Last Friday, out of nowhere, I, along with the other registered athletes, received an email from the Ironman 70.3 National Harbor race organizers, informing us the triathlon had been canceled. And that was about it. No explanation why. No reasons given.
The inaugural Ironman 70.3 National Harbor Triathlon has been cancelled. Athletes registered for the event will receive a full refund of their entry and processing fees.
That was it.
As you'd expect, reactions on the race's official Facebook page ranged from confused to disappointed to furious. And it only got worse as no updates came, and the official site was pulled (it now redirects to this page).
DC Rainmaker offered an excellent and thorough (obviously) timeline of events, calling it "A lesson in how not to cancel a race." He wrote that as an Ironman branded event, the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) should have stepped up -- "That's just one of the reasons why people choose an M-Dot branded event over a non-branded event."
But a look at WTC's Twitter feed and it's clear they were not only not stepping up, but instead throwing all the responsibility back on the race organizers, Washington Sports Event Management (WESM).
hey @mikethreadgould we were just as surprised as you! Hope you'llcompete in another 70.3 u can contact firstname.lastname@example.org w/ anything else— Ironman Triathlon (@IronmanTri) May 8, 2012
hey @cousin_dany we apologize for the lack of communication WSEM canceled the event. Further questions can be directed to email@example.com— Ironman Triathlon (@IronmanTri) May 8, 2012
It should be noted that WESM has put on some very successful triathlons in DC, but this year they had to cancel the 5i50 series' DC Tri, a race they've held the past two years.
Well, finally, after almost a week, WESM responded, sending out an email and a message on Facebook, posted by race director Chuck Brodsky. And WESM completely throws the lack of communication back on the WTC.
The Ironman 70.3 National Harbor Triathlon was cancelled because not enough athletes were registered for the event.
Ironman asked us to stay silent, not post anything on social media and not send out any press releases so that the damage to Ironman's brand would be minimized. We were fools to agree and that was a big big mistake on our part.
We should have communicated immediately and told you the reason from the start. We were definitely wrong not to do so and apologize. The six figure financial loss from the event was more than we could manage.
It's worth mentioning that the text of the email reads slightly different, ending not with a mention of a "financial loss," but rather this: "We have nothing to hide from the truth and were just initially intimidated by Ironman's request."
So now it's apparently become WESM's word against WTC's word? And the reasoning that they had to pull the plug -- still three months out from race day -- because they couldn't get enough athletes (in the same town that hosts one of the largest triathlons in the country) sure seems suspect. But maybe I am just overvaluing the Ironman brand?
This was going to be my first-ever Ironman-branded event (my second half-Ironman distance race), and I'll fully admit that one of the main reasons I picked it was because of the branding (and that it was close to home). But maybe it just doesn't have the appeal that I -- and apparently, based on the lack of promotion, race organizers -- thought it did.
But even if the race was set to have a "financial loss," what about the triathletes? I'm fortunate that I live in DC, so a hotel and airfare wasn't a concern, but what about those out-of-towners who already had to buy their airline tickets?
I'll get my full entry fee refunded, so it's obviously not the end of the world, but I'm now left scrambling to find two new triathlons after both of the races I had registered for were canceled by WESM. And looking at the calendar, the chances of me finding another 70.3 race are looking pretty slim, leaving me with no really viable options, and a lot more questions than answers.