EXCITEMENT is mounting in East Cork ahead of Ironman 2022 with thousands of athletes and spectators set to descend on Youghal for the three-day event from August 12 to 14.
The town last welcomed Ironman competitors in 2019 when it hosted a full Ironman.
That one-day event generated an estimated €6.5 million for the local economy and John Wallnutt, Race Director for Ironman Ireland said this year’s event could generate double that figure.
In fact, he said the event is set be the largest triathlon event to take place in Ireland, in terms of the volume of entries, with in the region of 10,000 people competitors and spectators expected to attend each day on Saturday and Sunday alone.
The event kicks off on Friday, August 12, with Ironkids, a run-only event, which will see 1,500 children and young people run multiple distances.
2,100 athletes will take part in Ironman 70.3 Ireland from 6am on the Saturday morning who will complete a 1,900 metre swim, followed by a 90km cycle and a 21.1 km run.
On Sunday, 2,400 athletes are poised to take part in the full Ironman event completing a 3.8km swim, a 180km bike course and finishing with a 42.2km run.
Ger Flanagan, chairman of Youghal Business Alliance, who also runs Flanagan Print and Boardwalk Coffee in the town, said that while the event is still almost two weeks away, the town is already welcoming many athletes preparing to take part in the event.
“There are people coming to train all year round now in Youghal and certainly this week,” he said.
“I have come across people who are staying in different locations across East Cork in different hotels. They might come for a couple of days training [ahead of the event], but then what is happening in a lot of cases is they might book their annual holidays in East Cork and they could spend the week here,” he said.
Mr Flanagan said that the increased tourism and visits to the town is bringing a “huge boost” to local businesses.
“First of all, you have the week of Ironman itself. You have all the extra people for the dining and all the other activities. Obviously, there’s this shopping boom, there’s fuel outlets. Everybody’s going to benefit.
“But you also then have the rest of the year where people are coming, and you’ll see maybe six or eight cyclists from a triathlon club somewhere or you might see one or two people on their own....It’s constant and everybody benefits from it” he said.
“2019 kind of whetted our appetite for what it was. I think a lot of businesses didn’t realise how big it was going to be. It was a huge boost to the town, not only the week of the Ironman, but it’s a 12 month boost for Youghal from a tourism point of view really,” he added.
A number of traffic restrictions will be in place during the event, with the town largely pedestrianised over the course of the weekend.
Mr Flanagan said that while businesses will need to organise logistics around these closures, he feels that the pedestrianisation of the town will be positive for businesses.
“The organisation is very good and there will be park and ride systems in place. People will be dropped into the town and to be able to stroll around and there will be a great atmosphere,” he said.
There were some initial concerns about a lack of availability of beds for competitors and spectators taking part in the event, but Mr Flanagan said that this situation had not come to pass and there is now a surplus of available accommodation in the area.
Members of the community were invited to make rooms available for athletes and spectators, with many answering the call.
Local independent Cllr Mary Linehan Foley said that it was great to see the response to the accommodation concerns from the local community.
“The community came out fighting. They’ve offered their accommodation, their rooms, their beds,” she said
Ms Linehan Foley said that there has been a great atmosphere in the seaside town ahead of the event.
“We’re all getting excited. I was talking to a few business people on the street yesterday, and the flags are going up, the t-shirts are coming in, the buildup is starting now. I always think the buildups to everything are always so exciting,” she said.
The town has also been decorated with plenty of flowers and the local community is keen to ensure Youghal is put firmly on the map for visitors.
“The town is in bloom basically. And we are awaiting the arrival of the athletes.
“Everything is in place now, Cork County Council, with the Ironman Committee, are working hard.
“People from Youghal and East Cork and all over, and all the small villages, they are all so, so looking forward to this. And this is going to be so good to put us on the map and show the world the beautiful area that we’re living in,” she added.
A spokesperson for Cork County Council said the local authority was proud to be host sponsors for the event and that Youghal is now establishing itself as “Triathlon Capital of Ireland”.
“Cork County will feature centre stage at one of the most prestigious sporting competitions in the world and with the medieval town of Youghal at the heart of the action, we are sure that Ironman Cork is set to be hugely successful,” they said.
Behind the scenes, teams from Ironman are making final preparations for the event.
“We have a huge amount of planning drawn at this stage, still a bit to do, with a lot of documentation,” explained John Wallnutt.
Teams from Ironman will be descending on Cork from August 8 to begin the formal set-up for the events.
“At this point, it’s just waiting to get on site to start to build the course, the transitions and the infrastructure that goes in this. We have probably somewhere in the region of eight trucks then that will come with equipment... It’s a massive, massive, massive infrastructure that goes in. It takes us three or four days to get it all built,” he explained.
Among the key infrastructures that will be put in place for the event is a field hospital which will be able to accommodate 24 people at any one time in beds.
In the region of 800 volunteers have offered support for the event from a wide range of local clubs, with Ironman providing donations to the clubs for this.
“We have a huge amount of volunteers waiting to go when we hit race week,” said Mr Wallnutt.
“I’ve raced in a lot of events, I’ve worked on a lot of events and there are very few venues like Youghal in the sense of the buy in from the local community and this is what makes life a little bit easier for us as organisers because the community support is amazing,” he added.
Mr Wallnutt also had high praise for the support from Cork County Council, which is sponsoring the event, and for local gardaí who have worked with them on the plans.
A number of green initiatives are being put in place at this year’s event- plastic cups are being replaced with paper cups, any leftover t-shirts or bags will be shredded and re-used and leftover medals will be melted back down to create new medals.
John Wallnutt said they are also hoping to turn Windmill Hill green, albeit in a different way, during the event.
“We hope this [Windmill Hill] will be a hotspot for spectators.
“We really want to see it thronged with people. We’re not going to barrier the side of the road.
“We’re going to let people get close to competitors for the majority of the hill- cheering them on and helping them up the hill.
“In 2019 when it rained a fair bit, the support in that area was phenomenal. And that was on a wet day.
“Using the green theme we’re trying to push Windmill Hill as [a place] to come in your greens... to make it a green corridor and really impress visitors to the area,” he added.