How the 2022 IPL World Championship Moved From Russia to Orange Beach, Ala.

Powerlifters are being lured to Orange Beach for major events. Here's why.

How the 2022 IPL World Championship Moved From Russia to Orange Beach, Ala.

Charlie Lyons, the United States Powerlifting Association Alabama chair, made his pitch in February for Orange Beach, Ala., to host the USPA’s 2023 National Championships. Pardon the pun, but the presentation was stronger than he imagined.

Not only did the NGB award the Gulf Coast destination next year’s nationals, but the sport’s international federation came calling about the 2022 IPL World Championships. Originally slated to be held in Russia, the event needed a new home due to the ongoing conflict with Ukraine.

How the 2022 IPL World Championship Moved From Russia to Orange Beach, Ala.

Lyons jumped at the opportunity. In six months, Lyons and his team put together a successful international competition that typically requires more than a year to organize. More than 300 athletes from 11 different countries traveled to the Southeast for the meet, held at Orange Beach Event Center at The Wharf Oct. 20-23.

“We didn’t cut corners,” says Lyons. “We just had to get to work right away, and we were able to put it together.”

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is no stranger to events—the area annually hosts the NCAA’s beach volleyball championship. Yet the 2022 IPL World Championships are unlike typical sports tourism opportunities. The event has been held in the United States before, but never in the Southeast. Many athletes competing were visiting the region for the first time, and GSOB Sports & Events was out to show why they should return.

“It’s a big deal for an international championship to take place on the Alabama Gulf Coast, and we are proud to welcome athletes and fans from all over to experience Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for the first time,” says Michelle Russ, vice president of sales, sports and events for GSOB Sports & Events. 

In a matter of months, Orange Beach has become the center of the powerlifting universe. By the time the 2023 nationals wrap up, the destination best known for white sands and warm waters will have hosted the sport’s three premier competitions. As we will discuss, that’s not a coincidence.

Read on to learn how an international competition destined for Russia took a detour to Alabama’s southern coast.

Man With the Plan

Lyons is a powerhouse in lifting, When he’s not planning 10 to 12 events per year, he is competing. A baseball player at The University of Alabama during the early aughts, Lyons picked up the sport and rose to national champion in his weight class in 2017. He still lives in Tuscaloosa and has become a champion for Alabama and the Southeast in general, when it comes to promoting powerlifting. 

Having competed in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando and other top markets, Lyons knows what athletes are expecting. Through single-day events he’s been planning since 2010, Lyons helped put Orange Beach on the map. When the opportunity presented itself, he took the efforts to a new level.

All-in-One Destination

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is not typically compared to Las Vegas and large markets. But it doesn’t need to take a back seat to any destination, Lyons says. “Not only is it a good environment to compete [in], but it’s the perfect getaway,” he notes. “There are so many nice places to stay, and the restaurants and entertainment is limitless.”

Indeed, there are hotels with different budget points across the region, but there is also the chance to rent a beach house or Airbnb on the water, he says. “It’s like a mini-vacation.”

A Foot in the Door

With the world cooped up, beach destinations took on greater popularity during the pandemic. At the same time, the 2021 IPL North American Championship came up for bid. Because it’s a relatively young event, International Powerlifting appeared eager to branch out to new sites. Lyons helped lead a contingent from the Southeast that won the event. Orange Beach Event Center at The Wharf, which Lyons used for smaller meets, hosted the competition. The results confirmed Lyons’ belief that the region is ideal for lifters looking to compete and relax on off days. It set the stage for the best pitch Lyons will likely ever give.

Two for One

The combination of recreation and relaxation was a powerful selling point in the drive for the 2023 USPA Nationals. One week after officially earning the 2023 event, Lyons was asked if he could quickly put together the world championships. “It was kind of short notice, but it was still plenty of time to get things together and we were able to pull it off,” he says. By April 1, entry forms were available while organizers worked on signage and other details. 

The United Kingdom, Australia, Aruba, Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile and Kazakhstan were among the countries to send athletes. The overseas war prevented Russian and Ukrainian lifters from being able to qualify. Aside from the athletes, about 300 spectators attended each day. From a sports tourism standpoint, the championship helped fill hotel rooms, restaurants and other venues during a shoulder season in Orange Beach.

“We got 100% feedback” from the lifters, notes Lyons.

What’s Next

There really isn’t an offseason for Lyons. He’s been so busy at other events that he hasn’t taken full stock of hosting the IPL World Championship. The busy schedule will continue, though the 2023 USPA National Championship is certainly top of mind. Lyons expects more than the 480 lifters who competed in 2022 in Las Vegas to arrive at the beach in July 2023. The world championships are harder to qualify for, explaining why more athletes are expected next year.

Photo Credit: IPL World Championships