June 8 (Bloomberg) -- This year’s Ironman World Championship triathlon will be televised about six weeks earlier than originally planned and probably will feature an increased focus on cycling champion Lance Armstrong.
Comcast Corp.’s NBC network and Erik Vervloet, Ironman’s chief marketing officer, confirmed the programming changes yesterday. NBC has broadcast the championship since 1990.
The network is currently scheduled to air two hours of the Oct. 13 race in Hawaii on Oct. 27 as Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner, seeks to challenge the world’s best triathletes in the sport’s premier race.
In previous years, the event’s broadcast had been limited to 90 minutes and shown on tape delay in December.
Armstrong, 40, has helped bring more attention to triathlon since he returned to the sport on Feb. 12 in Panama, where he finished second in his first half Ironman 70.3-mile (113-kilometer) race. He has won his last two half Ironman events, which feature a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. Armstrong competed as a professional triathlete at 18 before focusing on cycling.
Because the race’s top finishers can take as long as eight hours to complete the 140.6-mile Ironman course in Kailua-Kona, NBC said it won’t be able to air the race live. Instead, it will be produced on an “accelerated schedule” with special emphasis placed on coverage of Armstrong, should he qualify, and other top professionals from start to finish, the network and Vervloet said.
In February, Andrew Messick, chief executive officer of World Triathlon Corp., said he was going to be “much more aggressive” in trying to get television coverage for its marquee race because of Armstrong.
While the program changes will result in more coverage of top pros and elite age-group racers, NBC will continue to feature select human-interest stories throughout the broadcast as it has in previous years.
Armstrong will race his first professional full Ironman event June 24 in Nice, France. To qualify for the Hawaii championship, all athletes must first complete a full Ironman race. Armstrong currently ranks 59th with 2,305 points earned through his half Ironman events. The top 40 ranked professionals by July 29 will qualify to go to Hawaii.
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