This past Tuesday, an arsonist ignited fires in Lake Tahoe, endangering lives of brave firefighters and residents across the region. Over the next few days, the fires would spread and on early Saturday evening, the night before the Ironman Lake Tahoe, smoke filled the air across the region. The Ironman, which was set to go off at 6:30 AM, was canceled only a few minutes before the start of the race. Ironman had called for swimmers to report to the water and it was in the water, moments later, where we were informed that the race was canceled. Triathletes who came from 49 states and 65 countries would not be able to compete that day. And it was the absolute right call. The smoke’s spread had made the event dangerous to human health.
But while this was the right call, the call should have been made on Saturday night so that Placer County health officials could have been focused on what really mattered — fighting fires and saving lives rather than devoting their limited resources to the race. Ironman also dropped the ball with respect to their communications. Not once in the days prior to the race did they directly communicate with the event’s participants about the smoke. So when Ironman did inform the racers at the very last moment when we were all pumped and ready to go, it came as a shock. But it shouldn’t have. Ironman was aware of the developing smoke across Tahoe since Tuesday and made several comments to the local press. But Ironman athletes shouldn’t be expected to read the local press. Ironman had a responsibility to update their athletes directly via email, text, or Twitter. Their only direct communication about the race was to state that it was canceled.
The Ironman is a boon to Lake Tahoe’s economy. It certainly has the appearance that the Ironman organization was primarily concerned with participants — and their families and friends — potentially leaving Tahoe early or canceling their trip outright, thereby hurting local hotels, restaurants, and businesses. It’s unsettling that most of the communication to the press by “Ironman Lake Tahoe organizers” in the days leading up to the race was handled by the Chief Marketing Officer of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, and not the Ironman organization itself.