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#37: Let's panic!
Are Ironman World Championship slots not as hot a commodity as they once were?
issue #37: May 31, 2023
CORRECTION: Last week, in my exhaustion, I made two notable mistakes—both since corrected.
1. I mixed up start lists and said Alex Yee wasn’t racing in Cagliari, and clearly that was wrong! (We updated this important note in a post on IG as soon as we realized and Alex liked the post, either because he follows us or because he just was super bored sitting around the hotel pre-race.)
2. I also wrote that the Morro Bay tourism bureau paid Ironman $30M, when that should have said $30K. To make up for this, here is my free idea of the week: Ironman needs to have a ‘community outreach manager’ on staff, who would do standard outreach to new host towns and explain to businesses what they should and shouldn’t expect, what things triathletes will buy, and what modifications would make the most of the event. I say this after reading some of the angry businesses’ letters to the editor and listening to confused people in town. My husband also chatted with a very disappointed coffee shop owner, who had stocked up on gels and PB&J sandwiches, and couldn’t figure out why no one was buying them at 7 a.m. on race day—after the race had already started.
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Spots, spots for everyone
Back at the Ironman Coeur d’Alene awards ceremony in 2021, I got bored (so bored) waiting around for 24 Kona slots to be handed out in the men’s 55-59 category. And then 18 slots in the 50-54, and it just kept going and going and going. (This was when we still thought Kona was going to happen that fall.)
With all the travel restrictions during the pandemic, everyone worried about those world championships turning all American. And back when 70.3 Worlds was in Clearwater every year, you couldn’t give the spots away. I had one friend who swore no one would go to Chattanooga—which obviously wasn’t true—and I listened to Americans explain how Mooloolaba would be a weaker field since they weren’t going to make the trip—also, not really true, the Australians just turned out more.
(This is going somewhere; come with me.)
So, yes, I have also heard all the talk about how people are turning down their Nice spots for this September, how Kona isn’t elite enough anymore. I’ve had it in my notes for awhile: A friend sent me the email he got saying if he took his Legacy spot for Nice this September, he’d also get one for Kona next year. One athlete in a forum I’m in said they got an email invite to Nice after placing 97th in their age group last year, another got the email when they had been 25th. At least four pro women turned down their Kona spots at Ironman Lanzarote—and there are quantifiably more spots total this year.
So, yes, I am aware. It’s not new news.
I just haven’t had much to say about it. One of the things I wanted to do with this newsletter was to not just chase headlines, but to provide context and a way to think about the news, to put what you want to know all in one place. And the problem with this whole slot panic was I couldn’t decide if the panic was merited or not. You can’t type one giant shrug emoji.
Instead, here is what I offer you. Some history:
If you can read the print, what it says in this article from 1989 is that people were sending in sob letters to try to get a spot at “the Ironman.” Largely, they were told no, because the official way to qualify was by being in the top 15 men or top 10 women the year before, by “placing” at one of the 18 U.S. qualifying triathlons (not Ironmans) or at one of the four Ironman races in the world, or by being selected in the U.S. based lottery, or by applying as an international citizen.
That’s how it used to work. Then it worked differently. Now it works a new way. I don’t know that one way made it more of a world championship than another. I don’t know that the people who did it when you could just sign up are somehow lesser. The possible pool of applicants has grown since 1989—can you imagine everyone now mailing in letters?—and the interest has spread outside of its original limited geographic appeal and the number of qualifying races globally has increased to reach those people. And all of that, ultimately, will mean more athletes around the world competing for a world title. And more athletes competing, typically, makes something more competitive in the long run. So, I don’t know. I don’t know if the panic is warranted or not.
It’s possible this is the end of an era. It’s possible that the mystique and allure and just-out-of-reach-ness (but not too out of reach) appeal of the Ironman World Championships is disintegrating. Or, it’s just changing and a new thing is being created. I don’t think we’ll actually be able tell which until we go through this four-year cycle. I think in all things—yes, this is also about life—it’s hard to know when you’re in the middle of something if it’s just a dip or a change in direction or a decline. And, to a degree, what happens will probably be self-fulfilling. If you believe it matters that other people don’t get to race in order for that race to be important, then you’ll believe that. I think Ironman’s challenges with selling spots and not selling out races right now probably have more to do with coming out of a pandemic and the whole recession question and a lack of feeder events in an industry that’s still recovering than they have to do with the overall appeal of the world championships. I also think it’s probably an interesting (ie. stressful) job trying to maintain the brand messaging of something that has one specific image outside of its core audience and one very different image inside.
All of which is to say: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
P.S. Give the poor guy who won Lanzarote but was late to the awards ceremony a spot. It’s not like you don’t have room.
The race of the weekend
Most importantly: When did pros all start saying they were P3 or P7 instead of just saying they were 3rd or 7th? I know they’re doing it because age-groupers always say ‘I got 2nd’ when they mean they were 2nd in the 45-49 and that’s really not the same thing, but, like, no one’s confused about whether Lucy Charles-Barclay’s in the pro race or not.
I was going to say something about how we’ve all been Alex Yee in the above picture, but, in reality, we’ve never been Alex Yee. Because we don’t recover from a face-plant to run a 28:31 10K (sure, it was short) and win the thing.
To get down to WTCS Cagliari this past weekend:
Alex Yee and Hayden Wilde are the best draft-legal racers in the world right now (P1 & P2 again, as they say).
The French men are really, really deep though (P3, P4, P5)—and if the French lose the mixed relay in Paris I feel confident someone will be fired.
Georgia Taylor-Brown is back! (P1) And that makes three WTCS victories in the first three races of the year by three different British women. That’s one tough team.
Taylor Spivey is finally being rewarded for being so damn consistent. P3 in Italy gave her the world series lead for the first time ever.
Katie Zaferes is slowly working her way back up (P12) postpartum and I have quite a bit of faith that she’ll come around.
Gwen Jorgensen, however, had a rough day and was lapped out. It should be noted: Many people were lapped out; they were short laps and a fast, flat course that lended itself to draft packs putting time into the stragglers.
Other results & updates
Ironman Brazil: We have to first give everyone an update on Laura Siddall, who crashed near halfway on the bike. Sid has a post on her IG—and we chatted briefly on the podcast that’ll be up this Friday. Send her good thoughts.
Ironman Brazil tends to be all about the Brazilians. Pamella Oliveira won it and Argentinian Luciano Taccone beat out a heavy Brazilian line-up on the men’s side. But I have to also give a shoutout to my once training camp buddy, Alex Watt. Sports are brutal. I was super worried about Sid (before she got her phone in the hospital and was able to respond to messages) and I know how much she was ready for this and how much that sucks. I was also stoked for Alex to gut out a rainy run and grab the third Kona spot in her first pro podium. Sports are brutal.
Mark your calendars
Ironman Hamburg: Yes, there are a couple of Challenge races this weekend, but the big race is the men’s European Ironman championship, the Alistair Brownlee-Jan Frodeno match-up in Germany. There are a few other big names (and I’m rooting for Matt Hanson), but Max Neumann has pulled out to head back to Australia and do Australian things. So, it’s really set-up to be an Ali-Jan showdown.
WATCH: On Ironman Live and Ironman’s Youtube at 9 p.m. PT on Saturday June 3/midnight ET.
Things from around our sports this week that you should know about.
Though I hadn’t been super following the Giro, it was hands down the race of the weekend. Geraint Thomas leading out his buddy (on a different team) Mark Cavendish, who is retiring, for the last stage sprint win. A weird ass mountain TT stage, where cycling fans had to deal with what triathlon fans always have to deal with. And an absolute hands down epic comeback from Primož Roglič. It’s what sports are for, and if you’re going to read one thing about why the Giro was everything we want in sports, read this. (Instagram/NBC Sports/Youtube/Twitter/Escape Collective)
In other sports: Track tried to host a star-studded L.A. Grand Prix, except a lot of the stars didn’t show up. (Los Angeles Times)
It sounds like the Collins Cup, which no one will confirm or deny, may actually not be happening this year.
Tim did a fairly high-level overview of where the Pro Triathletes Organization is at. It’s not a ton of new news, but a good summary. (Triathlete)
And Slowtwtich has a new podcast, in which they also address the state of long-course triathlon—because what else is there to talk about. (Podbean)
Let’s also think good thoughts for Elliot Bach, who was hit by a pickup truck while training this weekend. (KLTV)
Ironman announced a new race in Vietnam. (Ironman)
Challenge Family has taken over the London Triathlon—and will add a mid-distance race. (Challenge)
USA Kids Tri is expanding the program to Phoenix with a series of kids races over the next five years. And the Brownlees’ foundation has reached 50,000 kids. As a big believer in the impact and reach of each individual person and race, I think this matters. (USAT Foundation/Tri247)
Owen Cravens is the first paratriathlete to join Project Podium—and he could win a lot of medals, btw. (Triathlete)
I missed this a week or so ago, but Chris Nikic did his first race without a guide at the Challenge Championship. (Instagram)
British Cycling took a page out of the Brit Tri notebook and are just renaming the men’s category and making trans women race in it. Truly innovative stuff there. I’ll say what I always say: Step back and think about what you think the problem is that needs solving. And remember that every other time we’ve been 100% sure we knew the best science to establish sex testing in sports we’ve been wrong, so. (British Cycling/Triathlonish)
Also, if your world view includes bullying teenagers into not competing, maybe you need to re-evalute. (Yahoo Sports)
Lululemon launched a women’s trail shoe, a science-backed program to study female athletes, and a six-day ultramarathon that their ten new ambassador athletes will take on. At least that’s how I understood it. And, honestly, it’s a far cry from the Lulu of old, so maybe the company is actually changing? (Women’s Running)
You will be shocked to learn that most fitness influencers are doing more harm than good. Related: Youtube’s algorithm is obsessed with people doing marathons on zero training. (New York Times/Outside)
New regulations are coming on ebikes. What should they be? (Bicycling)
And I went back and forth on sharing Collin Chartier’s announcement that he’ll be “homeless” bike-packing, but I’m just going to go ahead and set it down here, because there are so many different levels in it to unpack. (Instagram)
One last thing
For everyone who’s ever tried to explain their bags of powdered drink mix to TSA.
“So it’s like Gatorade?”