#13: Best of 2022
But what really even is "best?"
issue 13: Dec. 14, 2022
This is your Wednesday morning Triathlonish newsletter. To see past issues, check out the newsletter archive.
Paid subscribers, be sure to read the Q&A with Ironman’s head of world championship events if you haven’t already. (Your goodies are also in my hand now and are going into the mail tomorrow.) And on this week’s podcast, we handed the mic over to Sid and Dede for their full Ultraman World Championship story.
That’s it, let’s get down to it.
Best, top, most, gold star, A+
You want to know why so many media outlets do all kinds of year-end round-up lists? Sure, it’s because you’re closing in on Dec. 31 and it’s part of the weather. But from a logistical standpoint, it’s actually mostly because, particularly in the internet age, staff need to churn out some easy content that can be finished and scheduled before they leave for vacation—and so they plan year-end round-ups.
And now here we are.
The 2022 tri season is officially done. The year is almost over. The PTO is running those weird social polls for the best race, most improved, most consistent, class clown—all of which should really just be called “most popular.” The Global Tri Awards announced their first list of finalists last week. And while I feel incredibly grateful and surprised to be on the short list for best contributor, the full list of categories is a bit all over the place. How do you compare Flora Duffy and Chelsea Sodaro, a bike and a helmet, what constitutes a rookie? (Chelsea is not a rookie, by whatever definition you’re using.)
So, instead, I’m going to tell you not about “the best” of the year, which is so arbitrary to truly define, but about the 2022 race that will stick with me the longest.
I wrote this on IG, right after, but there was a moment in Kona, on that first race day. When everyone had headed towards the finish to watch Chelsea come in, but I was standing instead at the end of the Queen K, right before it drops down into town. It was empty and hot and every image you’ve ever had of Kona. I could see the helicopters circling and then Chelsea Sodaro came up over the last hill, surrounded by motorcycles, heat waves coming off the road, sun behind her. It was just like all those historic pictures you grew up on, like Dave and Mark, like Macca and Andreas Raelert, like Jan running down the highway to break the tape first. Except, instead, it was this new mom, this first American in forever, this first woman on a historic all woman’s race day.
And I started screaming and jumping up and down and crying. Then, I thought: Why? Why am I crying? I mean, I like Chelsea, but why am I this invested in this?
Of course, the answer should be obvious. I was screaming because of all the years we spent saying the women should get their own race, all the work arguing and organizing for them, for all of us to be able to be whatever and everything we wanted to be, for the support and programs and changes needed to help new moms. I was crying because I’d been invested for decades, without even realizing it. And, of course, I wasn’t the only one crying. It probably meant too much to too many of us, but it meant everything.
So whatever the ranking system says was the best statistical performance of the year, whatever the Instagram polls rule, that’s the 2022 moment I will never ever forget.
What’s the 2022 race, moment, or performance that will stay with you?
Photo: Tony Svensson/IRONMAN
Often, I prefer instead to look at the season as a whole, and ask what’s changing, what jumps out, what trends are here to stay. I’ll write in a few weeks about my predictions for 2023, but two large things stand out right now from this year:
Back at Oceanside 70.3, a lifetime and a season ago, I wrote that a new generation of stars is here. That turned out to be more true than even I could have predicted. And the new stars, this younger crop, simply will not be confined by old rules and standards. They, increasingly, will do what they want to do.
There is so much change and money and new events in triathlon right now that a lot is up in the air on any given start line. More than ever, winning requires particular focus and specialization, top science-backed training and adjustments. Some of these new events and orgs will not survive, but I suspect the depth of field and shift in dynamics will last.
Some other performances and athletes who stood out to me this year, in approximately roughly chronological order:
Kat Matthews at the 2021 Ironman World Champs (that one in St. George) showed she is truly fully here not just as the future, but as the now. It was a turning-yourself-inside-out, star-making performance, and I’m excited to see what she else she has in store.
Daniela Ryf is the GOAT. Never forget the number of titles she has or the number of times people have written her off.
What Kristian Blummenfelt has pulled off in the last 18 months was truly unthinkable before now: Olympic gold medal, Ironman world title, Sub7 spectacle, podium at another Ironman world champs, 70.3 world title, and then back to the World Tri circuit.
It’s impossible to ignore how the Norwegians—by which we largely mean Kristian and Gustav Iden, of course—are absolutely fundamentally changing the game, both for the other men in the race, for our understanding of what’s possible, and for the overall sport. Plus, they’re funny.
I actually thought Sub8/Sub7 was wildly interesting and weird and, sure, not a pure triathlon, but an absolute example of media and adventure possibilities for tri. Use your imagination.
Was there anyone more dominant at a given distance than Ashleigh Gentle was at the 100K this year?
Speaking of domination. Taylor Knibb, man. That 70.3 World Champs race was something we haven’t really seen the likes of before, not when you consider the actual stats and numbers and that she may just be getting started. I can not wait to see Ashleigh v. Taylor at 70.3 Worlds (if the timing works out with the Olympic qualifying events).
A few exciting 2022 races: Collin Chartier at the U.S. Open, Jackson Laundry at Oceanside, Lionel Sanders in every sprint finish he could find, happy for Paula Findlay’s second at the Canadian Open, and nail-biting Magnus Ditlev’s nine seconds off Jan Frodeno’s course record at Challenge Roth.
The Collins Cup is still boring.
Georgia Taylor-Brown and Hayden Wilde are very good at Super League. And I actually think Super League is the most likely to succeed of the new things.
Flora Duffy’s fourth World Triathlon series title. End of sentence.
You gotta also be impressed with Lucy Charles-Barclay’s return to form from that kind of an injury. To go from not even knowing for sure if she was going to be able to race Kona to taking second there and then fourth at 70.3 Worlds three weeks later is one of the greater examples of sheer will that I’ve seen.
IMO, Sam Laidlow’s Kona performance was actually the most unexpected and unpredicted of all the top finishers.
And those are just a few of my favorite things. It’s a new game now for 2023. Gear up.
No, not that way!
This past weekend, at Bahrain 70.3, one of the last races of the year, Holly Lawrence was led off course by the lead moto and unto an active highway (leaving Marjolaine Pierre to take a big win). I spent some time trying to figure out how that happened and as best I can make out on one of the little spurs the lead moto didn’t make the U-turn and Holly followed them onto a busy open road.
(The men’s race was less dramatic, and Vince Luis backed up Daytona with another win before the off-season.)
Now the question of course is: How do these things keep happening? How did Vince get hit by a car at Indian Wells last year? How do the leaders end up that far off-course? It sounds crazy until you start to hear all the crazy stories from athletes at the front of the race. Sure, sure, sure, it’s an athlete’s responsibility to know the course, but when the lead moto tells you to go a certain way, especially in another language, at some point you have to believe them and continue on.
With all the talk about professionalizing the sport and taking it mainstream and making big dollars, I’m gonna suggest there are some basics we might need to nail first.
Mark your calendar & other results from the weekend
New Zealand was the other last race of the year. The 70.3 was the pro race, won by Anna Bergsten and Jack Moody, while the full-distance was an age-group only event—notably won by Chelsea Sodaro’s coach, Dan Plews.
The PTO highlight show airs on FOX Sports this weekend. Dec. 17 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET.
Ironman has announced the end of Ironman Alaska and Lubbock 70.3. One is probably the product of logistical & cost issues and the other of an overly packed calendar. (Juneau Empire/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)
If you somehow missed the news: Gwen Jorgensen is back. (She did an exclusive interview with her husband’s podcast squad.) While she says she’s aiming for a selection to the 2024 Olympics mixed relay team, she’ll have to earn an individual berth and/or prove to USAT she deserves a discretionary spot, and that’s definitely a tough road. She’ll need to race her way back from zero to enough points to get a start to one of the two U.S. qualifying events in August and September (the Paris Test Event and the Grand Final), the U.S. only gets five spots at those races usually, and the defending bronze medalist and the current third and fourth ranked athletes in the world will all be going for the auto qualifying too. You should always do whatever you want to do, but the U.S. women’s tri team is a tough one to return to. (Youtube/ProTriNews)
USA Triathlon is hosting a paratri virtual combine, which is fascinating to me. I have all kinds of dreams of being discovered at a combine. (USA Triathlon)
One of the new World Triathlon rules for next year: If you cause a crash, you’re DQ’d. Also if you get a penalty, you can either serve it and accept it (no protest) OR not serve it and be DQ’d, but be all allowed to protest and potentially have it overturned. Tough call to make in the middle of a race. (Tempo/World Triathlon)
The Super League Arena Games announced their 2023 locations: Montreal, Sursee, Singapore, and London. (Super League)
Will Qatar bid for the 2036 summer Olympics? Will the winter Olympics now be rotated among a handful of cities that promise to be cold enough in the new climate change era? Man, both those sentences are brutal. (Reuters/Axios)
I don’t always agree with Dan at Slowtwitch, but I completely agree with him that the history of the Ironman World Championships is a history of change. The essence of the race isn’t in the location, it’s in the people. (Slowtwitch)
Something I’ve been hearing from a lot of friends: sponsorship contracts have been tough to sign lately (even if you’re one of the top athletes in the world) and bike sponsors are few and far between right now. Within that context came the news that Specialized abruptly ended its adventure ambassador contracts. (VeloNews)
More generally, there have been a lot of layoffs and cuts in the cycling and endurance industry lately (and in tech and entertainment more widely): Wahoo, Strava, Pearl Izumi, Zwift, CyclingTips & Outside Inc. People keep asking: If so many people are riding bikes and running, then why. It’s partially because 1. people are riding but they’re not necessarily buying new computers or virtual platforms or streaming subscriptions, 2. supply chain issues and inflation are both still hitting the industry, with generalized concerns that leisure spending is going to go down in anticipation of a coming recession, 3. business plan projections were often based on overly optimistic COVID growth numbers that were never likely to be maintained but left those companies with expenditures that are wildly outpacing actual revenue, 4. (and I can not emphasize this one enough) many of these things are VC rich guy-funded and, even if the overall economy will actually be fine, rich guys are freaking out right now.
And I know this is within the category of ball sports, but after Grant Wahl’s sudden death while covering the World Cup in Qatar, it’s also worth reading his last piece from the ground there. (Substack)
One last thing
This isn’t the worst race report I’ve ever read.