#58: Let me explain this drama
An IG deep dive.
issue #58: Oct. 25, 2023
All-sporters, I’m in the process of moving, so hopefully this week’s news-packed issue makes sense. Fortunately, while many people were going to leave Kona with COVID, I was lucky enough (and took as many reasonable precautions as I could) to just be struck down with crippling fatigue last week. So, I think I’m finally recovering after enough sleep.
For you paying subscribers, let me know if you like the audio versions of your weekly Wednesday newsletters—they’re not fancy, but just to save you from reading.
And, we have Book Club! Because more people wanted to be involved, we’ve opened up a thread discussion for those of you reading the book (this quarter’s pick is: Sidelined) and we have a Q&A with the author for paying subscribers later in November. With all this off-season down time, you should have pleny of book reading time.
Now, onto it.
He said what?
I used to do this bit where I would explain Triathlon Twitter — ie. someone online would make some oblique reference to some controversy and you’d see the response and the shade throwing, but you’d have no idea what they were talking about. And to really understand what was going on you’d need to know all the back story, so I’d explain the back story.
Well, Instagram now, but samesies.
Last week, defending and reigning Ironman World Champ Sam Laidlow threw a bomb on Instagram with a multi-carousel post that is now deleted but started with: “You will not take this away from me.”
In a number of IG slides in both English and French, Sam then named names of people who he feels have wronged him and who he says have spread rumors about him doping. He called them out and dove deep into the weeds of what was being said about him (we’ll discuss an example in a second). This included: Clement Mignon and Marjolaine Pierre, Brice Hacquart I believe, “Daniel” (who we assume means Baekkegard), and most notably Rudy von Berg’s dad. He accused RVB Sr. of spreading these accusations through an email campaign to various people. (RVB Sr.’s response is here and, it should be noted, he believes his emails were not public accusations but that one was forwarded to Sam by mistake.) Sam ended the whole thing with what may soon become my favorite sentence ever: “Just accept that I am smarter and work harder than you.”
Now, I’m going to try to simply explain this, without opinions:
While many triathletes only first heard about these doping accusations from Sam himself in this post, the details have been circulated widely enough that I’ve heard them from multiple places and have seen the reported emails. (Which isn’t to say anything about the information, just to convey the extent of its reach, so as to clarify why he might have felt it was necessary to respond.)
Let’s look at a mentioned example: One of the points made is that Sam’s girlfriend said something at the Nice finish line like: ‘oh yes, all you [ie. the pros standing there] need to go to doping control because of all the hormones you’re taking.’ This is an accusation/detail Sam mentions, specifically, in his post. He says it was a bad joke and Clement & Marjolaine, who were there, misunderstood the joke. There are other similar examples, mentioned and dove into in detail, but you get the idea.
Within the he said/he said, a few big takeaways from Sam’s post:
Most triathletes didn’t know any of this until he shared it.
He confirmed that he is under investigation from the ITA (the International Testing Agency), which Ironman has contracted to run their investigations and testing process/notifications/etc. ITA will not, under any circumstances (I asked), even confirm the existence of an investigation—so to confirm, yourself, that you are the subject of one is sorta big news.
He also (in the French portion of the text photos) mentions that he gets treatment from a sports med center in Girona, called the Cenit Centre, because he wanted to take control of his health. (Again, not sharing an opinion, simply information.) This center is, itself, just a sports medicine and rehab facility, but it is the subject of other questions, rumors, and reportedly an investigation itself—which doesn’t mean anything about anyone who uses it, but was an interesting piece of newly-confirmed-to-me information in Sam’s post.
Now, what are you to make of all this?
While the post has since been deleted, Clement and Marjolaine did dive into the comments during the five days it was up and respond. They said (in essence): ‘f*** you, we didn’t gossip or say anything, we just answered the ITA honestly when they came to us.’ Other than that, no pro has weighed in—except for Joe Skipper, who asked a clarifying question about whether Sam has ever had a TUE (he said he has not). And, just to add, as someone who also can’t control what my mom says and does, it’s important to remember Rudy Von Berg Jr. (who hasn’t said anything publicly) is not the same as Rudy Von Berg Sr.
I don’t know what will ultimately come of any of this, but the ITA would not confirm or comment. They did tell me that all tips are kept anonymous and they encourage you to report anything suspicious. Hah. (Though, of course, the ITA also can’t stop an athlete from talking about their own investigation; gag orders aren’t a thing.) Hopefully, whenever whatever is investigated concludes there will be a statement released for everyone’s clarity.
Should Sam have posted the post? I mean, probably not. Obviously, most people agree the best thing from a PR standpoint would have been something like: ‘I am disappointed to hear my competitors have spread rumors about me and an ITA investigation has been opened as a result—but I expect to be fully exonerated and am saddened anyone would sink to this level.’ Done. Since that’s not what he did, there are two ways then to view the scorched earth method he chose instead: 1. Sam’s 24 years old; when I was 24 I had a list of people who I would never forgive (I still remember them, but no longer have the list), and he took it down when cooler heads prevailed, or 2. Sam publicly called people out for a number of other slightly more cynical reasons.
I’ve never spoken to him, other than at press conferences, and I can hope for the best, but none of this made me think higher of anyone—though part of me did love the unhinged drama of it all.
Get them to the start on time
Of course, there was other big news this week. Ironman announced confirmation of another bit of rumor: changes to the 2024 Ironman World Championship qualification process for women.
Due to the fact that spots for Women’s Nice in 2024 were not being awarded adequately (like, really, really not; like super being turned down and rolling all the way), Ironman decided that in order to get more fast women on the start line in France they needed to create more ways for those women to get there. Now:
You can still qualify with a traditional AG spot at a full Ironman
Some of those spots have instead been re-allocated to a top-five AG podium spot at a handful of 70.3s (listed here)
Top 10 in each AG at this year’s Kona will auto-qualify for next year’s Nice
Top AG-ranked athletes in the AWA rankings at the end of this year will also get an invite spot
An illustration: This past weekend was Ironman California. Out of 2,092 finishers, there were just 443 women. At first, I thought: That’s really low for around here. And then I remembered my own point I’ve made before: A huge number of the women who would normally have raced here did Kona last weekend instead. That’s true for many of the four or five qualifying races that are this fall—they’re all around the same time and geographic area that the same people were already in Kona.
Ironman has a math problem. The majority of their female athletes are currently based in N. America. And N. American 2024 qualifying options for Women’s Nice were dismal. There were two. Something was going to have to change.
Ironman also has a systemic structural problem. We know that women have trouble lining up childcare and support and the timing for an Ironman. For two Ironmans in one year, especially one that’s far from where the majority of their athletes are? Nope.
So if you can’t solve sexism by next September, then how do you get the best athletes to the world championship? You eliminate some of the barriers, structural and mathematical.
I’ve seen a few people suggest that it’s “easier” to qualify now, but honestly most people seem to understand the problem and to accept that more pathways will help get the best women there, which will help grow the sport, which will help make it more competitive. And, hell, maybe additional pathways for the men would be a good idea too in 2025. (It would be.)
And, anyway, I’m not sure “easier” is the right word the more I think about it. I’m pretty sure the new qualification options actually make it harder, from a performance perspective.
For example: As one of those core demographic women who wants to qualify for Nice, I’m doing IM Lake Placid in July as my only option. So I have a pretty good understanding of what I would need to do on the day as a backstop, purely in terms of what I have to deliver. Given how many spots and how far they’re rolling and what would be necessary, I knew what performance (an OK decent fine day for me) it would take at a minimum in Placid. Now, if instead (with the new options) I try to get the spot with a podium at Oceanside 70.3, it will take a significantly better race there from me. Furthermore (!), because some of the spots from full IMs got re-allocated to 70.3s, getting the spot at Placid now will require a slightly better performance as well.
So from a performance perspective, objectively, it’s probably harder. From a life stress, barriers, logistics, time, obstacles perspective, sure, it’s easier for female athletes than it was before this announcement. But I’m not sure those are the things we’re supposed to be selecting world championship athletes for.
From the races
World Cup - Tongyeong: Gwen Jorgensen won another World Cup. If you’re wondering about her Olympic chances, the answer is: The U.S. has one more TBA auto-qualifying race in the spring (presumed to be one of the early season WTCS races). It’ll take a podium there to lock in your Paris spot—remember: WTCS is higher than World Cups, for confusing reasons.
Super League: Went back to NEOM, as one does, for the series final. Tim Don continued to reign supreme as a team manager, getting the Santara Tech Eagles to the lead (and, no, I still don’t understand why Santara Tech sponsors a team). Kate Waugh & Leo Bergere took the individual series titles.
Challenge Vieux Boucau: And a finish worth watching. Mathis Margirier topped Mika Noodt, whose legs collapsed, and Ali Brownlee, who was farther back; Caroline Pohl beat Imo Simmonds, who was in her third of the three Challenge races. Why did so many people do three of the European Challenge races in a row after the season was basically already over? I’m assuming because of the Challenge year-end bonuses.
Ironman Portugal: Not to spend a lot of time on it, but Marjolaine Pierre won her debut Ironman (which is especially something with the stress she was probably under) and Patrick Lange went the wrong way in transition.
A few quick interesting things in our sports you should know about this week.
Dan Plews, coach to Chelsea Sodaro & Javi Gomez & others, went 7:56:56 at Ironman California this past weekend—which is, reportedly, the fastest time ever for an age-group athlete. (A 36:27 downriver swim will do that for you.) The designation is, of course, arbitrary, since Dan could race elite/pro if he wanted, but there you go. It caps a good year for him. (KCRA)
This Canadian woman became the first person to ever complete three double-Decas. What is a Deca? It’s a 38km swim, 1,800km bike ride, and a 422km run (ie. 10x an Ironman). And a double is, well, double that. (CBC)
This other guy also did an ultra-tri from LA (Catalina Island) to SF and is now trying to brand it The Ultra Pacifica Triathlon. (San Francisco Chronicle)
USAT announced those elected to its Board of Directors. (USAT)
Vittoria Bussi set a new hour cycling world record and became the first woman to surpass 50km in an hour. (Road.cc)
The seven-race off-road Lifetime Grand Prix capped out this past weekend: Sofia Gomez Villafañe and Keegan Swenson won the titles. (CyclingNews)
It’s worth reading the excerpt from Caster Semenya’s upcoming memoir. (New York Times)
The IOC voted last week to add five sports to the LA2028 program: Baseball & softball, cricket, and lacrosse will all return; flag football and squash will debut. Plus, weightlifting and modern pentathlon will stay in the Olympics—though pentathlon will substitute obstacle course racing for horseback riding. But, break dancing (which will be in the 2024 Olympics in Paris) will not return to L.A. in 2028. (Olympics)
Are social run clubs on the rise? What’s the equivalent for triathlon? (New York Times)
This is super old, but somehow I just stumbled on it: Meet the fastest stoner in the country, who came in DFL at the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials. (FloTrack)
You can’t use marathon predictions to prepare for an ultra. It takes something totally different. (Outside)
The last bit of Kona gear count: the fastest swimskins. (Slowtwitch)
The Ironman merch in Kona was notably trendier than in past years—that included a heavily coveted five-panel running hat. Why is the five-panel running hat so hot these days? (Outside)
I’ve been saying it for years: The demand for disc brakes was fake news. (Outside)
And in other things I consider a personal victory: California is studying the relationship between vehicle size and pedestrian/cyclist safety. Hallelujah! (Public Now)
One last thing
The lights went out during the mile race—but the people rallied. Cell phones have so many uses. Click for the video.
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