From Online to Starting Line
The Internet has changed how races are run and who runs in them.
An entry to the Keauhou-Kona Triathlon has long been one of the hottest tickets in the local multisport world. The half Ironman race (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13-mile run) is the only remaining event in the state in which competitors can qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona—the Super Bowl of the sport. It is also one of only four half-Ironman qualifiers in the world.
In August of last year, Keauhou officials began offering online registration on Active.com, which, according to the company’s Web site, is the industry’s largest and most comprehensive site for participatory sports. At no charge to race organizers, Active.com posts races on its Web site, passing on a small processing fee to the registrant. By November, the Keauhou-Kona Triathlon, with a $105 entry fee, was sold out with 750 athletes, the most ever in the race’s history. According to race officials, they received enough applications to field a race of more than 1,500 athletes. The Keauhou-Kona Triathlon is the most extreme example of how the Internet is changing how races are run in Hawaii and who runs in them. According to Ross Wilson, Jr., spokesperson for the race, the Keauhou triathlon is one of the first events of its kind to go completely online and the move has changed the face of the race. In the past, Keauhou was largely an island event, dominated by Big Island athletes. When it became the only Ironman qualifier in the islands, it was transformed into a statewide race. However, suddenly after going electronic, it is now a global affair. According to Wilson, 15 percent of this year’s field was foreign, while only about 40 percent were state residents and nearly 45 percent were from the mainland. “If you are a race promoter, this is the only way to go,” says Wilson. “It increases the level of competition, it adds a lot more flavor to the race and it also is a big boost to the economy.” Not to mention that the Internet is also making the business of running a race a whole lot easier. According to Joe Ackles, Keauhou’s race director, going online has saved him about 100 hours of sorting through paperwork, and, even more impressive, he believes it has saved his registration director approximately 250-350 hours of work. Team Unlimited, a local sports marketing firm, has had a similar Internet success. After posting its Xterra series of races (an off-road version of the triathlon) on the Internet last year, the response was surprising and immediate. “We started to get responses almost as soon as we posted it,” says Janet Clark, Team Unlimited vice president. According to Clark, approximately two-thirds of the participants in 1999’s entered electronically, and she expects that ratio to go even higher in 2000 to maybe 70 percent. She also expects that online registration will boost overall entries to the Xterra series from 3,000 in 1999 to 5,000 this year. The state’s largest race in town, the nearly 30,000-runner strong Honolulu Marathon, isn’t about to be left in the back of the pack. Late last summer, the race began offering online registration on its Web site to its non-Japanese entrants and the results have been encouraging. (Japanese runners are required to submit hard copy registrations in Japan.) Approximately 900 people entered via the Internet, about 65 percent of entrants. “We are still in the early stages so it is a smaller portion of our overall entries, but we fully expect that it will grow significantly very soon,” says Dr. Jim Barahal, president of the Honolulu Marathon. “We offered online registration earlier this summer so we are expecting electronic entries to be double or triple of what it was last year.” But cyberspace isn’t for everyone it seems. This year, Oahu’s Tinman Triathlon also went online via Active.com for the first time and the results were less than stellar. Race officials received a total of five online applications—one from Switzerland, two from the mainland and two from Hawaii. “The two local entrants kind of surprised us,” says race director Faye Saiki. “There’s a small service fee when you register online so doing it via computer is more expensive. “I don’t see it (online registration) playing a big part in our future because the vast majority of our athletes are locals,” continues Saiki. “However, we thought we should give it a try. The Internet is something you just can’t ignore.”