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Provo's first Ironman may have been its last

PROVO — When Ironman officials visited Provo in the spring of 2001, they said holding the swim portion of the triathlon at Utah Lake did not concern them, in spite of the lake's shallow depth.

They could never have predicted that one year later a freak windstorm blowing at 50 mph would whip across the shallow lake on the day of the race, causing ocean-like swells that resulted in the drowning death of a 53-year-old California man.

The negative press generated by the June 8 tragedy has caused Ironman officials to reconsider their commitment to hold the swim-bike-run event here over the next five years.

Provo's first Ironman triathlon may end up being its last.

Registration for the 2003 Utah Ironman has stopped, and The Spokesman Review, a Spokane, Wash., newspaper, recently reported that Coeur d'Alene, Idaho will host the regional triathlon next year instead of Provo.

"They jumped the gun big time in reporting that. At this point nothing is for sure," said Ironman communications director Shane Facteau. "I can't say why we would leave."

Utah County has a year-to-year renewable contract to run the event until 2006, but County Commissioner Gary Herbert said Ironman may not renew its contract for next year's race.

Herbert hopes the event stays because it brought an estimated $3 million into the county over a weeklong period. Herbert calls the drowning an aberration and says there are other sites that can host the swim portion, such as Deer Creek Reservoir.

"At this point it's only speculation, but obviously the negative publicity about the drowning has given them some concern," Herbert said. "We hope to convince them to stay, but if we can't, I will be the first one to pat them on the back as they leave."

Herbert said he hopes to meet with Ironman North America president Graham Fraser before a decision is made on where the event will be held the next five years. Ironman officials say a decision will be made by next week.

The triathlon includes a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run. This year's swim leg was cancelled after several athletes had to be pulled from the water, including John Boland, who was later pronounced dead.

State Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who pulled Boland from the water, has said Ironman officials were negligent in not cancelling the race before it started because high winds were forecast days before the event. He said Utah Lake is notorious as "a killer lake."