Challenge overtakes Ironman in Roth

Challenge overtakes Ironman in Roth
The brand celebrates 15 years

The world’s largest long distance triathlon, DATEV Challenge Roth will celebrate its 15th birthday in July with 3,400 individuals and 650 teams from over 70 nations, a top pro field and 260,000 spectators. Triathlon has been in Roth for over three decades with the first race in 1984 and has grown into a legend of the sport. Challenge Roth’s 15th anniversary marks a new era for the race with its time under the Challenge banner superseding its time with Ironman (14 years).  Since it was founded in 2002 by Herbert Walchshöfer, Challenge Roth has become one of sport’s success stories. But in true Franconian style, its beginnings were much more modest.

The history is well-known. After 14 Ironman years, the event reached a major turning point in 2001. The then president of WTC requested unacceptable financial and organisational requirements from race organiser, Detlef Kühnel, unreasonably compromising his entrepreneurial freedom. For Kühnel it was an easy decision: he terminated the contract and returned the label of Ironman voluntarily. And with his successor, Herbert Walchshöfer, came a fresh ‘challenge’ in 2002. Thanks to a title sponsor coming on board quickly (supported by Deutsche Post, N-ERGY and Sparkasse Mittelfranken-Süd) 2002 marked the first year of the race under a new, independent quality brand in the German triathlon stronghold – Quelle Challenge Roth.

The podium of the Challenge premiere in 2002. From left to right: Mika Luoto, Cameron Brown, winner Lothar Leder, Thomas Hellriegel and Andreas Niedrig.

There is no doubt the Challenge premiere was a success on 14 July 2002 (Lothar Leder managed the hat-trick with a winning time of 8:17:25), but in this first year, the economics of Herbert and Alice Walchshöfer’s company were far from being home and dry. Together with a few part-time employees the organisation’s office was based in the basement of the family home. Along with the cramped conditions, the Walchshöfer’s also had to contend with an uncertain financial situation as it was not yet clear if the athletes would remain faithful to the race under the new brand. It was a huge relief when at Christmas 2001, 25 registrations arrived in the mailbox in a single day (this was the time of paper entry forms) – the best Christmas present for the Walchshöfer family. Ultimately there were 1,340 individual athletes and 520 teams who competed in the premiere of Challenge Roth. A good start, but not enough.

From the outset, the business community and politicians of the Roth district were supportive of the family, along with the 3,000 volunteers. Following the motto “Now more than ever!” they worked enthusiastically to help the new brand to long-term success. There are now more than 6,000 volunteers, unique in the world of triathlon, and they are the heart and soul of the event.

The turning point came with the second Challenge Roth in 2003 with the heart-stopping battle between Lothar Leder and Chris McCormack. In the final 200m, the race was decided in an incredible sprint finish with Leder taking the win three seconds ahead of his rival. The following media coverage helped Challenge enormously, the number of participants increased rapidly in subsequent years and soon Quelle Challenge Roth could be called the “largest long distance triathlon in the world”.

The famous heart-stopping battle between Lothar Leder and Chris McCormack in 2003.

A tragic setback was the death of Challenge founder Herbert Walchshöfer in October 2007. His son, Felix, had to change his own career path and took over the organisation of the now legendary race together with his mother Alice. A few years later, his sister Kathrin also joined the company. To this day, TEAMCHALLENGE remains a family business, owned 100% by the Walchshöfers.

There was no waiting for continued success. The event sold out every year within seconds, and Roth held all the cards for world-famous athletes to break records. In 2011, the official ETU European Championships were held in Roth for the first time. The illustrious triathlon festival ended in fitting style with a double world record by Andreas Raelert (7:41:33) and Chrissie Wellington (8:18:13) something that had never happened before on the triathlon world circuit. Once again, Roth wrote triathlon history.

The world record by Andreas Raelert (7:41:33) in 2011 is still valid, but now Jan Frodeno has the intention of destroying it.

It ‘rained’ prizes and awards. Since 2011, Challenge Roth has, to date, been awarded “Best Race of the Year” at the Triathlon Awards five times in a row. In 2015, an incredible 43% of the vote went to Roth, a huge margin ahead of the world’s other triathlon events (Ironman Hawaii 16%, Ironman Frankfurt 13%).

DATEV Challenge Roth will celebrate its 15th birthday on 17 July 2016 with the best triathletes in the world, including 2008 Olympic champion and current Hawaii winner, Jan Frodeno. The world champion announced his Roth debut with the intention of destroying the world record set by Raelert. The eyes of the triathlon world will once again be on Roth, along with athletes and spectators from all over the world. For the Walchshöfer family, for the race staff, the triathlon-mad region and the volunteers, the fact the triathlon world champion has deliberately chosen DATEV Challenge Roth over Ironman Frankfurt is confirmation of the consistent investment in service and quality of the race.

Challenge Roth does not celebrate itself on its 15th anniversary but rather the athletes and the fans. In addition to the biggest birthday present, the announcement of ‘Frodo’, there were several other benefits introduced such as the start place waiting list and a special registration process for local athletes. At the race itself athletes can look forward to a high quality backpack, elaborately designed medals and top-end finisher shirts. For all Challenge fans there’s a new stylish new collection of merchandise available. Title sponsor DATEV, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary, will provide all spectators with DATEV green caps. With several additional hotspots, viewers can experience the famous Challenge feeling live. In Triathlon Park 15 steles will be reminiscent of the previous Challenge highlights. And last but not least, the finish line party with a new and improved fireworks display for an emotional finale to the 15th birthday celebrations.



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