While most are content to accept the heavily corporatised product served up to us by the Ironman brand, a for-profit entity, the Olympic ringed ITU should be a different story.
I went to the WTS Hamburg race last weekend and was 20 metres from 2 of the multiple crashes during the women’s and men’s races. These crashes were horrific and seeing the faces of athletes knowing they were going to come down is haunting.
Races are now described as ‘the product’, and athletes as ‘the assets’. These obnoxious terms are used publicly. At Hamburg the assets would be better named ‘the cannon fodder’, in what the ITU call the jewel in the crown of their WTS Series. But the cannon fodder happens now to be the super champs – Murray, Schoeman, Yee, Brownlee, Zaferes. All crashed during the bike course. Even on the run they were falling, Nicola Spirig went down, as did others on the tiny tight turns. This was not bad luck, or bad riding, this was total negligence by the governing body.
On every level (except for hefty license fee paid to the ITU from the local government and the size of crowds), this is the worst race for ‘the assets’ that has ever been devised.
Let me take you through it –
– it has to be a sprint race because of the course itself
– 6 laps of 3.5km per lap for 21km
– do I need to show you the turns…
As you can see each 3.5km lap has two 180 degree stop dead turns, and 8 turns of ~90 degrees, most a maximum of 3m wide, with over 60 athletes trying to squeeze around.
There are cobblestones and pavement bricks in some turns. The course has painted pedestrian lines and painted traffic lines all over it. All of you know how fun it is to negotiate painted lines on the road in the wet! Ever attempted it in a pack of 60 during a race? The only thing missing was tram lines.
The arrogance of the ITU officials didn’t help, as I saw one walk straight into Taylor Knibb – but that can happen…
Being a professional coach and wanting to understand the course to be able to relay details and race tactics to my athletes, I walked the course on the morning of the race. To say I was horrified is an understatement. As well as the already mentioned issues with corners, cobbles, and lines painted on the road; the lake and trees that surrounded the course looked beautiful for the cameras, but only added to the hazards of the bike course. There were 100’s of leaves on the road, on the very corners where the horrific crashes in both men and women’s races occurred.
After 30 minutes picking up leaves from the corners, the rain came and I really got worried. I stopped and left to talk to an official about the danger this would create only to be told ‘this is not my job’. Total apathy and indifference to the danger. I asked one to use their walkie talkie to contact the race referees to explain the danger and request a crew or a street sweep vehicle to sweep the corners. To my horror I was told, ‘that’s the city’s job not ours’.
Thus all the audience was treated to not only a triathlon but a smash up derby that saw at least two athletes leave in ambulances with career threatening injuries. If one remembers back to WTS Dubai in 2016, nobody has learned anything from the horrendous crash that nearly ended the then current Olympic Champion’s career (Down but not Out). Fortunate to escape with a broken hand after hitting concrete ‘street furniture’ only several feet from the course. Since then there have been no course changes, no greater thought to the safety of the athletes, pardon me, the ‘assets’.
After the Women’s race in Hamburg, when one attempted to point out the absolute danger before the Men’s race, they were not so politely told – ‘if you and your athletes feel it’s too dangerous for their skills then they shouldn’t race!’.
This course should never have more than 25 to 30 athletes on it. Simple as that – if they are going to race on it at all.
‘Sutto, you are full of criticisms but short on solutions.’
Just like Ironman racing, I’m full of solutions, for those who will listen. This could be accommodated by heats and finals as it is a two day closed circuit race. So there could have been two races of 30 or even 3 races of 20 athletes, with the best 10 athletes going through to the final to be held on the next day. Then the crowd we so clamour for could see some fantastic racing over a weekend.
I’m pleading with people to start and put athletes first. We as a society of Triathletes need to make the organisations accountable for their actions. Olympic funded sport should not make money the first and only priority. The first priority should always be the athletes and their safety should always be the first consideration.
Main photo credit ITU Media.