Born in Freiburg, Germany, Oliver Schiek has been organizing major endurance events around the world for around 25 years - first in cycling, such as the Cyclassics in Hamburg or the Deutschland Tour, and today at the Ironman Group, for which he is responsible for all triathlon events in the DACH region. He himself finished his last Ironman in 1997. So the 53-year-old knows the reward for suffering and will be rooting for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships on August 26 and 27, 2023, in Lahti, Finland. For "Challenges of a CEO," Schiek talks about the power, potential and prospects of the Ironman brand and the tragedy at the Ironman in Hamburg.
As Regional Director, I am responsible for all of our Ironman events in the DACH region - Germany, Austria, Switzerland. I also oversee individual other Ironman licenses, including Poland, Croatia and Egypt. In addition to my work at Ironman, I am still working on behalf of the IOC for the Olympic Broadcast Service at the Olympic Games as a production manager. Since London 2012, I have supported TV broadcasting for the triathlon competitions and marathon swimming.
A special feature of the Ironman is that the professionals start in the same race, on the same course and under the same conditions as the "Weekend Warrior". You can meet a Jan Frodeno, a Patrick Lange or an Anne Haug on the course. In which other sport do you have that? Some finish after eight hours, others after 16. 2,000 to 2,500 people together on the course and all fighting out their private happiness. That's what makes it for me, and for us amateur athletes that's a great feeling.
Triathlon is a complex sport with a wide variety of characteristics. Everyone can set their own goals, whether top athlete or "best-ager", whether Ironman competition or short distance. You can start small, then go on to a 70.3, and maybe at some point the Ironman distance is the ultimate challenge. The great thing is that even without a club, you can just start and gradually improve.
People seek and need physical challenges in life. The triathlon is perfect for that. I can do this sport not only in my mid to late 20s, but also in my 60s. Our athletes are people who incorporate training into their daily lives and need the support of their families. These people manage to get themselves from a reasonably athletic fitness level to an Ironman-capable condition. That really means a lot of suffering. I have the greatest respect for that. Many athletes who finish their race after ten or eleven hours let out all their emotions at the finish line, just like I used to do. They are happy and forget everything that pushed them to their limits beforehand. Those are the most beautiful moments. When I see that, I have permanent goose bumps and that gives me strength for the following weeks.
Our motto is "Anything is possible." That's exactly what the Ironman brand stands for. Someone who can't imagine cycling 100 kilometres today can do it without performing any miracles. Even an Ironman in Hawaii is achievable at some point. These are then "life changing moments". Sure, it won't happen overnight, but it's not impossible, and we're laying the groundwork for it with our series.
Ironman is, of course, closely tied to the myth of Hawaii. This longing event swims along with everything. Hawaii has defined the long distance. It's our world championship and there's the opportunity to qualify every year - and without being or becoming a pro. That's already super special and distinguishes the Ironman brand.
Triathlon World Records
Ironman men: Magnus Ditlev (DNK) 7:24:40 hours, set at Challenge Roth in 2023.
Ironman women: Daniele Ryf (SUI) 8:08:21 hours, set at Challenge Roth in 2023.
Ironman 70.3 men: Marten Van Riel (BEL) 3:26.06 hours, set up 2022 in Dubai.
Ironman 70.3 Women: Laura Philipp (GER) 3:53:03 hours, set up 2022 in Dubai.
A limiting element in the organization of triathlon competitions is the issue of space - for the course, the transition zones, the supply, etc.. That's why we already implemented a split between both genders in 2022 at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, with two competition days on Thursday and Saturday. This is important to us, especially with regard to the development of the Women's World Championship. Unfortunately, however, two days in Hawaii are no longer feasible. That's why the 2023 Men's World Championships will be held in Nice on September 10, while the Women's World Championships will be held in Kona, Hawaii, on October 14, as usual. In 2024, the men and women will swap venues.
Kona is a very good venue because you only have one transition area. That's great for the spectators and also makes it easier for us. But you don't always have such conditions. In Frankfurt, for example, it would be great to be able to swim in the Main River to have only one transition area. Since that is currently not possible, we swim in the Langener Waldsee and use a second transition zone in the city centre. That makes the organization more complicated and costly.
Corona has put a strain on us as a society, but it has also put a strain on us as an event industry and sports people, economically and sociologically. As an Ironman Group, we're still not 100 percent back. Even 2022 was not a normal year. Certain things have improved, though. For example, we worked hard on our digital performance. And since club sports were not possible, many people started running or cycling during Corona. Triathlon also benefited from this. At the same time, two winters with closed indoor pools didn't help swimming performance.
Triathlon competitions and distances
- 3.862 km swimming
- 180,246 km cycling
- 42.195 km run
- 1.9 km swim
- 90 km cycling
- 21.1 km run
The name is derived from the sum of the individual distances in miles.
- 1,5 km swimming
- 40 km cycling
- 10 km running
In total, the distance is 51.50 kilometres, from which the name of the competition series is derived.
- up to 0,75 km swimming
- up to 20 km cycling
- up to 5 km running
- 0,2-0,3 km swimming
- 5-8 km cycling
- 1,2-2,0 km running
The events in Hamburg were terrible and hit my team and me hard. (Editor's note: A camera motorcycle collided with an amateur triathlete on the bike course in early June 2023. The 70-year-old motorcyclist succumbed to his injuries at the scene of the accident). How this could have happened is now part of a prosecutorial investigation, which we support 100 percent. The fact is that the motorcycle did not belong there, as it was on the opposite lane. In everything we do as organizers, we always put safety first. We did that before Hamburg and also afterwards. Immediately after the tragic incident, we adjusted the use of escort vehicles and established almost excessively strict rules for the so-called pro bubble. For example, we extremely limited the number of escort motorcycles. External accredited photographers on motorcycles no longer have access to the pro field. This has already been implemented at the Ironman in Frankfurt and will continue to be done.
Of course we want to make our events better, safer and more attractive. We're not working on new triathlon formats at the moment - enhancing the athlete experience is already enough of a task - but beyond the triathlon competitions, we have a number of well-known ultra-trail running and cycling events up our sleeve that we want to expand further. For example, for mountain bikers there is the MTB Epic Series where you can qualify for the Cape Epic highlight in South Africa. This event usually sells out extremely quickly and qualifying is a great way to get a starting place.
Trail running is also an extreme growth segment, which is also due to the trend of getting away from the crowded streets and out of the cities back into nature. Since 2022, we have been cooperating with the UTMB, i.e. the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, and in the next five to ten years we want to use it to create a brand that is as well-known worldwide as Ironman is. The series is also designed as a qualifier, the finale of the series is the competition on the Mont Blanc massif, the mecca of ultra trail running. This is relatively new in our country, but very popular among athletes and growing rapidly.
History of the Ironman
In the mid-1970s, a triathlon was held for the first time in San Diego, California - in reverse order over 6 miles (about 10 km) of running, 5 miles (about 8 km) of biking and 500 yards (about 0.5 km) of swimming. Among the 46 participants at the time were Navy officer John Collins, later stationed in Hawaii, and his wife Judy, who were among the founding members of the first Hawaii Ironman Triathlon in 1978. Ironman Hawaii is not only the official world championship over the triathlon long distance, but is also considered one of the greatest sporting challenges in the endurance field.