Since the ITU circuit was in my neck of the woods (sort of..), I made the trek down to our nation's capital to watch the third leg of the ITU World Championship Series (WCS). And it was well worth the trip because I got to watch two amazing races.
The first thing you notice is the atmosphere that surrounds the event. Everything about it breathes elite racing. The start line is not composed of a few elite athletes with a lot of part-time "pros". It is entirely composed of elite, professional athletes. Athletes with Olympic aspirations, competing for very good (for our sport...) prize-money. Because of the level of the athletes, everyone watching either at the race site or at home through the Internet were treated to two very competitive races, with constant changes in the dynamics of the race, which made them both interesting and very fun to watch.
When I got back home at the end of the day, I checked how Ironman Coeur d'Alene was going. And the contrast with the ITU WCS race was evident. With extremely weak fields, both men's and women's race were far from exciting, with second place for the men being 10 minutes behind the winner and third place almost 20 minutes down (!). The women's race was a little more "exciting", but just for the battle for second place. All this for the first Ironman race of the year in US soil.
The writing is on the wall: professional Ironman racing is dying. This is not new, it's been a slow death, brought on by stagnating prize-money purses and the increased number of races, causing a watering down of the competition. But this slow death is somewhat puzzling given the growth of the sport in the last years. With its logic of maximizing the profit out of the events that runs, the WTC is showing an incredibly narrow focus that is hurting the sport as a whole. This effect might not be noticeable right now, but it will be in the future.
Going back to the ITU World Championship Series, it seems to be a risky bet that is paying off. Having the best athletes perform in great stages around the World is a great idea, and one that is advancing triathlon more and more into being a worldwide sport. The race in DC is a perfect example. Just like having the Tour de France ending in the Champs Elysees, the streets of downtown DC were the perfect backdrop to bring triathlon into the mainstream. Big kudos to the ITU and the local organizing committee.