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#47: GOATs in the Brew City
Our (probably not totally) last thoughts on Nationals, the PTO, and the future.
issue #47: Aug. 9, 2023
All-sporters: I finally (finally!) made it back home from Milwaukee. Just in time to be here for a week, before I head to Paris (hopefully) for the Test Event. Then home for 16 days before Men’s Nice. Home for three weeks and then Women’s Kona.
As someone called it (I think Daily Tri), it’s officially Silly Season.
You can listen to our “live” podcast episode from Milwaukee. We had some sound issues; I’d explain why, but I need to sleep. So, let’s get down to it!
At least the racing is good
This past Sunday, I wrote about my on-the-ground impressions from Milwaukee for paying subscribers—and I’m going to open it up for everyone here, because I’d like the PTO to get the feedback, but we’re also going to move on from takeaways for a second and talk about the actual racing. Since, after all, that is what we’re here for.
You can see recaps and highlights of the races here. But I’m going to assume most of you have already seen it and jump right in. Who do you think had the most impressive performance of the weekend: Jan Frodeno, Taylor Knibb, Jason West, or Lucy Byram? (Don’t just say Jan reflexively, think about it for a second, and then pick Jan if you want.)
It’s not a trick question. They actually were all extraordinary efforts.
Taylor was certainly the favorite for the women’s title going in—and, since she’s finally healthy and fully peaked for Paris, would be hard to beat for anyone. But even considering those expectations, it was still an impressive performance. Yes, Ashleigh Gentle ultimately ran about two minutes faster (and almost a minute of that was in the last two miles, as she started to really close the gap to first), but Taylor still ran very fast. She swam in the front group, she biked away from the field, and then she ran faster than everyone but Ashleigh and Tamara Jewett (farther back).
There are rumors she wants to race the Ironman World Champs and the Olympics and the cycling World Tour events and 70.3 and do everything. It’s just a question of when and how to target what may be a generational talent so that she stays a generational talent.
Which is why it’s so impressive that Lucy Byram only biked 18 seconds slower than Taylor, and still held onto 4th in a hard run battle.
Yes, this Lucy won some halves earlier this year, but they were mostly medium or smaller races. She hasn’t even been a pro for two years. Don’t pretend like you had her in your picks for the top two British triathletes named Lucy.
Well, now, she is.
Likewise, do not pretend that you “knew” Jan was going to do it. You did not. I don’t even know if Jan knew if he could do it.
Which is also why it was so impressive that at 41, Jan Frodeno really truly delivered a world-class performance again—when he had looked so much, earlier this year, like that wasn’t going to happen anymore. In fact, there were these moments on the bike, when Magnus Ditlev and Kristian Blummenfelt were testing him, that I thought it was going to be a repeat of Ibiza (good but not great), but then he was so much better on the corners, so much more controlled. He took the lead on the run and it wasn’t close. It was good to see, because it means he still has one more fight in him (in Nice), he was angry, he wasn’t ready to quietly ride out into the night.
I sort of hate the term GOAT. It always seems to infer male athletes (when, let’s be real, if we’re talking long-course tri, in terms of sheer stats, Daniela Ryf is the Greatest Of All Time). It always seems to open up qualifiers and categories: long-course or short-course, across disciplines, courses or conditions? It always seems half-breathless, half-engineered, and half about the marketing. Let’s be real, Jan is a self-declared GOAT, but that doesn’t mean it’s not earned.
So, of course, the hype in the lead-up was all Jan v. Kristian. The Jan Cam was working overtime all week. The machine was busy making us believe we didn’t already know that he was retiring at the end of this year. But, mostly, the actual rivalry played out. Mostly, Jan deserves the attention he gets.
Kristian supposedly hit Jan in the head during the swim. Jan forgot to take off his swimskin as he got on the bike and was going to shove it down his suit, but the head ref said to just hand it to him. (Equal enforcement of rules? No. But that’s not on Jan. If the ref says you can do something, you do it.) Kristian cramped up at the end of the bike and ultimately walked for a minute on the run, he said it was because he’s not riding enough on his TT and wasn’t ready for the position. (He also dropped a bottle as he came into T2, and it also was simply picked up by a volunteer.)
Side point: I don’t think anyone is arguing either of those things should have resulted in extreme penalties—OK, some trolls are arguing that—but rather the concern is if officials can show understanding and flexibility for some athletes, then they should show it for all athletes. And if Trevor Foley was told he was lapped out and had to stop when actually he wasn’t, then he better get his damn finish money.
All of that Jan v. Kristian talk is also why it was equal parts of amazing and funny that Jason West ran almost five minutes faster than anyone—after a mechanical—to sprint it out, full-on, for second.
For all the hype and the whatever, the actual racing was quite good.
Taylor Knibb - 3:32:58
Ashleigh Gentle - 3:33:49
Paula Findlay - 3:37:43
Lucy Byram - 3:39:52
Holly Lawrence - 3:40:09
Jan Frodeno - 3:14:11
Jason West - 3:14:39
Kristian Blummenfelt - 3:14:49
Mathis Margirier - 3:15:44
Sam Long - 3:17:26
Full results here.
Now, let’s talk about the stuff beyond the actual athletes’ racing.
Maybe 7 or 8 years ago, at the old TBI conference, I remember Andrew Messick talking about Ironman’s great existential question that always looms in the background. It’s this: Triathletes have options. They’re generally well-off, educated, travel a lot. They could just decide one day, he said, they’d rather spend the summer biking around the south of France instead of train for an Ironman. They could always just decide to do something else. The great big fear isn’t some other triathlon company, it’s everything else out there.
I was thinking about that this weekend.
USAT’s Age Group Nationals, I thought, was great. Particularly, right now, as the sport is still very much in a post-pandemic recovery mode. I think combining the youth & junior nationals with the adult nationals was smart and made it feel like everyone was in one place competing for one set of titles. It created a little confusion—I swear, no two races followed the same course—but it also added a robustness to the weekend. Instead of talking about being a full festival calendar, it was.
Having a pro race at Age Group Nationals was also key. Having that race in the late afternoon after the age-groups created a cherry-on-top kind of element, gave the age-groupers some sense of legitimacy (look who’s racing at my race!), and there were many true fans in the crowds—ie. people who really genuinely knew most of the athletes, knew what they were watching, and were excited to watch it. Even when/if the PTO disconnects from USAT and does whatever it’s going to do next year, I think it’d behoove everyone to have some kind of pro race connected to the national championships.
How many athletes were there really? I don’t know. I’ve seen numbers everywhere from 5,000 to 8,000—but if you look at the actual results it was more like 4,000 total individual chips crossing the line. That doesn’t super matter, it’s still plenty of people, but here’s what I just kept circling around:
Triathlon, at least here, at least in the U.S., is still very much at a question mark point. What will it look like in three years, ten years? Will it recover, will it evolve? The answer is going to depend heavily on how people come in and what keeps them in. It seems likely (for a number of reasons) that the short-course side of the sport is going to be OK. The youth are into it, the busy well-off adults like having the shorter and funner races, there’s a pathway that makes sense—all we need is more local races again. Essentially, it’s enough of an appeal, welcoming and fun enough, and easy enough to fit into a schedule, that it keeps the great existential question at bay. (Triathletes can bike through the south of France, do a gravel ride, and also do an Olympic-distance race.)
But the long-course side of the sport. I dunno. I kept thinking about that person who has so many other options, I kept thinking about the whole generation below me, especially American women, and I just couldn’t imagine them coming away from that PTO event and thinking: Ah hah, this is clearly built for me, this is going to be my thing! And the dirty little secret is: Those people are not going to stick around and argue about it, they’re not going to spend time and energy trying to build a thing that welcomes them, they’re just going to do/watch/spectate/care about something else.
I wrote a lot more about this, but in short: I really hope the new, exciting, revolutionary, different, going-to-change-the-sport part gets figured out soon. Because the racing is there; the athletes are doing their job.
Rest of the results
70.3 European Championships: A number of Europeans stayed on the continent to race in Tallinn. (Does that qualify as on the continent?) Notably, Laura Philipp won but Imogen Simmonds was close (!) behind—which is a nice return to form for her. And, on the men’s side, there was an even bigger return to form for Pieter Heemeryck, who had his first major tape break in awhile.
Challenge London: It was the first new edition of Challenge taking over the London Triathlon, with Sam Laidlow and Fenella Langridge winning. It’s a half-distance now and goes right through London and looks quite fun, fwiw.
Mark your calendars
We’ll talk more about the Paris Test Event next week, but know that the calendar coming up is:
Paris Test Event: Women on Aug. 17, Men on Aug. 18, Para races on Aug. 19, Mixed relay on Aug. 20
PTO Asia Open: Women on Aug. 19, Men on Aug. 20
70.3 Worlds: Women on Aug. 26; Men on Aug. 27
Interesting things from around our sports this week that you should know about.
There will be a new location for USAT Age Group National Championships next year—it will not be in Milwaukee. But, just to be super clear, that new location hasn’t been announced yet. It’s not Omaha (as I saw a couple of people say); Omaha, Nebraska is the home of the 2024 Multisport National Festival—which is, kinda, the national championships for all the things that aren’t regular Olympic-distance & sprint triathlon (ie. aquabike, duathlon, super-sprint) and no qualification is required. Not to put too fine a point on it, but: USAT Nationals is the more serious one and is the one run by USAT (as opposed to a third-party race organization). (USAT)
Relatedly, it was announced that Long-Course Nationals will take place at CLASH Daytona. (Endurance Sportswire)
Get to know the college program developing elite U.S. male talent now, too. (Triathlete)
You can also win Jan’s bike from the race with a raffle to raise money for his foundation. (VIPrize)
The water quality in the Seine River, in Paris, is a hot topic again, because the Olympic open water test event was canceled (for that reason). Right now, the triathlon test event is still going off next week, but World Triathlon has said they will move to a duathlon if they have to (per testing, regulations, blah blah). Double however: Many countries’ Olympic qualification criteria won’t count the Paris Test Event as a qualifying race if it’s a duathlon. More to come next week! (The Guardian/Inside the Games)
Don’t worry, this isn’t the only time triathletes have had to swim in shit (as the lovely headline on the NY Post put it). At least 57 athletes got sick after WTCS Sunderland and the BBC is reporting high levels of e. coli found—though World Triathlon said their testing showed everything fine in the lead-up to the race. (BBC)
Did you know Santara Tech (the Norwegians’ tech company production content business group thing) has a Super League team? Maybe I should have known this, but also it confuses me. (Super League)
And on Kipchoge and Kipyegon’s method. (Olympics)
The U.S. announced their full track & field team for the World Championships in two weeks. And, also, another thing I maybe should have known but that also confuses me: Netflix is going to release a track & field doc following some of the sprinters. I know all these sports docs are gold for streaming sites, but also that means they fundamentally need live sports, which creates a circle economy? (Citius/Canadian Running)
Is USATF prioritizing TV over athletes when it comes to the Olympic Marathon Trials? And, yes, I recognize the inherent irony in that question. (Fast Women)
The UCI World Champs are also happening right now. And Paula Findlay is supposed to race the time trial Thursday (if, per her IG stories, her bike makes it to her from Milwaukee!). (Olympics)
Teenager Magnus White was supposed to be in Glasgow, but he was killed when a driver hit him while he was riding in Boulder. It was one of two fatal collisions in Boulder that week. (NPR)
How much does the time trial in the Tour de France hurt? This much. (Instagram)
Congrats to Sam Long and Lara Gruden on the baby. Yes, he then flew into Milwaukee late and took 5th. (Instagram)
And Holly Lawrence has a Youtube recap up on her 5th place. I believe she’s got a busy month ahead too now, with world champs and a wedding. (Youtube)
A fun look at eight facts about U.S. special counsel (and triathlete) Jack Smith, who filed an indictment Donald Trump last week. (Triathlete)
Most importantly, Lance Armstrong quit the reality show Stars on Mars. So, there’s something you didn’t know you needed to know. (EW)
One last thing
Ten years ago Taylor Knibb was a junior racing in Milwaukee. Look who she met then. (Shoutout to Paul Phillips for posting this on his IG)