Ironman Louisville participants react after swim portion of triathlon canceled due to algae

Ironman Louisville participants react after swim portion of triathlon canceled due to algae
Elevated levels of harmful algae bloom in the Ohio River has forced organizers to cancel the swim portion of the 2019 Louisville Ironman Triathlon. (Source: Jeff Knight, WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - There’s a change in the water for Ironman Louisville this weekend.

The annual race will not include the swim portion, a shock for many athletes in town to compete from all around the world. That decision was made Friday morning following days of testing to monitor harmful algal blooms in the Ohio River.

In a statement, Ironman officials said, “Following the result of tests that were performed this week, IRONMAN and local city officials have determined that in the interest of athlete safety, it is necessary to cancel the swim portion of the 2019 IRONMAN Louisville triathlon presented by Norton Sports Health. While we understand the inconvenience this may cause our athletes, athlete safety is always our first priority when hosting one of our world-class events.”

Athletes here are feeling frustrated and understandably so. Over 2,300 athletes are in town from 29 countries to compete and call themselves Ironman. Many say it doesn’t feel like the real race without the swim.

Damp, soggy, prune-fingered athletes are turning up at Ironman Village. Some are frustrated but not by the rain. Instead, it’s the cancellation of the swim portion of Ironman that has them feeling down.

"Total bummer, I'm a strong swimmer," said Joe Lopez, from Lansing, MI, who is here to run his third Ironman.

“Disappointed,” said Miguel Ramos, who has competed in eight Ironman competitions.

"That's my little glimmer of hope out of all three events and now it's gone. But it's okay, we'll adjust," said Jocelyn Nokes, here from New Hampshire to compete in her first full-length Ironman with her husband Frank Reinhold.

The veteran husband and wife team have been training for months.

“It’s a life goal to do a full Ironman before I turn 50 so that’s creeping up really quick here,” Nokes said.

With their service dogs Belle and Sammy nearby as the pair register, Reinhold said the dogs have been with them for their training often watching them on the treadmill or bike. This time, the dogs will be on the sidelines for the race, ready to greet them when they’re finally finished. It’s a long time to spend without their constant companions.

"Yeah, for the whole day, for 14, 15 hours it's going to be a little different. But we'll be alright," Reinhold said.

This year, the Ironman will be cut short because of harmful algal blooms in the Ohio River. Ironman officials said experts have been monitoring the water conditions carefully all week but even with Friday’s rain, the water is still considered unsafe.

"When they say there's potential to athletes being in the water swimming, we have to take that seriously," said Keats McGonigal, Senior Regional Director for Ironman.

The decision isn’t one taken lightly by officials or by the athletes here to compete. Still, it’s not dampening spirits.

"But safety first. I'd rather have them cancel the swim than me get sick," Lopez said.

“You know, it’s a little bit disappointing because obviously, you’ve trained for this for months and months. And then, to hear you’re not doing the full Ironman, it’s a little disappointing. I mean, obviously there’s nothing you can do based on the conditions of the water. Just got to roll with the punches and take it as it is,” said Heather Glynn, here to compete from Chicago.

"You know, it's tough to take, it's tough to hear but we'll move on. I'll definitely hit another one. But you know what Sunday I'm going to do is hit 112 and run a marathon," said Luis Cervantes, here to compete from the Quad Cities.

And for many, the end of this shortened race will mean starting over with training all over again once the race is finished.

"At this point, since we haven't actually done a full Ironman, you kind of have to come back and do it," Reinhold said.

Because athletes won’t be starting in the water this year, they’ll be starting on their bikes timed out to begin two at a time starting at 8:30 on Sunday, Keats said.

Athletes will also still be able to compete for the world championships based on their time.

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