Six Luxembourgers and a Luxembourg resident competed at the 2017 Ironman World Championship. Why is the discipline so popular in the grand duchy?
Last October, Luxembourg lawyer Tania Hoffmann was sitting on a Hawaiian beach. But the three-week vacation was not quite the relaxing holiday one might imagine.
She was one of six Luxembourgers, plus a Dutch resident, who flew to Kona to compete in the Ironman World Championship. Ironman races involve a 3.86km swim, a 180.25km bicycle ride and finish with a marathon, all done without breaks. For Hoffmann, an Ironman athlete since 2011, it was her first time competing in the holy grail of races. And the achievement was all the more impressive given the financial and training constraints Ironman athletes face.
Hoffmann trains between 15 and 20 hours per week, depending on her race schedule. Assuming that athletes qualify for Hawaii in their age category by competing in other Ironman races, they must pay their entry fee, flight and accommodation.
All in, Hoffmann said the race set her back €4,500, a bill which is not subsidised except for elite (professional) athletes, who are few and far between. With that in mind, how is it that such a huge contingent from Luxembourg was able to compete?
“It’s quite astonishing the number of competitors from our federation competing at world level,” president of Luxembourg’s triathlon federation Christian Krombach explained, adding: “I calculated the number of athletes per capita and came to the conclusion that we had the highest of any country.”
Krombach is a triathlon veteran with 28 years’ experience and three Ironman world championships under his belt. He suggests the rise in participation in Kona is connected to Luxembourg’s high standard of living and love of travel.
Ironman also has an established place in Luxembourg. “We’ve people like Dirk Bockel who have been to Kona and represented Luxembourg a few times,” said Krombach. Another factor is the introduction of the Remich Ironman 70.3 in 2012.
“It’s a bit similar to the ING marathon in that it brings new blood and gives visibility to the sport in Luxembourg,” Krombach observed.
This and a growing number of other distance triathlons being organised in Luxembourg have helped swell the number of triathletes within the federation to 600, of which around 150 are thought to train and compete in Ironman.
However, he says the real number of people practising Ironman is likely to be twice this because not all competing athletes are club members. Krombach cites the last Remich 70.3 where around a third of competitors were not club members.
While the appeal of the sport continues to grow slowly in Luxembourg, it appears to be failing to win over one particular group--women. Hoffmann explained that it is a global phenomenon that women make up less than a third of Ironman participants and this despite the fact that prize values are the same for both men and women. “Perhaps the reason is that men are generally more competitive,” she said. “Another reason is that women receive less consideration in sports events. There is still much discrimination in sport.”