Athletes to test city’s mettle

Lawrence a good fit, organizer says

Jon King, of Lawrence, shakes off the cold after he swam Sunday in Clinton Lake during a practice for the Ironman 70.3 Kansas.

Lawrence secured its coveted spot on the Ironman 70.3 circuit for a number of well-established reasons, said Steve Meckfessel, series director:

¢ A proven track record of accommodating large-scale athletic events, including the U.S. Collegiate Road Cycling Championships for the past three years.

¢ A location in the middle of the country, an area without another Ironman. “We do stuff on a global scale, and there was a void in the Midwest for one of our events.”

¢ Plenty of cultural diversity, established hospitality and other factors, including the presence of Kansas University.

And perhaps it didn’t hurt that Meckfessel already knew a thing or two about the River City.

“I’m a Missouri graduate – but don’t hold that against me,” said Meckfessel, a former student manager for the Tigers men’s basketball team. “I remember Lawrence from my travels at Mizzou. : When Norm Stewart was coach, I remember coming into Allen Fieldhouse and it was a great rivalry.”

Meckfessel won’t be able to make the June 15 competition at Clinton Lake, but he does intend to be back in the home of the Jayhawks for the 2009 event. Another event in 2010 would be the end of the three-year contract for Kansas, but he expects the pact to be extended well into the future.

“We’re not going to invest resources in something that in three years would go away,” he said.

Part of Lawrence’s attraction is organizers’ ability to put together a series of events that stretch beyond the main event: the June 15 Ironman 70.3, Meckfessel said. Among them:

¢ The Ironman Sports Expo, which runs from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 13 and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 14 in downtown Lawrence. Athletes and others connected with the event will be available to share their experiences, discuss the course and offer advice for experienced and aspiring triathletes alike. “You can talk to the pros,” said Ryan Robinson, event co-director. “These are not your typical professional athletes. : They’re all very approachable.” At least 15 vendors and sponsors also will show off their products and services.

¢ An evening concert June 13. Three bands, including Poi Dog Pondering, are scheduled to take an outdoor stage in downtown Lawrence, in conjunction with the Expo. Music is expected to start at 7 p.m.

¢ Rock Chalk Run, 5K and 10K races running north from downtown Lawrence, onto the Kansas River levee and back. As many as 600 runners and walkers are expected. The event benefits the Assists Foundation, an organization established by Bill Self, Kansas University men’s basketball coach, and his wife, Cindy, to help fund a variety of youth-oriented initiatives. And it will give people a chance to feel like they’ve hit the big-time. “It’ll be a grand-style, professional finish line,” Robinson said. “We can put on a first-class 5K and 10K race : and they’ll feel like they’re part of the Ironman event.”

While the Ironman 70.3 itself is the reason for coming to town, it just may be that the other events and offerings are the reason competitors may come back and convince others to come along.

Meckfessel counts on it.

“It’s those peripheral activities that really transform the race into an event and a destination for the athletes and their families,” he said.