As the countdown to Kona begins, the build up is reaching fever pitch. The Triathlon community is immersed in debate, insider tidbits on social media, and as a whole can’t wait for Saturday week. In stark contrast, the ITU in their wisdom, still cling to the theory that making the last race of the convoluted World Triathlon Series a double points race, is what makes the Triathlon communities knees tremble in expectation.
I’m afraid that the ITU executive is now so detached from the reality on the ground, that it’s hard to understand how to even communicate with them. If the ITU didn’t have the Olympics to prop it up, they would sink without a trace. For 9 years now, there has not been a World Championship race.
Here is a simple 1, 2, 3 to explain:
1 – If the best athletes decide not to follow the series, then we don’t have the best of the best racing in the final.
2 – We have in the final race, athletes vying for points, not for victory, to make sure their ranking is not risked.
3 – Outside of the most ardent supporters, the parents and associates of the competitors, nobody knows what is going on at all.
We have the World Series (WTS), World Cups (if you are in Europe), European cup races, and let’s not forget the Continental Cup races.
How do we understand the different stepping stones to the World Series when it is not defined, marketed, or explained to even its own constituency?
If that isn’t a clear enough conflict let’s go a step further. How do you gather new followers, when if you want to watch a race on free to air TV, YouTube, social media, the ITU charges you for the privilege? Nothing more than gouging it’s own supporters for extra revenue. Simultaneously, making very sure that anyone that has ever tuned in to sports on TV on a lazy Sunday won’t discover this brand of Triathlon.
One would think the ITU executive would really know they have an image problem when I know multiple high performance athletes, coaches and past champions who do not subscribe to the pay to view ITU channel. They have zero interest.
So another year has passed. Another year the ITU has no clue who is their best athlete on any given day.
The upside for them of course is they don’t have to market their best athletes, as their greatest opportunity over the last 10 years has passed. Brothers Brownlee were the greatest billboard to carry the sport to a new level. While they are household names in Yorkshire, and known throughout England (great tea advert boys), if you are not a triathlete, it’s a zero. Gwen was allowed to move on without a word being said to her; when the grind of the circuit wore her down. I know for a fact after Nicola Spirig’s Olympic Gold medal win in 2012, that the only word she was sent was ‘you have one day left before you miss the deadline to the next race’. I kid you not!
As all get excited to see the clash of the Ironman titans at Kona, one genuinely hopes that not all on the ITU executive board have gone to sleep, as it is tiring following the circuit they put together – even if you are not racing! I say to them, watch the Triathlon worlds reaction when you give them a World Championship race.
The experiment of who has the most points at the end of a series has failed. Hanging on to it is only making this part of the sport more irrelevant by the season. It’s now time to bring back a World Championship race for Olympic distance Triathlon.
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.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and in Sursee August, 2018.
Photo Credit: Marc Derron
Ashleigh Gentle (Aus) and Julie Derron (Sui) drive the chase pack at ITU Hamburg. Photo Credit: ITU Media
How exciting is the new Relay format! And how great is it for triathlon!?
Please. It’s a Frankenstein that’s turning on its creator. In a format entirely contrived to fit IOC rules, budgets and political agenda – the ITU, by not ensuring that any additional athlete spaces for this specialist event, has sold out its core for an extra medal.
The consequence is a growing trend towards this:
I was having a bad day at WTS Hamburg but I was ok, so under normal circumstances I would NEVER usually “just DNF”. Under instruction from @triaustralia, I pulled out near the start of the run to save myself for the mixed relay World Championships today. In the moment I was ashamed and upset to be standing on the sideline watching the race continue, but I wasn’t going to be able to run up to a position I came here to achieve.. it was time to put my pride aside and think of the team which I am representing today. I’ll be giving it my all.
Does this celebrate what triathlon stands for? Does it show the courage and the soul that our sport is built on? Yet, it is perfect window into what’s to come. Here we have Australia’s number 1 athlete, Ashleigh Gentle, being told to DNF for the benefit of the ‘team’. We now have federations deciding athletes should sacrifice the main race so they can save themselves for the sideshow. It’s the thin edge of the wedge. Triathlon up until now, whether from sprint to iron distance has been about personal pride. About endurance. About finishing at any cost. It’s why a DNF to her, like most champions, is a slur on their character. That’s why they’re champions.
For Ashleigh’s future racing the correct call would have been:
‘Get after them girl! See how many you can take down on the run! Hit the podium run split. Make a statement. Let ’em know you’ve still got what it takes and that when you’re in the pack next time – they’re gone.’
Instead, all her opposition has seen ‘Ash had a bad swim and pulled the plug.’ And then she’s been left herself to write to the triathlon public to shield her dignity. Something for Triathlon Australia to consider while they delude themselves they made the right call because they snuck a 2nd the next day. At what cost?
We too had a junior athlete in that group, in fact she rode toe to toe with Ashleigh in driving the chase pack. She wasn’t asked to save herself for the relay – as what message does it send to athletes in their development?
I do not enjoy my role as a canary in the coal mine. But the slide into the shorter, more trivial events is not the foundation for the development of the sport for the next 30 years. If you place mickey mouse formats backed with the authority of the sport’s governing body ahead of the Olympic event, you won’t produce the genuine all round triathlon champions like the Brownlees in the future. Triathlon’s identity is built on toughness. Take it away and what do you have?
Unfortunately, this forms part of a larger trend where the ITU in partnership with their Ironman race owners – as opposed to viewing themselves as being long term custodians of the sport seek to exploit what has been built over the last 40 years for the highest possible returns in the shortest possible time.
The upcoming race schedule being a case in point. To the exasperation of the top athletes who have consistently raised concerns about the schedule, it just gets more and more ridiculous. Next up, two WTS races in Canada. So do we put them close together so there is only one trip to the continent – a one stop layover for athletes? No, a four week gap between them so if you’re not Canadian you can double up on a season crippling travel schedule that already includes multiple flights to every continent. You don’t like it? Well that’s too bad. Do it our way or there’s no Olympics for you, no matter how good you are.
If I’m wrong, prove it. But as of now I don’t see any strategic vision, engagement or planning with the stakeholders – whether pros, age groupers or fans for the long term sustainability of the sport. It’s rip and run. And the consequences have just started to be felt and will be exploited sooner than one thinks.
‘Have a bad swim?’ Save yourself for tomorrow.
‘Not in the first pack off the bike?’ Wait for the relay.
The floodgates are open and they’ll be hard to shut.
Just my opinion.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and in Sursee August, 2018.
Before all the supposed experts analyse the European Championship and the ins and outs of who did what and why, I thought I would let our Trisutto family know what really did happen. Both Jan and the Bird who have for the last 3 years been the supreme athletes, have had to read who are the alternatives to their reign. This most likely annoyed both!
First let’s start with the men.
Jan Frodeno from the outset of the race had decided he was not going to tear a hole in the men’s field on the bike. Rather he would show the triathlon world that he is the best runner in the Ironman world.
While he rode with tactical purpose rather than to attack the race on the swim and bike, he showed how dominant he is when not injured. The job was done pretty emphatically. Patrick Lange was hell bent on showing that he can run when he works on the bike. This being the only reason I could see why he decided to share the pack lead on an equal basis. This was a show of valor rather than tactical superiority. He too proved things to himself and I doubt we will see him getting that excited again on the bike in the big races. Any doubts about who is the best Ironman athlete in the world were put to bed.
Congratulations to Jan Frodeno on an emphatic victory.
In the women’s race, with Daniela taking an extended break the triathlon rumor mill has been working over time that the Angry Bird era of dominance is coming to an end. With athletes including an Olympic top 5, world number 1 from 2015, the new Half Ironman sensation who also was a former ITU world number 1, the field was stacked. Also with the defending champion and 3rd in last years Kona toeing the start line, along with two or three new athletes being talked up as possible successors.
Time to fly on the run also – Photo Credit: Spirit Multisport
The Bird expected big questions to be asked. Her training has been totally frustrating for her, as her coach has been saying take your time, stop pushing, we will be ready in October to show how good you really are. Well, those that know Daniela Ryf understand that being patient is not one of her great strengths! We have worked on developing her swim stroke, so in future she could negate the dynamic swim and the gap that Lucy Charles made last year in Kona. While we know there will be a gap, it will not be as dominant. We have rested and let both her body and mind recover and get stronger, this also has been obvious on race day.
What about the bike ride? The experts helped deliver that, as all the talk on how fast the new generation are on the run. The Bird had in her mind that she would make the bike extremely difficult for them to cope with. Job done. However Danni said to me, it was one of those magical days; a day where you start pedalling and it feels fantastic from the off. Again at training she has yet to feel that she had a good ride and just struggled to find her form on the bike. In the coaches mind he thought she was doing a great job in all three, but the doubts were in her mind as coach said whatever happens on Sunday, you will be going 15% better in October. So the bike was a revelation, not just to the fans but Danni also.
To the run, again a little bit of Jan tactics here – I’ll show you I can run just as fast as the new generation. Once the job was done some minutes were given back.
What are the other revelations of the female race? I thought Sarah Crowley’s gutsy marathon coming off a difficult early season with a couple of injuries was a lesson to the new shorter distance sensations. Ironman winners are tough. They dig in and grind it out no matter how hard it gets. Well done to Sarah.
I was sad for Anne Haug for a puncture early in the race. It possibly cost her a podium. Would she be in a race with Danni if there was no puncture? No. However it would likely have seen her on the podium in her first Ironman. Sarah True had an excellent run in her Ironman debut. Was that expected? Yes. One must acknowledge she in 2012 was in a sprint finish at the London Olympics. Another truly great performance.
But this is why Ironman is so special. In the major races where the girls can get 90km on the bike before the age group men show up, you have to step up and ride as well as run. Any expert that thought the Bird’s reign is over, will need to re-evaluate for the near future.
To answer the question about 70.3 world’s. They were not on our radar until 2 weeks ago and I don’t know if it is on Jan Frodeno’s radar. Should they decide to be there then the best Iron distance athletes will be more than a match in the shorter distance athletes playground. They will represent the Ironman fans well at the shorter race!
I wrote an article two seasons ago that with the arrival of Jan and Danni, that Ironman had found a new level with athletes who don’t have a weakness. They can dominate in swim, or bike as Danni showed, or run as Jan showed. We are in an era of greatness and we should embrace two absolutely exceptional triathletes.
Congratulations to both!
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in St.Moritz and Sursee July/August, 2018.
Feature Photo Credit: Spirit Multisport
This blog is in response to enquiries from our readers. They see differing rest periods given to different athletes for their ‘time off’ out of race season. After reading that Daniela was given an extended long rest of three months it has thrown confusion into what is necessary for them. So let’s get into it by first putting the Angry Birds break into perspective.
This was a much needed complete ‘spell in the paddocks’ for Danni. She has raced brilliantly for 4 straight seasons with me, without a big rest. Not only is this physically exhausting but mentally draining as well. So we decided it was time for a career reset. A large break away from swim, bike, and run training; plus all the media pressure that builds with a career like hers.
So I’m asked did she do absolutely nothing? If I had my way then yes! However the bird kept in partial shape by gym visits and doing stuff that she can’t afford to do when in full Triathlon mode. What stuff? I have no idea! I made her realise that I wanted her to have a break from me telling her what to do. So we call this type of break a ‘career reset’. However at Trisutto we usually have much smaller breaks. Up to 21 days / 3 weeks for athletes who have all the skill sets in swim, bike and run. This is a very important point, because if one has a big weakness, then after a small break we go into specific stimulus programs.
So let’s break it into two:
If you are extremely good in all three (swim, bike and run), our pros do something every second day. It always revolves around swim today, then nothing tomorrow. Bike the next day, then a run the day after. They are all as short as possible for the individual. These short workouts are very important, so when one returns, we don’t waste a month just getting rhythm back to old levels and getting used to all three disciplines. But the point is we do take time off from any organised sessions.
Now the complicated! If one has a perceived weakness in one discipline we will take a little rest, then go straight into a very specific stimulus program which targets that problem. When we do this we minimise the other two disciplines to a more maintainable level. This is expected to be embraced by our athletes, be categorised as ‘I want to improve’ in their own minds, and they willingly buy into doing it.
Breaks vary because of the individual needs of the athlete. Some with great skills are afforded the opportunity to run their own breaks. Before you say the old cliches again, we have already dealt with ‘No pain, no gain‘ in the last blog!
Now here is another Cliche – ‘We should always be trying to improve as to stand still is to go backwards’. Again this is a lot of nonsense. Daniela Ryf needs to improve nothing at the present.
Nicola Spirig is similar except for her swim. So in her ‘break’ we worked on the swim stroke again. As she steps out for her first ITU World Series race in her quest for a 5th Olympics, she will be sporting her fifth ‘new’ swim stroke. This was dialed in over the winter, and was the only focus. I’m sure the critics will like this one a little better. ‘Little Pistol’ Julie Derron had a break that was about improving her run, to give her the outside chance of muscling in on the Olympics one 4 year cycle earlier than I predicted. We are proud she did so and now has a couple of ITU pro wins in the lesser divisions.
Triathlon Breaks are very important to the program. Watching both Danni and Nicola at training over the last days, neither are in their 100% best race shape, however I commented to coach Robbie these girls are ‘blooming’. The rest has done them a world of good. And that is what you are looking for in your break.
You want it to be beneficial so you can get back into training healthy with a few extra kilos to work with, and feel good about it.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in St.Moritz and Sursee July/August, 2018.