Discover more from Triathlonish
#32: Everything's bigger in Texas
And, yes, we'll talk about doping.
issue #32: April 26, 2023
All-sporters, we have lots to talk about (and some of you have already been talking about it on the Triathlonish chat; come join us). If you want far more detail on the weekend’s races + better jokes, then be sure to listen to this week’s podcast.
And, I’m opening up the Q&A that went out to paying subscribers this past Sunday—thank you to you all!—with the production team behind the Super League Triathlon broadcasts, so we can really understand what goes into making our sport into live TV.
Let’s talk about the good news first
For reasons that may be obvious, I want to start with the amazing racing over the weekend.
In some ways, this season is the first real/regular season we’ve had since 2019. No double delayed world championships, no random event cancellations, athletes mostly all back to fitness. Maybe that’s why there are two trends I’m noticing:
Almost everyone has gone through a lot in the last three years. Crashes, illnesses, divorces, deaths. (This is true in life too, not just in triathlon. So be nice.) Some of those things would have happened regardless of the pandemic; some of them were simply made worse by the pandemic. But that’s why it seems like everyone’s on the comeback trail now. Kat Matthews on fire. Jocelyn McCauley post-surgery and baby. Cody Beals, Lauren Brandon, Tim O’Donnell. It was good to see them all back in form this past weekend.
Because we missed so much racing over the last few years it can feel like some athletes came out of nowhere, like every race is a battle of the newbies v. the veterans. That’s just because what’s usually a gradual changing of the guard was instead accelerated and sped up. I remember pulling together the preview for the delayed 2021 Ironman World Championships in St. George a year ago—only one year ago!—and writing that Kat Matthews could win the thing, watch out for her. At the time, it seemed to some like such a bold prediction. Now, she’s got to be a favorite in every race she enters, yes, including Kona this fall.
At Ironman Texas, the Americas Ironman Championship, this past Saturday, Kat was so damn good. It’s always hard to really get a sense of splits on the day until you compare them across the fields. And Kat’s 2:49:32 run for the day was, comparatively, very very fast. Only one other pro woman ran under 3 hours (Joanna Ryter’s 2:59:26 for 7th place), only seven pro men ran faster than her, it was fast.
One of the things Kat does better than even the people who do it very well is ride the line exactly right. She does not implode and she does not hold back. Somehow she split that marathon completely evenly and I don’t know how she knew how to do that coming six months off getting hit by a car, without the run volume or build into this one would normally have. How does she know how to push herself right to the finish line and not a minute too soon?
In second, Maja Stage Nielsen had (IMO) a life-best Ironman performance and held onto the lead for so long. In third, it was great to see Jocelyn McCauley back and pushing the bike. Lauren Brandon looked like Lauren Brandon again in fourth. And Danielle Lewis ran her way to the last Kona spot. And then we all cried.
Now, of course, we have to talk about why the men’s race in Texas always comes down to a sprint. When Matthew Marquardt finally caught up to Rudy Von Berg and Robert Wilkowiecki in the final miles of the run, I thought, ‘Well, I’m sure someone will fall apart and someone will pull away.’ After all, if another athlete catches you, then they are, by definition, running faster than you, and anyway I’ve never seen a three-way sprint finish in an Ironman. Then I went to get ready for my own run, and came back to absolute insanity.
Complete kudos to Rudy. It is so unbelievably hard to rally after getting caught and come back on them with a sprint finish, but he did it. It’s also incredibly hard to hold the lead and hold onto the expectation that it was in the bag for as long as he did. And, conversely, it’s not easy to do what Robert and Matthew did, neither giving an inch even though they did not have the same resume going in. (In fact, as has been pointed out many times, this was Matthew’s first pro race after winning the overall amateur title in Kona.) Arnaud Guilloux took fourth and Cody Beals—virtual hug—got the last Nice spot.
Overall, it was the kind of race that made me start messing around with my calendar and schedule and clicking on events again. It made me want to be back out there.
If you want more race weekend detail, listen to this week’s podcast.
The one meh thing
I’m not trying to harp on this, but. You can not have an 8-hour broadcast that’s a single camera shot following someone’s back. That is not a product you can expect people to watch or buy or sell to advertisers. (I was wrong last week. I had thought, by the way, that Ironman was coming back to its Ironman Now platform that debuted in Kona, which was actually quite good. It did not do that. The Texas broadcast was simply the standard Youtube & Facebook stream.)
I understand the broadcast limitations on these race courses. I understand the issues with the athletes and access. I also understand the market and expectations.
Anyway. Since we keep talking about broadcasts and since broadcasting the live sport is really one of those necessary-but-not-sufficient elements to making a sport, I wanted to chat with the teams behind some of the current streams. This past Sunday, paying subscribers got this Q&A with the production crew that puts together the Super League live shows. I’m opening it up to everyone now, if you want to understand what goes into broadcasting triathlon in one type of event:
Not having a ‘take’ is an option infinitely available
OK, now for the news of the week. Yesterday, Collin Chartier announced that he has accepted a 3-year ban for EPO. (Yes, apparently, people still take EPO.) The ban was announced by the International Testing Agency—which is the agency Ironman contracts their testing out to. The out-of-competition test was done in February, it sounds like it was a targeted test (you can see which athletes are currently in the out-of-competition Ironman testing pool here); Collin says he started taking EPO back in November after a bad Kona.
For those—like my husband—who don’t know who Collin is: He won the PTO U.S. Open (and $100K) in September last year, he won Ironman Mont-Tremblant shortly before that, and he finished 2022 ranked #14 in the world (good for the year-end $16K PTO bonus, I believe).
The reason this bust is high-profile, besides the fact that those are a couple big results and triathlon hasn’t had a high-profile bust in a long time, is because Collin is/was coached by Mikal Iden (Gustav’s brother) and he trained with a few other high-profile athletes. There is no evidence tying those people to anything (and we’ll get to jumping to conclusions in a second), but that’s why triathlon broke yesterday. If you were wondering.
As far as I see it, there are two questions now.
Is he telling the truth about freaking out after a bad Kona, feeling a lot of pressure, and starting EPO in November? Sure, it’s possible. There is no proof that it’s not true (and without proof, there’s really nothing race organizers can do about earlier results), but certainly a lot of people, understandably, find his presented timeline unlikely. And, evidently, he admitted he was injecting L-carintine before November, which is also banned.
Who else knew? It tends to be more likely that doping happens in team settings, when there is easy opportunity, when the culture encourages it, but that certainly doesn’t mean athletes can’t dope on their own. (In fact, arguably, lots of doping happens without many others knowing. I assume.) I’ve seen lots of people say Collin had to get the EPO from someone, that they wouldn’t even know where to buy EPO or how to administer it. But look, I don’t know where to buy meth either, yet I’m pretty sure I could figure it out if I really wanted to. Just Google “EPO” (actually, if you’re a pro, don’t do that) and you’ll see what I mean. It’s also been pointed out that he did his undergrad research on related topics, and honestly it’s not like this was an amazingly sophisticated scheme. It’s possible he’s telling the truth now, though certainly a lot of people, understandably, would like receipts for his story and many are pointing out some parts don’t add up. The reason this matters is because there’s really no way to clear fair or unfair suspicion on others without those details, and if he wasn’t operating solo then many of us would hope/expect the anti-doping agencies are investigating the rest of his story.
I also asked the PTO these three basic questions, to which they sent me back their public statement that doesn’t offer a ton of answers:
Since he admitted to doping before the end of 2022, will the year-end rankings and bonuses be re-adjusted and re-paid out?
I assume he tested negative in-competition at the US Open?
What is the existing policy on PTO athletes who are issued a ban or sanction, are they no longer PTO members?
I get why the PTO wants to doublecheck the test and samples they have for Collin, and why they need to consult with a lawyer on their existing contracts and rules. But I also think they really ought to have a policy already in place for this. Not to be a super downer, but it probably should kind of be the first thing you have a policy on as an organization “of” professional athletes. Not to mention a policy on what you plan to do if an athlete is in the midst of appealing a ban.
Now to get to a point I’d like to make:
I know why some of the pros, especially the male pros, are really upset. I know why people who were close to Collin or trained with him or lost races to him are really tied up in this and really pissed off. I totally respect Ben Hoffman and Lionel Sander’s raw IG posts demanding more answers, angry at what Collin’s decision has done to those around him. I understand why they’re processing their emotions this way. But I also understand why some people might choose to process their emotions privately, not on social media. I saw a lot of age-group triathletes saying they could “tell a lot” by which pros were posting reactions on social and which weren’t, that they could tell who was really against doping and who was suspiciously silent. And I’d just like to point out that’s 1. objectively stupid and 2. historically been proven over and over to be incorrect.
The title of this section comes from something someone told me once that I think is important to remember in the modern internet age. You don’t have to have an opinion on everything; your opinion here, if you aren’t connected to the people involved, could just be ‘that really sucks; I hope they catch anyone involved.’ You don’t have to post a take to the internet. You can have feelings that are just as valid without being shared on social media. You do not have to perform your emotions for the public, no matter what the public thinks you owe them.
I agree with the Hoff that if Collin really wants to make amends then he needs to tell the whole truth (and probably not on what feels like a click-baity podcast, but to authorities and to officials), he needs to return prize money, he needs to probably lean on his support system and talk to a therapist and move on from triathlon, and he needs to have a lot of conversations with the people he hurt. And he needs to do those things offline.
Challenge Gran Canaria: Anne Haug was quite dominant, winning by 12 minutes in a half. Sam Laidlow was also dominant but by just 13 seconds, with Patrick Lange back in fifth.
Challenge Taiwan Half and Peru 70.3 also happened, with the big notes there being: Tim O’Donnell won in Peru at the age of 42 and Amelia Watkinson won in Taiwan (which, apparently, attracts 8,000 age-groupers across its weekend).
And Ashleigh Gentle had the rare loss at the Infinitri Peñíscola race, but I’m sure she’ll recover from the travel and jetlag and be ready for the big one in two weeks…
Rest of the results from this weekend in great detail are on our Results page here.
Not much racing this weekend, so take a break, get some naps and snacks in. Because in two weeks is the triple-header: PTO European Open, 70.3 N. American Champs in St. George, and World Triathlon Long-Distance Championships.
And then WTCS racing and the "road to Paris” returns with WTCS Yokohama on May 13-14.
Everything else from around our sports that I think you might want to know about, or that I just think is interesting.
The London Marathon was this past weekend and Sifan Hassan won in a sprint down the mall—after stopping to stretch out her legs... She now has Olympic gold medals in the 5,000m and 10,000m, a bronze in the 1500m, world records in the mile and 5K (she’s lost the half-marathon world record), and a London Marathon title. That’s some range. ()
Paratri gold medalist Jetze Plat took second in the men’s wheelchair division at the marathon. Which, by the way, took him 1:28:45. (Tri247)
This past weekend was also the USAT Multisport National Championships also in Texas (which is a whole bunch of stuff like duathlon, aquathlon, mixed relay, draft-legal sprints, etc). USAT announced the event will take place in Omaha, Nebraska in 2024. (Youtube/USAT)
Ironman announced Men’s Nice (which is what we’re calling it) will be broadcast on L’Equipe, along with a bunch of other events, including IM Texas this past weekend. Which makes me wonder if that terrible feed was aired on L’Equipe’s website too. Can someone in France confirm? (Ironman)
Daniela Ryf rarely does podcasts, but apparently mountain bike world champ (and fellow Redbull athlete) Kate Courtney hosts a show. The two talked resetting mentally. (Redbull)
Joe Skipper—before going off course on Saturday—rode an insane new bike contraption at Ironman Texas that appears to technically be a water bottle, but is also clearly faring. I’d imagine the refs are reviewing what qualifies as faring and if it’s safe to have your head blocked by so much “water bottle.” My vote is: no, this is not going to last. (Instagram)
Let’s learn about the “jock tax.” (The Hustle)
And what the heck is Hyrox? (It’s apparently kind of like Crossfit but easier to understand, really popular, and being heralded as the next big fitness thing.) (Stylist)
One last thing
Will Sifan Hassan decide to go for the 5000m, 1500m, 10000m, and marathon at the Paris Olympics? Is it all just a fun mental exercise for us to imagine? Bonus, if she doesn’t make it out of the 1500m first round, then she’d have a second chance at the repechage on Aug. 7. What could go wrong.