qualifying race for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. The top finishers at GCT would qualify for Kona. But those slots went away in the early 2000s. That caused the GCT to morph from a race featuring athletes from all around the world to a race featuring mostly regional athletes.
The new IRONMAN 70.3 Gulf Coast will offer 50 slots to the 2017 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship taking place on September 9 and 10, 2017 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Those slots will likely increase athlete numbers which had fallen off in recent years. In 2016, just 333 athletes took part in the race. That's down from the race's peak of over 1600 racers in 2002 and 2003.
General registration for IRONMAN 70.3 Gulf Coast will open November 9, 2016 at 11 am CST at www.ironman.com/gulfcoast70.3.