Shelby Farms Park gives Memphis a chance to host IRONMAN triathlon

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Photo by Phillip Van Zandt, Memphis Travel

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — By mid-June, Memphis could be announced as host of the newest IRONMAN triathlon in 2020, and that’s something both city officials and Memphis-area athletes can get behind.

Memphis is one of four finalist cities for the event, along with Des Moines, Iowa; Fayetteville, Arkansas; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. If Memphis is chosen, the majority of the event would be in Shelby Farms Park.

“I have not seen anything like that in the U.S. as far as a park of that size and having those offerings.” —Beth Atnip, IRONMAN Vice President of Global Operations

The triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.22-mile run (a full marathon), in that order, would bring more than 2,500 athletes to the city to compete.

“The Memphis Sports Council is thrilled our destination is among the finalists to host IRONMAN in 2020,” said Malvin Gipson, Executive Director of the Memphis Sports Council, a division of Memphis Tourism. “Memphis is not only the home of blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll, it is also home to a variety of outdoor assets that combine with our world class leisure visitor offerings to create the ideal fit for participants and their traveling cheer sections.”

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Officials from IRONMAN visited the Park, along with areas in the other three cities where the event could be hosted, to see which site best suits the event’s needs. They said they were “blown away” by Memphis’ capabilities to host the event.

“The park has easy access for spectators and participants, the right body of water for swimming, several family amenities, and it also lends itself to bringing in food trucks for a wide variety of options for family and friends,”said Beth Atnip, IRONMAN vice president of Global Operations. “I have not seen anything like that in the U.S. as far as a park of that size and having those offerings.”

Atnip said the host city decision should be made the week of June 10.

Shelby Farms Park officials said they’re optimistic that IRONMAN will think the Park is well-suited to host the event.

“Having an IRONMAN triathlon in Memphis at Shelby Farms Park is a dream,” said Jen Andrews, CEO of Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. “Memphis and Shelby Farms Park have so much to offer participants and spectators, and it’s special to see that recognized by an an organization like IRONMAN. We know we’ve got what it takes to pull off an incredible event experience, and we hope they see it, too.”

Not only would the triathlon showcase the Park to tourists and athletes, but it would also have a huge economic impact on the entire city. More than 2,500 flooding the city would bring extra revenue to businesses like hotels and restaurants.

“I’m all for it,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said. “It’s a great way to showcase Memphis and Shelby Farms Park at a family-friendly competition that brings in people from all over the country. On top of the economic impact, I think it’s something Memphians will really enjoy watching and participating in as well.”

While athletes from everywhere would flock to Memphis to compete, some of those potential athletes already live in the area, like Micah Branch, a coach and trainer who lives in Olive Branch, Mississippi.

Branch said he hasn’t competed in a full IRONMAN triathlon before, but with the prospects of Memphis hosting one in 2020, he’s already began training so he can be in the best shape possible to compete. He said it’s something athletes in Memphis need.

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“Where we sit with athletics in the country, people look at us as a basketball city, but there’s actually a lot of athletes that participate in races across the city — 5Ks, 10Ks, marathons, half-marathons,” Branch said. “The St. Jude Marathon … is a huge event. People come from across the world for that.”

He also said Shelby Farms Park is an excellent place for the event if it came to Memphis and hopes IRONMAN thinks the same thing.

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