Flags were flying high on Alii Drive Tuesday afternoon as athletes from around the globe came out for the Ironman Parade of Nations in some wet weather.
The triathletes’ annual trek down the storied stretch of road, which is the official signal that race day is near, featured the singing of songs, dancing, costumed creatures and cowbells — lots of cowbells.
“It makes you proud to be from your country,” said Helen Richards, who marched with Great Britain in the parade and is racing in Kona for the first time. “The crowd cheers you on as you go and it makes you want to wave your flag. It’s a ton of fun.”
This year, Europe represents 39 percent of the field, while North America follows closely with 37 percent of athletes registered to race in the event. The United States is the most represented nation with 741 registered competitors, followed by Australia (234), Germany (217) and Great Britain (150).
Athletes have come from 48 states, with the greatest number coming from California (113), followed by Texas (58), Colorado (53), Hawaii (50) and New York (49). Among the masses will be 29 athletes from the Big Island taking on their backyard course.
Five new countries are being represented in Kona this year, with athletes from Kazakhstan, Paraguay, Serbia, Uruguay and Uzbekistan making their Orchid Isle debuts.
In the diverse field, Hiromu Inada, of Japan, is the oldest participant at 84, while Paul Lennart, of Denmark, is the youngest at 18. The average age of a competitor is 43 years old.
“The evolution of this race over the decades has been amazing,” said Andrew Messick, CEO Ironman. “From the most modest of beginnings, the Ironman World Championship has evolved into an extraordinary international event with more than 2,400 registered competitors from 66 countries around the world.”
At 6:35 a.m. Saturday, starting with the professional men’s start, the largest Ironman World Championship field ever of more than 2,400 competitors will take on the legendary 140.6-mile course. The race features a 2.4-mile ocean swim in Kailua Bay, followed by a 112-mile bike ride along the Queen Kaahumanu Highway from downtown Kona to the turnaround in Hawi, capped by a 26.2-mile run that wraps up at the Alii Drive finish line.