Penticton the city is virtually synonymous with long distance racing, its roots beginning in 1983 as a result of visionary founder, Ron Zalko. The municipal government of Penticton and half-dozen local supporters were amenable to Zalko’s dream to host a long-distance swim, bike and run. The modest beginnings of this race saw twenty-three men and one woman enter the waters of Lake Okanagan on August 20, 1983 to compete in what was called the Ultra Triathlon. It was then that the 21-year-old relationship with the community, organizers and competitors was born.
The upstart race garnered international recognition in 1986 when it became Ironman Canada due to its association with the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. At that time, the race joined Ironman New Zealand and Japan as one of three qualifying events for Hawaii. The impact of the coveted championship entries was immediate. Entries have climbed yearly and the event attracted predominately international fields – Americans, Europeans and Japanese treated Ironman Canada as their own.
Until 1999 Ironman Canada was the only sanctioned Ironman race in North America. Ironman Canada remained in Penticton until 2012, at which time the race became Challenge Penticton.
Part of Penticton’s appeal as a race destination is the courses, which offers truly unique race experiences. The traditional single-loop swim and bike courses, along with the out-and-back run serves up a variety of sights and challenges. Those competing will be exposed to the pristine waters of Lake Okanogan, lush farmlands, bountiful orchards and vineyards, along with arid regions and mountain passes.
In the world of triathlon, Penticton and Ironman Canada are synonymous. During race week, banners and message boards welcoming triathletes to the city. It is all part of the pride and ownership the citizens present to the world at the end of every summer, just like they have done for the last 32 years.