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The Ishigaki Triathlon is an important annual event on the international triathlon calendar which attracts top-class professional triathletes from all over the world. It is held in the Tonoshiro port area and takes place on a Sunday in April. 2013's event will be held on Sunday the 14th of April.
A City Transformed
During the period of the Triathlon the Tonoshiro port area is transformed as roads are blocked off in order to accommodate the athletes. Flags, stages and marquees are raised and media crews from Japan and further afield congregate to document the event.
The is one of the fews days of the year when the centre of Ishigaki truly comes to life. The atmosphere around the Tonoshiro port area buzzes as thousands of spectators line the streets to cheer on the athletes.
The voice of the live commentator can be clearly heard throughout the port area, and many foreign visitors will be pleased to learn that the commentary is in English rather than Japanese.
Local traders have also seized the commercial opportunity by setting up stalls on the roadside which offer a wide variety of food and beverages.
The 2009 Triathlon saw a change of route which involved runners and cyclists completing multiple laps of the Tonoshiro port area, which included crossing the southern gate bridge to the man-made island beyond.
The course redesign was a welcomed by spectators who were able to witness far more of the race, indeed, once the athletes had split into groups there were very few breaks in the action.
The traditional image of Japanese organization and efficiency differs to the reality of day-to-day life on Ishigaki island, which is considerably more relaxed and laid back than that of other cities in Japan. In fact, in all honestly I was quite surprised when I first learned that such an important international sporting event was held on the island.
However, on attending the event for the first time I realised that my surprise was clearly unfounded. The standard of organization is excellent with both city officials and volunteers chipping in to ensure that the athletes' requirements are fully catered for.
There is no short of English-speaking help either as foreign staff members are flown in from other cities in Japan to provide support. Indeed, the 2009 event proceeded smoothly and without interruption, with both athletes and spectators alike being delighted by the level of organization.
Where to train for the Ishigaki Triathlon
The most popular location is Maezato beach, which is located behind the ANA Intercontinental hotel on the east side of the city. It has a designated swimming area, some coin lockers, and showers which can be used free of charge (although the water is pretty cold). Another option is Fusaki beach, which is located on the south west coast of the island.
Riding outside the town center on Ishigaki's open roads is an absolute pleasure. On the whole road surfaces are of a very high quality, and the islands undulating terrain makes for pretty challenging riding at times. Speed limits on open roads are comparatively low (usually 40-50km/h), which means that riders don't have to deal with a constant stream of traffic screaming past them.
Head out of town on the 309 for a ride up the east coast (pretty hilly) or perhaps take a more gentle ride along the west coast via highway 79, which leads to Kabira bay. Note that if you head north out of town via the 209 you'll eventually reach the tunnel which passes through Mt. Omoto (lights advisable).
Open to All
Although the highlights of the day are the professional events in the afternoon, anybody can apply to compete in the amateur events which take place during the morning. There are two race formats:
Individual. Each participant completes all three stages of the race.
Relay. Teams of three compete with each participant completing a single stage of the race.
Despite the fact that the entrance fee isn't cheap there is no shortage of participants with many amateur athletes making the trip from mainland Japan to participate in the event.
For application details see the official Ishigaki Triathlon website.
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