#30: So you wanna be an Olympian
issue #30: April 12, 2023
All-sporters, here’s a fun story: As a lot of you know, I got a bad concussion back in mid-January (some details here). It was rough for a bit and then it was mostly better, but then there were three weeks or so this past month that were super up and down: crazy fatigue, napping all day, suddenly couldn’t jog for 25 minutes, hot flashes, clear issues with hormone regulation, stopped getting hungry (which was a weird one), headaches, etc. I finally got a blood test done that wasn’t just the basic test and, yes, it turns out quite a few of my hormone levels were messed up—including super high cortisol and testosterone.
I’m telling you this because 1. remember: concussions are legit, 2. my A-game has been hit or miss, which is hard to explain to people, and 3. all I could think when I saw that my testosterone was apparently at a level that’s too high for professional running was ‘isn’t this suppose to be performance enhancing?!’
There’s no podcast this week, what with the lull in news & Sid at training camp & some changes coming.
Check out our Q&A that went out to paying subscribers (open now to all of you) with one of triathlon’s most well-known photographers, James Mitchell.
I’m also working with Feisty on a women in triathlon media campaign soon, so happy to share this new course they built on fueling for women’s performance. There’s a menopause and non-menopause cohort for this inaugural course. It’s on sale now & starts April 24.
Now, let’s get down to it.
From the mailbag
I promised we’d answer reader questions and so today we’re tackling this question from the mailbag (by which we mean my email inbox): Why don’t national governing bodies use an Olympic Trials-style race to determine the Olympic team, like in swimming or track & field?
It’s actually a pretty good question, because the U.S. used to do a triathlon trials race with the winners being named automatically to the team. Here was the problem: If you do a pure U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying race, you only get U.S. athletes racing, and there are really, at most, 12-20 U.S. athletes per gender who could compete in an event like that. The reality, then, is what it takes to win in a draft-legal domestic 12-person race is not always the same thing as what it takes to win at an international World Triathlon Championship Series or Olympic Games level.
(Pack dynamics are very different with larger groups; whether or not you can make the front or second swim pack becomes vitally important at a WTCS race, whereas it can be semi-faked in a smaller race not-quite-as-elite race; and you don’t necessarily get a good sense of who is best suited for Olympic competition.)
Which isn’t to say that the people who made the team out of those Olympic Trials races weren’t good or didn’t deserve to be at the Olympics, of course they did, they met the criteria. It’s just to say the criteria of a trials race chooses for something specific, and so, as a governing body, you have to ask if it’s choosing for what you want it to choose for. If your goal is to win medals at the Olympics—and that is, most definitely, the U.S. goal—then you probably want a selection process that selects for the ability to win medals.
That’s why the U.S. has moved towards a system that 1. prioritizes success (especially medals) at championship events and at events that mimic the field and race course/weather of the upcoming Olympic Games, 2. provides some pathway for objective qualification (see: success at championship events) + some room for subjective selection, prioritizing athletes with the potential to win medals on the specific Olympic course (ie. as a domestique or in the relay or for some outstanding reason).
And so you end up with the complicated system that we have.
Why is this not a problem for track or swimming? They’re individual races and there is no drafting or team dynamics.
The actual U.S. Olympic qualification process for Paris 2024, explained as simply as I can manage:
The two events with automatic qualification are the Paris Test Event (Aug. 17-20) & the World Tri Finals in Pontevedra (Sept. 20-24)
This, by the way, is why everyone has been stressed out about getting enough points to get a spot on those two start lines. The U.S. is only guaranteed five spots per gender at those races.
To auto-qualify at Paris: It’s the top two athletes in the top 8, as long as one is on the podium. If there isn’t a U.S. athlete on the podium, it’s only the top athlete in the top 8. (Technically, it’s slightly more complicated than that, but.)
To auto-qualify at Pontevedra: Top U.S. athlete in the top three (not already qualified, obviously).
There will be one more auto-qualification event after that in late spring 2024, but at that point it really depends on how many spots are left and how many people have already qualified.
Then, any remaining spots will be picked by the selection committee, with a long list of guidelines for them to consider that mostly mean performance at recent high-level races, performance specifically in super sprint races (for consideration in mixed relay), courses, and team strategy. Which basically means they can pick whoever they think would be best.
In order to get three Olympic spots, the country has to have three athletes ranked in the top 30 at the end of May 2024. (This should be a given for the U.S. women, but the men may end up with two spots. Going into Tokyo, the U.S. men got outmaneuvered for the spots by Australia, which slipped their third guy into the top 30 and pushed us out. Perhaps coordinating at a national governing body level this year would be a good idea.)
*Paralympic qualifying is even more confusing, if you can imagine, and you basically have to win the qualifying events.
Who’s ready for qualifying season?!
Have your own question for us to answer? Want to sponsor the newsletter and reach our highly engaged audience? Just feel like telling me I’m wrong? We have a form for that!
You get the audience you build
I swear, honest to God, I was not going to talk about “the women thing” again this week. But.
This article has been getting too much traction, making some point about how more people click on stories covering the men than the women, based on an example from Oceanside, and so—even though I find this a tired rehash of points that have already been made many times—I will fall on my sword here, die on this molehill, suffocate on the outdated perception that women’s sports attract less attention than men’s.
Note: I spent every day for three years staring at all the stats while at Triathlete, what people clicked on, what they actually read all the way through, what they shared on social without reading. I also have dove into a number of business plans for different media outlets and endurance business, so I know what can make money. Here are the problems with the “Lionel got more clicks than the women’s race” argument:
Everyone clicks on Jan and Lionel stories. That’s also true of Lucy stories. They’re big click-baiting popular names, because they built themselves into big click-baiting popular names. (More on building audiences below.) People also click more on the stories about who’s injured or DNFing (which is what the Jan and Lionel examples here were), because everyone loves a disaster story. You gotta compare apples to apples, men’s race coverage to women’s race coverage, to really make this argument. Which brings us to…
Yes, without context, in a general sense, people more often click on “yyy won the race” than on “xxx won the women’s race.” Partially, that’s in how I just phrased those two headlines. (Did you notice?) Partially, it’s the built-in societal context that pre-supposes and assumes the men’s events are bigger, better, stronger. There’s a long history that has step-by-step built a system that inherently tells people men’s sports are more exciting.
Which brings us to our most important point: With context, that is no longer the case. If you tell people about the women and the field and build up the buzz, if you create the context and don’t just pre-suppose that your audience only cares about what they have cared about for decades because that was the only thing they had the option to care about before, then eventually they click on those stories just as much. I know because we did it, multiple times. There’s something we used to say: “People care about what you tell them to care about.” And you can see the Triathlete team still operates on this principle, because they’re smart. That’s why they were doing around-the-clock coverage of Oceanside, because they had a built-in incentive to get you to tune in to the race on the Outside Watch coverage (their parent company). They understand the fundamental idea that you can’t create something out of nothing, but if the product is good—and the racing in triathlon is good—then what you choose to write about is what people have the option to read. Every editorial choice is a choice. You are responsible, at some level, for your audience.
And, anyway, people do watch women’s triathlon. I wrote this down when I was talking to the Ironman team at one point, I still have it in my notes: The women’s race in Kona this past October had a 19 million person reach on social; the men’s had an 11 million reach. (Context and timing of the days is important there, but still, if we’re just gonna pick some stats at random to make a point.)
Results & upcoming races
Super League Arena Games: I once went to a rodeo competition and how I felt about rodeo is a little bit how I feel about Super League: amazing show, fun to watch, good athletes, hard for me personally to follow once I leave the arena.
Beth Potter and Nicolo Strada took the race wins, Gustav Iden got a penalty for a delayed flight, and Sophie Linn and Henri Schoeman won the overall series titles—which are technically also world titles. (Brad has the full recap here.)
Of note, because I’m all about the Americans: Gina Sereno took third in the series and it appears Chase McQueen did butterfly out of annoyance after his treadmill didn’t work right.
Mark your calendar
America’s Cup in Missouri this weekend will be interesting because of the Gwen Jorgensen v. Katie Zaferes match-up on Saturday. (Para races on Sunday.)
I also have to give a big shoutout to Collegiate Club Nationals happening this weekend in Georgia (which is still the real championship until the women’s sport officially becomes officially NCAA). Go Bears!
But, oh man, it’s not until May 6, yet it’s the race everyone’s talking about: OMG, the PTO European Open, the first really huge race of the year, how excited are you, so pumped, look at this start list! I’m sure they’ll release the men’s start list today with Jan and Blu heading it up, but the women’s list is already up *fire emoji shocked face*! Daniela Ryf, Lucy Charles-Barclay, Ashleigh Gentle, Kat Matthews, Chelsea Sodaro, Holly Lawrence, Anne Haug, and I have to say my underdog pick for this distance, Tamara Jewett. That is straight up every big name in long-distance triathlon. All partying on a Spanish island in three weeks.
Everything else from around our sports that I think you might want to know about, or that I just think is interesting.
Canadian Alison Jackson became the first person from North American to win Paris-Roubaix—and her victory dance moves were excellent. (EF Pro Cycling/Instagram)
Yes, after the race, Cam Wurf ran a half-marathon because he’s Cam Wurf. (Instagram/Strava)
The Boston Marathon is on Monday, with a deep men’s and women’s field, including the GOAT Eliud Kipchoge. (I just finished Des Linden’s book about her Boston win, and even though I personally don’t care that much about Boston, what she came back from with her thyroid is epic.) (Olympics/Women’s Running/Runner’s World)
This woman’s grandfather, Ellison "Tarzan" Brown, won Boston in 1936 and 1939, but because he was Native American he didn’t get mainstream recognition and had to sell his medals to help pay for food for his family. She’s trying to find those medals now and get them back. (Boston10)
The state turned down requests to allow betting on the Boston Marathon, but it’s probably only a matter of time before betting on our sports happens at a wider level. Good or bad? (WBUR)
Ironman sent out another press release that they sold out a race (the new New York 70.3, which will now be the largest inaugural event with a painful 3,800 athletes). Speaking of just creating your own buzz for things: I swear Ironman didn’t used to do this when they used to sell out races regularly… (Ironman)
Challenge has added a new Malaysia race. (Challenge)
This new point-to-point ultra swim race series sounds wacky. (Endurance Sportswire)
Apparently, the guy who won that 200-mile race through a tunnel saw faces in the walls while running, which seems predictable. (Runner’s World)
Or, just make up your own craziness. It sounds like someone is going to do the Leadville 100 + Breck Epic + SBT Gravel triple. (Twitter)
Thorsten has a report and preview of the Ironman World Championship course in Nice (for men this year and women next year). It’s similar to the Ironman Nice course—our history on Nice is here—but with a few small differences. (TriRating/Triathlonish)
I stopped keeping track of the late sponsorship announcements, but it seems like everyone is sponsored by The Feed now (pro tip for pros: go after the companies who are in the ‘have money to throw around’ funding stages of their biz dev plans). Latest: Ben Kanute and Collin Chartier. (Instagram)
Asics announced it was opening a new training facility in Font-Romeau, and just as I was wondering if triathletes would also be using it, Lucy Charles-Barclay posted a video from the place. (Athletics Weekly/Instagram)
PTO announced its TV deal with beIN Sports, which is not something we get here, so. (PTO)
Ironman’s 70.3 World Championship show from last year was nominated for a Sports Emmy for its feature on Kyle Brown, which I’ll admit was a tear-jerker. You can watch the whole show here. (The Emmys/Salt Lake Trubine/Triathlete)
Gold medalist Michael Johnson has some ideas for how to make pro track running professional and profitable. Some of them might sound familiar. (Twitter)
It sounds like there’s concern (others have mentioned it too) that because the broadcast motos have been told to drop back and film from behind to prevent any potential drafting, now they’re basically bridging the gap between breakaways and chase groups because they’re behind the rider breaking away. Honestly, it’s no secret my opinion is that part of pro sport is broadcasting the sport, so there’s an amount the pros are going to have to accept the motos—maybe it’s motos mostly filming from the side, some drones when possible (though transmitting live from drones is actually a lot more technologically complicated than people seem to realize), we could even use helicopters like the Tour! (Instagram)
As James Mitchell pointed out in our Q&A, Challenge Roth’s announcement was actually to get rid of photography motos, not broadcast ones. And a pretty long letter in this German magazine explains why that might not solve the problems athletes think it’s going to. (Triathlonish/Tri-Mag.de)
Why are running uniforms the way they are? (New York Times)
Can a personality test help you train? (I actually talked to one of the main sports mental training guys in this article back at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, who was laying out different frameworks for capitalizing on how your brain works, and it made a lot of sense to me. ie. Typical Type A triathlete mental optimism and structure is not really my thing, and so basic sports psych has always been stupid to me, but instead I should/could accept how my brain works analytically and use that.) (Triathlete/Triathlonish/Clifton Strengths)
The New Yorker goes full New Yorker on why top female runners in Kenya are so often victims of domestic violence. (New Yorker)
One last thing
Good luck with this.
Great newsletter as always. Two thoughts:
-betting on marathon or other endurance sports. Just legalize it. And issue everyone who places a bet a pass to the next Gamblers Anonymous. Because it’s a sure-fire way to identify problem gamblers.
-media motos - as an official I’ve spent enough time at the pointy end of races to know that they’re not the problem. Clearly define the rules to the drivers and media and empower officials to kick them off the course if they continually misbehave, and let them do their job.