King fire’s smoke causes Ironman triathlon to be canceled

The Ironman triathlon set to start Sunday morning in Lake Tahoe was canceled due to concerns about air quality generated by the nearby King fire, event organizers announced.

In a statement, organizers said they waited until the last minute hoping conditions would improve but were forced into the decision.

“For the well being of athletes, volunteers and spectators, county air-quality officials have recommended that the event be canceled,” the statement read, also stating that region’s air quality “is hazardous to outdoor activity.”

The course promised to be one of the most grueling in the world for the 3,000 athletes.

“With over 8,000 feet of climbing on the bike course, added to the normal challenges of 2.4-mile swim and marathon run, Ironman Lake Tahoe is arguably the world’s toughest course,” the competition’s website states, also citing challenges presented by the 6,000-foot elevation.

The Tahoe event was to have been the first triathlon for athlete Barrett Brandon of Fort Worth, Texas. He said some of the athletes, who put in hours of grueling training to prepare, were frustrated with the decision. And in fact, air at Kings Beach, where the race’s 2.4-mile swim would have taken place, seemed good enough to allow competition. But conditions deteriorated as the course approached Squaw Valley, providing support for the decision to cancel.

“It was absolutely the right call. It was beautiful yesterday, but the wind shifted,,” Brandon said. “It was a tough call but the right one.”

At the historic Squaw Valley ski resort, viability was about 100 yards, he said, obscuring the mountain from the resort buildings.

“It is bad. It smells and feels like your inside of a barbeque grill,” Brandon said. “As a professional athlete, I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision on my own. It could have been disastrous for people’s health.”

Public health officials concurred with Brandon’s assessment.

“As much as we were all looking forward to this event, I am confident that the cancellation was the right decision to protect the health of the athletes and the public,” said Dr. Robert Oldham, Placer County’s public health officer.

Tom Christofk, air pollution control officer for the county, which monitored air in the race area, concurred. “The data from this morning indicates unsafe levels of air quality to commence the event,” he said.

Carroll Wills, a race volunteer from Elk Grove, said he had a bad feeling about the race as he drove up.

“It felt healthy just walking around carrying things to the aid station. I couldn’t imagine athletes doing a triathlon,” he said. “You could feel it in your eyes. You could smell it. There was no wind, so it was just a big hanging layer.”