#8: Flora, Queen of the World (Tri Series)
And I promise college triathlon really is a real thing for real.
issue 8: Nov. 9, 2022
A word of warning: I “ran” the New York Marathon this weekend and am still quite tired. Turns out even though 75 degrees is not that warm, humidity is that humid. For some truly stunning splits, check out my IG.
That’s also why my Q&A with the sport’s top crowd scientist has been sitting in my drafts and got delayed to this week. On podcast we talked about all of it, plus the triathlon races past and future. Listen: the #1 sports podcast in Bermuda.
Best of Bermuda
A theory that’s really a fact: It’s hard for triathletes to go mainstream in the U.S. (ie. sign non-endemic deals, get regular non-tri fitness magazine covers, do the 60-second inspirational segment on the Today Show, pull an Allyson Felix). There are a bunch of reasons why, having to do with perception and narrative and “relatability,” but in general it just doesn’t happen—not in the U.S., and not for female triathletes. But if any two could it’s Flora Duffy and Chelsea Sodaro.
And Flora reminded us again this weekend why that is: People love her, she’s really really good at winning when all the eyes are on her, and a lot of eyes are on her.
Photo: Tommy Zaferes/World Triathlon
We dissected the race on the podcast. (One note: We mistakenly weren’t sure if Alex Yee had raced the men’s race. He did, but just needed a little more time to recover from Super League and also couldn’t close on Vince Luis, because we all forgot that Vince is actually really good at triathlon.)
I took away two main things from the race, though:
I agree that interesting courses make for interesting races. Bermuda is a wacky hilly course, on a rainy tough day. And it meant people (Vince, for instance) could stay away, breaks could happen (Flora & Maya Kingma), excitement (Taylor Knibb crossing the gap!), places changing, racing, which is really what we should aim for in races, right? Actual racing? Don’t make boring, flat, U-turn-y courses for no good reason. “Spectator-friendly” doesn’t mean what you think it means.
In the new era of triathlon, it’s harder than ever to win if you don’t specialize—but also the new era of athletes wants to do it all. Interesting tension. What I mean is: Taylor Knibb swam 30 seconds into Flora at 70.3 Worlds last weekend and then biked 6 minutes into her (both at longer distances). This week, in the Olympic WTCS format, Flora swam 30 seconds into Taylor and biked away on a technical course. These are different skills. And also subpoint: Don’t bet against Flora on the World Tri Championship circuit, especially in Bermuda—where she biked up Flora Duffy Hill, under a massive hotel wall covered in a poster of her, past kids wearing ‘Go Flora!’ t-shirts, and won by a minute-and-a-half. She’s really really good at this thing she does. She is also the most famous person in the history of the island. By orders of magnitude.
For all that there are so many new versions of triathlon, the WTCS circuit and the Olympics are still (in a lot of ways) the top of the pointy end of the sport. That’s certainly why the Norwegians were happy to be back with their 6th and 9th places post-Ironman.
Yes, college triathlon exists: a short explainer
This upcoming weekend is also the NCAA women’s varsity collegiate triathlon national championship, held at ASU. (Except it’s not officially NCAA yet, but stay with me.) This is different than the collegiate club national championships in the spring.
Here’s what I wrote about the difference in my article on getting involved and doing a collegiate race:
Collegiate club triathlon has been around for a bit over two decades (give or take, depending on what you consider the formal start). It’s a club sport, which isn’t governed by the NCAA, and it has an established USA Triathlon Collegiate Club National Championships in April, which typically attracts about 1,500 athletes and is known for its fun vibe. That race is generally a non-drafting, Olympic-distance event. However, with the growth of draft-legal racing at the development level, there are now additional draft-legal and mixed relay races that count toward the much coveted overall team title.
NCAA women’s varsity triathlon, once finalized as an NCAA sport, will be a very different competition. It’ll be governed by NCAA rules, with NCAA athletes and funding. Since being approved as an emerging sport for women back in 2014, 40 schools have now signed on with varsity women’s teams. This has triggered the official process to become the newest NCAA sport, with all the prestige, scholarships, and media attention that will come with that.
Women’s NCAA triathlon is a draft-legal sprint race contested in the fall, and is considered a development pipeline for elite junior and youth athletes looking to grow and potentially compete at the World Triathlon level. Until the NCAA takes over, USA Triathlon has been backing the Women’s Collegiate Triathlon National Championship race, held in mid-November and now split into DI, DII, and DIII results.
Basically, anything goes in club and it’s a massive range, but the top athletes are still really good athletes. NCAA, however, will mean NCAA prestige, money, and scholarships, but fewer athletes and it’s not fully there yet.
Next week we’ll talk a little about why collegiate tri matters and what the pros and cons are of these two tracks. Right now, though, there’s some excitement brewing for the championship race of what should be the next newest NCAA sport. ASU hasn’t lost the team title since they’ve had a team, but University of San Francisco’s Kira Gupta-Baltazar took the individual title last year. Plus, now, Queens University (a powerhouse, really) has moved up into DI and is actually ranked #1 going into this weekend’s race, and the University of Denver also has a solid squad that topped USF at their last small practice race.
Really, college tri is a thing. I promise.
The collegiate draft legal women’s race at Bearathlon. Photo: Andy Jessop
Mark your calendar
A short list of *big* events, because it’s really hard to keep track in triathlon.
Ironman Arizona: Nov. 20 - Ben Kanute has said he’ll make his Ironman debut and Sam Long is looking for redemption in Arizona. (Airing on Ironman Now)
Ironman Israel: Nov. 25 - The new Ironman Middle East regional championship has attracted a huge list of top pros, including Sebi Kienle and Patrick Lange, and India Lee making her debut—though interestingly no American men or women.
World Triathlon Championship Final: Nov. 23-26 - Final championship race will see an exciting battle between Flora Duffy & Georgia Taylor-Brown, plus para and age-group races. (Airing on TriathlonLive)
CLASH Daytona: Dec. 2 - Word is the race (which should offer a decent prize purse and a well-produced broadcast TBA) will return to the odd “Daytona distance”—shorter than a half—and attract a number of short-course pros post-WTCS
Indian Wells 70.3: Dec. 4 - The late-season California half is typically the last major 70.3 of the year. (Airing on OutsideTV)
LISTEN to the Triathlonish podcast here, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or (allegedly) Google Podcasts
Congrats to the official new CEO of USA Triathlon, Vic Brumfield, who is the first woman ever to head the organization and who also has the craziest stories. (Plus, she’s promised to be the first interview on our podcast next week, so stay tuned for that and leave any questions you have in the comments.) (USA Triathlon)
Another good person to know: If you haven’t heard of Erin Carson, the strength coach for the entire women’s podium at 70.3 Worlds, then you should now. (Triathlete)
A few other results from this past weekend: Rach McBride won Cabo 70.3 (yay for them!), and Emma Pallant-Brown and Brad Weiss won the newest 70.3 in South Africa. (Triathlete)
At Ironman Florida, the age-grouper leading the race was hit by a car—which is just a lot of cars hitting cyclists during races lately. (Instagram)
An athlete at Ironman Florida also died during the swim, per an Ironman press release, but there have been no further details. When I started trying to find out more details, I found out athletes also died during the swims at Augusta 70.3 and at Santa Cruz 70.3—which is also a lot of athletes in a short time. (Tri-Today/Augusta Chronicle/Santa Cruz Sentinel)
ICYMI: Lionel Sanders had a baby. My bet is he’s back for one more race before the end of the year. (Instagram)
There are just a handful of days left in this year’s Zwift Tri Academy—enough for you to still make your bid at the prize. Backed by Canyon this year (instead of Specialized, who appears to be stepping away some from tri), the Tri Academy is being utilized by Canyon to identify future potential pros for sponsorship opportunities. (Zwift)
Waterfall Racing (backed by Waterfall Bank) is also putting the money behind its new Pro Project for 2023: One year for one athlete to go all-in on the pro life. Open to Waterfall Racing members only, which I also just realized/found out pays a pretty decent podium incentive to AGers and pros on the team. (Waterfall Racing/Instagram)
Lots of great New York Marathon stories in the lead-up and after, but my favorite was about the 70-year-old fixture of the Japanese community in New York. (Just trust me.) Post-race: how the celebrities did, the most tracked athletes of the race, the shoes the pros wore (which includes the super secret prototype Hoka that was blurred out for Kona), and oh yeah the actual winners. (New York Times/Twitter/Runner’s World)
The man behind managing those crowds—who, yes, I asked a bunch of questions about managing triathlons and the differences and how it works, which I’ll put up as soon as I finish it. (Outside)
The 2024 U.S. Olympic Marathon trials have been announced for… Orlando, Florida? (LetsRun)
Are marathon finishing times the best proof that measuring outcomes changes them? (Twitter)
I love when mainstream media picks up our sports, so I loved the details they focused on in this FOX News story about Chelsea Sodaro. (FOX)
The New Yorker went full New Yorker on the murder earlier this year of gravel cycling star Mo Wilson. They did a really good job explaining gravel, its appeal and growth, and the cult of personality that DIY sports like ours creates (and the dangers inherent in that). They did a really really really bad job actually talking about Mo Wilson and her story. (New Yorker)
High levels of BPA have been found in sports bras and other athletic clothing, which is not great for someone who basically lives in sports bras and athletic clothing. (CNN)
Did you know there is a Beer Mile podcast and it has 104 episodes? (The Beer Miles)
A conversation with Alison Désir about running while black and why she doesn’t want to do the Boston Marathon (among other topics). (Culture Study)
One last thing
All I could think when I saw the middle sign during the race on Sunday was: If we had to swim and bike first, I’d be a lot better at this. (Plus, some of the other NY spectator sign favorites.)