Augustans hope race stays put

Athletes cheered Sunday in the Savannah River before starting the swim portion of the ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta. The event also includes biking and running.

ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta will continue in 2011 in the final year of its three-year contract with the city. If race officials have their way, though, the event will become a long-term tradition in the Garden City.

"I have every reason to believe the race is going to continue here for a long time," said race organizer Bill Burke, who said he believes the contract will be extended for five to seven years. "We have every intention of continuing a relationship with the city."

For Augusta, the grueling endurance event is second to just the Masters Tournament in economic impact. Burke said 3,300 people entered the 70.3 competition in 2009; the number climbed to 3,450 this year. For the inaugural event, the economic impact ranged from $4.7 million to $5.2 million, Burke said.

The Ironman 70.3 Augusta has established itself as the largest half-Ironman in the world. After two years, Burke said, there are no negatives. The lone item that Ironman officials will want with the contract extension, he said, is support, especially financial, from the city.

"With this doing well, I'm sure they don't want to lose that," Burke said. He added that Ironman officials want to keep Augusta on the triathlon schedule.

Augusta Sports Council Executive Director Tammy Stout said her group wants to hammer out an extension with Ironman within the next 60 days. She cited the city's affordability, its 800 volunteers and the full management team that is in place as reasons for the success. Location has been a key factor, too.

"I think Augusta, geographically, is located perfectly in the Southeast," Stout said.

Inspired by volunteering at the 2009 Ironman, Frank Gibbs Jr., the president of the Augusta Sports Council, decided to participate in his first half-Ironman this year. Gibbs, who finished in 7:32:36, said he is unsure about competing again next year.

"I have a greater appreciation for what these guys do," he said.

Jonathan Lucenay, of Cumming, Ga., enjoys the location. Lucenay, who competed in Ironman 70.3 Augusta for the second year, said the triathlon community in Atlanta loves this event. He cited the race's volunteers and its organization as reasons to continue coming back.

"It'll be a mainstay on my calendar for years unless I have another commitment," Lucenay said.

Katie Pugh, of Hiram, Ga., competed for the first time. She said she enjoyed the race course and the surroundings.

"The fact that the city gets into (it)," Pugh said, "is hands-down awesome."

More online

SLIDESHOW: Watch video and see a slideshow from the ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta at augustachronicle.com.

RESULTS: See the list of competitors' times at augustachronicle.com.

SPOTTED: See more than 470 photos from Sunday's competition at spotted.augusta.com.