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.