Monday, July 11, 2011

A recent trend in professional Ironman racing

Underneath the amazing results in Ironman racing in the last few weeks, a trend is more and more noticeable: top athletes have "their" races and no other top athlete shows up to contest them. So you have races like the men's races at Roth, Austria or Switzerland, where besides the designated winner, there really wasn't any competition. On the women's side, it's been the case that top athletes absolutely avoid racing Chrissie Wellington.
These severe cases of "cherry picking" are even more pronounced in 1/2 Ironman racing, where you can have some races that are moderately competitive, while others are not competitive at all. Just as an example, Rhode Island 70.3 had 11 male and female pros starting the race.
This trend isn't happening by chance, but it's the product of the pro rules that the WTC has implemented in the last few years, and particularly since it implemented the new Kona qualifying scheme.
In my opinion, the watering down of fields isn't helping the long-distance professional athletes in particular, but also the sport as a whole. A race where there really isn't any competition is not a race, but an event. In order for long-distance triathlon to grow into a serious sport, we need the best athletes racing each other at a few select events, where they compete for real prize-money. In order for us to have a sport and for it to grow, we need real racing, not cherry picking.


Shanks said...

Agreed... unfortunately WTC is a bit on the greedy side and keep having more races. Would you suggest WTC creating a "Series" of races that included 70.3's and Ironman races with larger prize purses along with those being the only races having a Pro field?

I think WTC races will still sell out without a pro field since Ironman is the new tennis.

Feedback would be appreciated... but good topic.

Ryan said...

It seems like there are a select few events where people come together...conveniently, where the pro money is solid enough to support more than just the winner (e.g. Rev3 Quassy).

@Shanks: I would agree, it seems that the "event" does not require a pro field...however, mediocrity seems to be reigning supreme.

(Granted, this is coming from an athlete who so f***ed up Quassy that I had the pleasure of coming home above the six hour mark AND got the pleasure of meeting the medical mediocre sounds appropriate right about now.)

rappstar said...

@Shanks - the "problem" with that, as evidenced when WTC had the men's/women's championship races back in 2005-ish, IIRC, was that you had AG athletes calling themselves "Ironman Champions." This was made even more confusing because in the case of both Chris Hauth and Tony Delogne, who won IMCDA & IMLP, respectively, the year that they were the women's championships, those two athletes then started to race as pros. So you had guys who were pros who had won Ironmans. They just hadn't done it as a pro. But this was confusing to a lot of folks.

I still agree that NOT every 70.3/140.6 race needs a pro field, since with the number of races being so large, does it really matter if you beat no pros or simply beat one or two? But, as a whole, the "industry" has placed a certain valuation on being an "Ironman winner." Recall the case when half-ironman's became Ironman 70.3, and certain pro athletes who had only ever won a 70.3 suddenly were called "Ironman Champions," which is true because the half was now suddenly, Ironman......... 70.3.

So there are other issues than simply removing the prize money from certain races. Ultimately, the sport simply needs to be more... professional.