Following an article a couple of weeks ago regarding the WTS Relays, I’ve been challenged a few times as to what I’d do differently.
I’m happy if it’s opened up some constructive debate within our group and at the grassroots level and always happy to provide some context some of the issues we face in the shorter distances as well as my thoughts on ways to improve.
There are not enough places on the start line for WTS races. This creates political chaos in choosing the athletes who race at each event. It also breeds a culture of Federations trying to play fantasy triathlon manager – deciding (completely subjectively) which athletes may be suited to which course or relay event. Never a good idea.
At the same time WTS have to consider that having more athletes on the start line would make the swim unfair and is a safety issue both in the swim and on the bike.
The ETU actually had a working solution back in 1997 where because of so many entries they introduced Heats and Finals. They continue to do the same thing now in Tiszaujvaros, Hungary. An event that is actually one of the great race experiences on the circuit for both participants and spectators.
This would be my preferred format for Championship racing. Heats on Saturday with a sprint distance of up to 40 participants. The first 10 of each heat moving to a Olympic distance final the next day. This would allow 120 men and women to attend each World Series race, but with a final with no more than 30 very competitive athletes on the start line. This would be a very exciting format and ensure the very best athletes could be seen at their best.
Nightmare Travel Schedule
For all the contrasting views regarding the relay, I don’t think one person has disagreed on my position about the destructive impact of the WTS travel schedule. While a circuit of 8 races may not seem too arduous from the outside – jumping continent to continent without end or plan is athletically devastating. We’re seeing churn and burn of many of our best athletes – with no consideration to their long term careers or health.
There should at least be a public discussion, with the views and inputs from athletes and coaches publicly acknowledged by the ITU, around a Regional Race calendar. A calendar where athletes can train in their own countries and then travel to a region for designated time and number of races. This would allow them to return home and live somewhat of a normal existence, keeping travel fatigue for the athletes to a minimum.
For example; in the Asia Pacific region. Two races to be held in the Pacific – Australia / New Zealand followed by two races in Asia such as Japan / South Korea / China. Once complete, all athletes could return to their home bases for at least a month to train and recuperate before moving to the next regional races. It would have the benefit of WTS marketing each region individually – establishing a fixed time for races in different regions. It would coincide with the best weather conditions for the regions and would also allow athletes and countries to keep travel and housing movements to a minimum – saving each federation a lot of wasted money.
But what if we can secure money from a big city but they want their race outside of the designated time window for that region?! That my friends is where it all falls down. As what they should says is ‘Thank you, but no thank you. The health of our athletes is paramount.’ But they don’t, and based off their responses to current and past athlete complaints are unlikely to either.
The Olympics and the Relay
The Olympics like the World Series has a dirty little secret that the general triathlon public don’t really know about or understand. That is the extent of influence of ‘domestics’ in these races. Athletes selected to do ‘a job’ for competing athletes with renumeration if success is achieved. This practice is totally against all principles triathlon was built on.
Not only that, it is also encourages negative and boring racing, where you have athletes whose sole job is stop others from being able to break away. How is this related to the relay, you ask?
Well, it’s a problem that the ITU knew about before entering into the Olympics and looked at ways of solving back in the 90s. There already was a pilot for a Team Medal. A model that instead of using the same athletes for completely different race formats and events as we have now with the relay, a team event that combined the collective splits of three representative athletes to decide who is fastest.
Each athlete would have to race at 100% effort to make sure that the third over the line’s time counted for the medal. The outcome would have been no more domestics and no more officials meddling in individual athletes races. The best three athletes in the country would be selected.
Not like now where a Federation will often leave out a faster athlete to put an inferior ones who may work to produce a result for another individual athlete (or the relay). It is crushingly unfair to the many now athletes who have seen been ranked 2 or 3 in their country and had their Olympic dream gifted to someone else with worse results.
The relay now exacerbates this problem tenfold. ‘If our best athlete doesn’t have much chance for the individual medal. Instead let’s select a couple of sprinters and hope for the relay.’
People misunderstand. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a relay. But I’m saying it should have been brought in as a totally seperate medal and not contingent on those selected for the main Olympic distance event. I believe that has been a catastrophic mistake and that we should discuss measures to deal with it and avoid such errors in the future.
Instead, when you say anything negative about it you get a depressingly short term narrow view on the subject. ‘Oh, get over it Sutto. It’s a second medal. Who cares how they got it. It’s more exciting.’ Well, I do. There should be 5 Olympic medals for triathlon (sprint + long distance) and they should all mean something. Instead we have two hybrid medals. With the second one now actively undermining the long term performance base of the first.
What’s ironic to me is that the current ITU President, Marisol Casado, was not only present but in the sport’s early days oversaw great innovations in the ETU and ITU. So spare me the living in the past rubbish. This is now. They have the vision but have allowed short term owners and finance to compromise the whole direction they had set for themselves.
So if it is back to the future to make the World Series a better spectacle to make races safer for our athletes, to develop a race schedule that is not so punishing that our champions leave early and to make federations select the very best athletes to go to the Olympics and race for themselves as well as their countries – then I personally don’t think that’s a backward step.
Photo Credit: Marc Derron