Celebration: „30 Years of Triathlon in Roth"
The first “Franconian Triathlon” in Roth on September 22, 1984 (organized by the TSV Roth sports club under the responsibility of Detlef Kühnel) took the “triathlon virus” from Hawaii directly to Franconia, and it was the beginning of an unparalleled European success story. Three decades later, the whole county of Roth and DATEV Challenge Roth are going to celebrate the anniversary under the motto “30 Years of Triathlon in Roth” – featuring what is probably the best field of participants of all times and a surrounding program with lots of highlights.
Nobody could have predicted it on that Saturday, September 22, 1984. The air temperature was 18 degrees Celsius and the water temperature in the Canal 16.5 degrees Celsius, when 82 men and one woman started their competition, supported by approximately one hundred volunteers and curiously watched by some hundred spectators. The participants had to do a 700 meters’ swim, 40 kilometers’ bike race, and a 10 kilometers’ run, and in less than two hours the winner crossed the finish-line: Franz Michels from Nuremberg won the competition in 01:59:42 hours, followed by Robert Sperlich (02:04:36 hours) and Jochen Lux (02:04:55 hours). The only women who took part in the competition, Maureeen Farley from the US, finished in 02:20:44 hours – which would have been place 36 in the overall ranking.
Three decades full of action and emotions followed, and the “triathlon virus” spread around the world – just like in the county of Roth, which turned more and more into a region of triathlon enthusiasts. As early as 1985, the first Bavarian Championship took place in Roth, and in 1986 Detlef Kühnel was asked to organize the German Championship. Finally, in 1988 the first Ironman race was held in Roth with the current distances and 706 participants, 587 of whom reached the finish-line. Axel Koenders (NL) and Rita Keitmann (GER) were the first Ironman winners in Roth.
In the following years, not only the numbers of participants increased considerably, the competition times also became faster and faster. Especially female athletes (Thea Sybesma and Paula Newby Fraser twice) established new world-records. Finally, in 1996 Lothar Leder was the first male athlete in the world to finish the race in less than eight hours. However, his world record of 7:57:02 hours – which was a sensation at that time – was only valid for one year. In 1997 Luc van Lierde from Belgium beat him by six and a half minutes, and his new world record of 7:50:27 hours existed as many as 14 years.
Furious re-start in 2002
As you may recall, the Roth organizers discontinued their co-operation with the Ironman brand in 2001. At that time, the WTC President made inacceptable organizational and financial demands, so that Detlef Kühnel cancelled the agreement with WTC in spring 2001. But the iconic triathlon event in Roth did by no means collapse after the end of the Ironman era, quite to the contrary: Thanks to the support of forward-looking sponsors, in particular Quelle and Post AG, and the commitment of new partners from the Nuremberg region (N-ERGIE, Sparkasse Mittelfranken-Süd) the “Quelle Challenge Roth” event started under the new direction of Herbert Walchshöfer in 2002, driven by the spectators’ unbelievable enthusiasm.
After some difficulties in the first year, Herbert Walchshöfer and his team were lucky in 2003: The famous heart-stopping finish of Lothar Leder and Chris McCormack gave Quelle Challenge Roth the required media attention. By 2004, Quelle Challenge Roth had established itself - and was able to refer to itself as “the world’s biggest long-distance triathlon” for the first time, the interest in the new triathlon format increased considerably.
In those years, top athletes like Nicole and Lothar Leder, Chris McCormack and Belinda Granger from Australia, and many more had excellent victories and achieved world-record times. But not only the athletes, also the spectators, and above all the unbelievably strong support from the citizens of the county of Roth turned Quelle Challenge Roth into a myth within only a few years.
The man who had seen many big winners come and go in Roth, and who had led the Challenge brand to world-wide recognition, crossed his very personal finish-line in 2007: Herbert Walchshöfer died of a serious disease on October 25. Triathletes from all over the world grieved for him. His son Felix succeeded him in organizing the event. Actively supported by his mother Alice, he was able to continue his father’s well-planned work, and the Challenge label has lived on in Herbert Walchshöfer’s spirit.
In the following years, new world records, especially in the women’s competition, continued to cause excitement, and the Quelle Challenge Roth event was now booked up within a short time every year. Yvonne van Vlerken beat the old world record in 2008, but was already outplayed in the following year by Chrissie Wellington, who should dominate the women’s competition for three years to come. In 2011, Challenge Roth saw a world sensation – and nothing like that had ever happened in triathlon before: Andreas Raelert and again Chrissie Wellington established a double world record (which is still valid today).
In 2012 Challenge Roth for the first time hosted the Official ETU European Long-Distance Triathlon Championship – and indeed was a worthy host to this honorable event. After two years without a title sponsor (as Quelle had discontinued the partnership due to its insolvency) the “best old race” was proud to enter into a new co-operation in 2013 with DATEV, a well-renowned software company from Nuremberg. In the meantime, the triathlon of hearts in Roth had also become the parent event of the Challenge Family, which comprises as many as 28 competitions around the world. Under the new name of DATEV Challenge Roth, and together with the new sponsor, the Challenge organizers’ aim has been to shape an excellent future for triathlon in the spirit of the famous Challenge values.
30 years after the first “Franconian Triathlon”, everything is well in place in Roth. Each cog turns perfectly within the wheelwork of the family-run business of Alice, Felix and Kathrin Walchshöfer, and they are enthusiastically supported by a whole county, the race managers, the media and business partners as well as 5,700 volunteers. This is what the “fascination of triathlon” in Roth is all about. There is no triathlon event around the world that is more popular than DATEV Challenge Roth – the event is always booked up, and has received numerous prizes and awards. And there is no triathlon in the world you can tell so many stories about.