- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) - One of southern Utah’s signature sporting events is staying put through at least 2020.

Local officials finalized agreements last week to extend their contract to host the Ironman North American Pro Championship half-marathon for the next five years.

The Ironman 70.3 St. George has provided a major economic boost to southern Utah since it moved here in 2010, drawing 2,800 athletes and about 7,700 total visitors last year.

The 70.3-mile race, set this year for May 2, features a swim course at Sand Hollow Reservoir, a bike course around Washington County and a run to the finish line in downtown St. George.

The St. George City Council on Thursday approved an interlocal agreement with Washington County to have the race pass through its city. Washington city also needs to sign off on the event, but officials there have already informally agreed.

The city of St. George has agreed to direct $25,000 in cash and in-kind services toward the event, which tourism officials say pumped $5.5 million into the economy last year and has helped the region market outdoor recreation and tourism.

“Hotels, restaurants and shops all benefit when thousands of visitors from all over the world show up on our doorstep,” said Roxie Sherwin, marketing director at the St. George Tourism Office.

Having the Ironman each year has helped attract new visitors and inspired locals to get more active, said Ryan Duckworth, president of the Southern Utah Triathlon Club.

“I think the athletes are excited that an Ironman-branded event is going to stay in our area,” he told the Spectrum newspaper of St. George (https://bit.ly/1D2o6Lp ). “We’re glad that Ironman is interested in staying and that the city has been working with them to make it work.”

Ironman was a full-length triathlon when it first came to St. George five years ago, but was cut to the half-length version in 2012 after it developed a reputation as one of the most grueling races in the country because of the region’s steep terrain and early date in the triathlon season.

But with the shorter distance and a new designation as the national championship at the 70.3-mile distance, the event has seen a major increase in participation and become more accessible to part-time athletes.

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Information from: The Spectrum, https://www.thespectrum.com

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