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#52: Nice v. Kona
And other pointless debates.
issue #52: Sept. 13, 2023
Oh, all-sporters, you probably woke up this morning and were wondering where your usual Wednesday very-early-AM newsletter was. Sorry! Sorry, we were delayed a few hours here partially because I have no idea what day it is and my brain shut down at 4 p.m. yesterday, and partially because I was working to finalize this big ‘Watch the Women’ campaign that we just launched (now that the men are finished and recovering, and we can turn our attention to the women).
I also, obviously, already wrote about my immediate thoughts post-race on Monday morning—which you can read here: Good job boys!
So a few last things today to wrap up Men’s Nice and then I’ll potentially go back to sleep. And next week, we’ll have a some new things for you all.
Scrolling Instagram on my way home, I saw a couple of the Ironman posts about Sam Laidlow winning, different shots and emotional stories. And on every single post, there were a handful of comments that said, in effect or literally: “He’s not the real winner, because it’s not Kona.”
What kind of brainwashed idiot do you have to be to believe that?
I subject lined this email ‘Kona v. Nice’ because that’s the debate everyone wants to have. ‘Here’s a person who raced’s opinion. Here’s what one of the pros said. Here’s a guy who saw it on TV’s feelings.’ But it’s a childish debate, of course. France or Hawaii: compare and contrast, go.
Like I said right after the race, it became even more clear over the weekend that it had been long past time for a new race location, for a new kind of deeply challenging course, for a new championship in a region that cares intensely about the sport. And if you were ready to think outside and beyond the confines of Kona, then you probably were able to see that and to also see what could be improved. (Hell of a boring run course to watch; ohmygod the French logistics.) But if you were always going to continue to insist that Kona is the only triathlon that matters, then nothing was going to convince you anyway, right? And if you think Kona is the only triathlon that matters, then I don’t know what you tell yourself about how the sport grows and changes and becomes something for a new generation. Because it can’t do that if it is only ever one thing.
I spent many of the 86 hours I was in Nice listening to people (and by people I mean men, obviously I mean men) explain triathlon. I heard both that Women’s Kona in five weeks was going to have 3,000 women because they’re just handing out spots and I heard that it was only going to have 700 because Ironman can’t even give the spots away. I heard that no one wanted to take these spots to Nice because it’s not Kona, and also that no one wanted to take the spots to Kona because Ironman has ruined Kona. (I also was told specifically that pros never speak up or ask questions in pro meetings because they’re scared—yet, every single one of the few dozens of pro meetings I attended in my career always devolved into an argument over zippers or stagger rules or center lines or just general heckling, every single one. So.)
All I keep thinking is that if all these things are true, then maybe the Great Big Issue is not Nice v. Kona. Maybe the issue is that the underlying economic fundamentals of long-course mass participation triathlon are changing. All the signs point to that being the case. And if that is the case, then there are going to have to be a lot more new things tried and a lot more changes made, and some will work and some won’t. And we’re going to have to be prepared for that and learn and adapt.
Yes, there will be fewer women in Kona than there were men in Nice. And, yes, next year’s Nice will be tough—just given the demographic participation numbers in Europe + the near total lack of qualifying races in N. America in 2024 (where women’s participation is much higher). Yes, the most ever women at an Ironman World Championship pre-COVID was ~700. So, yeah, we’re going to have to build something for people, for us, to grow into.
But all the evidence suggests that if we don’t do that, then it’s really not going to matter anyway, because the sport will pass us by. And we’ll all be left behind arguing about which is better: France v. Hawaii.
The last few odds & ends from Nice:
The fact that jumped out to me from this profile on Sam Laidlow and his dad (who is his coach) is that the family has pulled his younger 15-year-old brother out of school to be homeschooled and train to be a pro triathlete. That’s some Richard Williams and Earl Woods shit right there. (220 Triathlon)
Sam’s journey in one IG Reel. (Instagram)
On his high-fiving retirement tour run, Jan Frodeno stopped to cheer on Sam and give Patrick Lange (who he has not always got on with) a handshake. And he still casually jogged a 3:08. What do you think he’s up to next? According to his IG stories, going to late-night concerts. (Instagram)
I didn’t know Jan had a staph infection earlier this year following his hip surgery until one of the announcers said it.
When you’re out on the course it’s actually often quite hard to keep track of people who aren’t in the very front: They go out, they come back, and you’re never totally sure who had a flat, who had a crash, who had GI issues, who just had a bad day. Triathlete compiles the DNF files for that reason—and most of the answers are: Just didn’t have the day. (Triathlete)
One of the people I was worried about, though, was Chris Leiferman, who crashed in the late miles of the descent—but was fine (even if his bike was definitely not). (Instagram)
Shoutout to Brent McMahon, who did not DNF, but did finish the slowest ever Ironman of his career. (Instagram)
This 75-year-old was the oldest finisher in Nice. (Triathlon Magazine Canada)
Leon Chevalier wore a DARE ‘drugs are bad’ t-shirt to the press conference—and I might have been the only one there who really knew what DARE was and had been through it in elementary school. (220 Triathlon)
I also got stung by small jellyfish a couple times while swimming, but if I had seen this jellyfish while racing I would have lost it. (Fun fact: When my husband and I were swimming in Nice pre-70.3 Worlds in 2019, I saw something about this size and I swam so fast away that I dropped him immediately.) (Instagram)
Most importantly: The winner of our podium prediction contest is Carrie Peterson! While a number of people got 2 of the 3 podium picks, she was the only person who had Sam for the win. Carrie - I will message you and get you some random goodies for your win.
In other results
Karlovy Vary World Cup (a race whose name I have no idea how to pronounce): We saw a set of double American wins, Morgan Pearson for the men and Gwen Jorgensen for the women. Always happy to see Morgan back on top, especially backing up his Olympic qualifying race in Paris. And it was, as these things go, a very dominant win. Gwen’s was a sprint finish over Rachel Klamer—I’ve seen both kinds of comments on Rachel giving a ‘ah, you got me’ clap after she was beat, with a few meters to go—and it was Gwen’s second win in two weekends. Which brings us to…
Can Gwen make the Olympics?
I was going to say sure, maybe, but here’s the big news: Both Gwen and Gina Sereno (who had actually passed her in the rankings courtesy of a win at the Americas Sprint Champs) have now rolled onto the start list for Pontevedra.
That’s a big deal. Because it’s the next auto-qualifying event for the U.S. It doesn’t matter what you think or what your opinions is about who should get picked if it goes to committee: If an American athlete can get a podium at the WTCS Grand Finale in Pontevedra in two weeks, then they get a spot on the Paris team. End of discussion. (As long as they’re the top American athlete on that podium.)
Smart money might be on Katie Zaferes or Taylor Spivey for that spot. But, that doesn’t mean Gwen couldn’t pull it off. So. As we said. A BIG DEAL.
Challenge Almere (World Triathlon European Long Distance Champs): Apparently, he’s totally OK and responding to messages, but holy shit this finish for second place is brutal.
We launched our campaign today, to build up to Oct. 14, on the back of this history-making year for women’s sports. Trust me, you’re going to want one of these shirts.
There has been a lot of talk about the number of deaths in triathlon recently, but everyone is using the same Wikipedia data to show an increase in recent years (pre-COVID too)—and that data is naturally spottier farther back in time. So, I’m trying to see if I can track down better numbers. (Wikipedia)
Unfortunately, an athlete died during the bike of Ironman Wisconsin this weekend. While most deaths happen from cardiac events (typically during the swim) or accidents, this appears to have been some kind of medical incident or illness while riding, which is more rare. A GoFundMe has been set up for the family. (Kenosha News/GoFundMe)
Because insurance only covers sanctioned races, there is almost certainly going to be legal action over the issues and disputed timeline at the Ironman Ireland race a few weeks ago. (Irish Times)
NYC Tri has a pro field again (hallelujah!) and a $19K prize purse. (Endurance Sportswire)
Bec Wassner took the SOS (a cult favorite) course record. (Instagram)
Joel Filliol is leaving as head coach of Australia through no choice of his own, it sounds like. (Tri247)
After not racing in Lahti, Andrea Salvisberg is in the hospital with meningitis. (Instagram)
Grayson Murphy (the runner) has also been dealing with mysterious health issues in and out of doctors. As someone who has had lots of unexplained complications (or doctors just go ‘well, you seem healthy, lots of people have trouble jogging for 20 minutes’) this year, I can say that the way we view these things as distinct and explainable after-the-fact is not how they are when you’re in them. (Instagram)
Lauren Stephens and Keegan Swenson won the first-ever U.S. Gravel Nationals titles. And if you’re confused by nationals v. Gravel Worlds v. UCI Gravel World Championships, I explained it in this week’s women’s sports newsletter. (Velo/The Feist)
A Belgian man broke the record for the longest nonstop unassisted ocean swim at 60 hours—and if you were wondering “unassisted” means no touching the boat. (Newsweek)
Two former pro football players tackled Leadville 100. (New York Times)
Clayton Young and Em Sisson won the 20K championships (running) two weeks ago. And Josh Kerr and Jemma Reekie won the 5th Avenue Mile this weekend, but Elle St. Pierre’s 4:23 six months after giving birth was also quite notable. (New Hampshire Register/BBC/Runner’s World)
The U.S. college sports model used to be the envy of so many. Not so much anymore. (Outside)
The long lost miracle supplement. (The Growth Equation)
The brains of ultrarunners who lost weight during a five-day race showed an increase in activity related to foraging—which must have come before the increase in ‘lay down and just go to sleep’ activity. (Runner’s World)
Thank goodness Courtney Dauwalter is resting now. (Instagram)
One last thing
Cody Beals remains one of my favorite. Click the video.