New Zealand’s largest triathlon festival, Challenge Wanaka, is poised to enter a new era with the event’s organisers focused on ‘building the half distance triathlon and new aquabike races into world-class international events.’
The decision to cut the elite field from the full 226 kilometre event in February to focus on the 113 kilometre race in 2018 reportedly ‘proved very successful, attracting the strongest field ever seen in New Zealand for a half distance event that included multiple world champion Javier Gomez.’
The 2019 Challenge Wanaka Triathlon Festival will take place on Saturday 16 February.
“The Challenge Wanaka Half has grown over the eight years it has been running to become our main event that this year saw the best field of professional athletes ever assembled for a middle distance race in New Zealand,” Race Director Bill Roxburgh said. “So we want to put our time and energy into the Challenge Wanaka Half and Aqua Bike to make them internationally recognised events with a real focus on the age group athletes, giving them the best quality time possible while they are in Wanaka.”
This means the full long distance event will be cut from the Challenge Wanaka programme which as well as allowing organisers to focus on building the half, aqua and youth events will mean less impact on the town’s infrastructure with road closures ending earlier.
Although some of the best in the world have competed in the full distance race, including multiple world champion Chris McCormack (AUS) and former world record holder, Yvonne Van Vlerken (NED), age group athletes were harder to attract in large numbers to ‘the world’s most scenic triathlon’.
The Challenge Wanaka Half has also been the New Zealand Middle Distance National Triathlon Championships twice and the Challenge Wanaka Aquabike event was also a National Championships event this year, giving eligible competitors the opportunity to qualify for a spot in both events at the ITU World Championships.
The Challenge Wanaka organising team is working with Triathlon New Zealand to repeat its national championship status, while alternating with races in the North Island.
The triathlon festival in Wanaka also features Puzzling World Junior Challenge Wanaka, which features 1,000 budding triathletes aged from five to 12, and the Mitre 10 Secondary Schools event.
Challenge Wanaka is internationally recognised as ‘the world’s most scenic triathlon’ and injects NZ$4 million into the local economy while profiling Wanaka throughout New Zealand and overseas. Its impact on the local community was recognised when it won the Ignite People’s Choice award at the Wanaka Business awards last year.
Bill Roxburgh said numbers at Wanaka in the full long distance event have been following a worldwide trend of decline over the past two years which has meant the organisers felt they could not give competitors, especially those finishing later, the experience they deserve.
“The decision to pull the full distance event was not made easily by the trustees,” Roxburgh said. “Most have competed in the event themselves, but they know for the continued growth of our Junior Challenge, Secondary schools, Challenge Wanaka Half and Aquabike events that we need to focus on running those events to a world-class level.”
“We rely heavily on volunteers and the time involved to run the full distance event is a huge ask for a small community like Wanaka, which has a permanent population of approximately 6,000. Shorter time frames will mean we can put all our effort and energy into making the whole festival an amazing experience not just for the competitors, but for those working on the event and for the local community as well; it will be amazing, it’s definitely an exciting new era for the event.”
The first Challenge Wanaka was held in 2007. The event is New Zealand’s largest long distance triathlon festival, involving more than 2,600 people and worth NZ$4 million to the local economy. The event is part of the global Challenge Family series of triathlons founded by the Walchshöfer family in Roth, Germany.
Challenge Wanaka is run by the Challenge Wanaka Sports Trust, a charitable trust run by volunteer trustees. Challenge Wanaka was named the world’s most scenic race at the 2015 Triathlete’s Choice Awards in the US.