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#18: The world's #1 triathlete
As determined by someone.
issue #18: Jan. 18, 2023
Welcome to all of our new all sporters this week! (Sportsters? Sports-ers?) This is your weekly free Wednesday morning Triathlonish newsletter. I also want to thank all of you old all sporters for helping us spread the word. If you want to share this post on Instagram, that’ll help us grow the non-douche community. And tag @triathlon.ish with a pic of you in your ‘all sports, no balls’ swim caps and gear; we want to see you all out in the wild.
As you read this, I’m on my way to Nice, France for the Global Triathlon Awards. If you want to chat about what the heck that is and get some behind-the-scenes scoop, join our Triathlonish chat/forum.
And to help pump up everyone for this gala affair, I’m opening up the Q&A from this past Sunday with one of the GTA judges. (Reminder: Every Sunday our paid members get a special newsletter with some fun Q&A or in-depth story.) Who will win?
We’re all winners here
If you had to pick, who would you say is the #1 runner in the world?
Given this audience, I’d guess most of you said Kipchoge. Which isn’t wrong. But if we polled the general population, most of them would probably say Usain Bolt. Yes, still. And I’d argue in terms of pure dominance in and elevation of her event, Sydney McLaughlin has got to be up there. For range, I’m always a fan of Sifan Hassan. And for pure versatility and adventure, Killian Jornet is automatically on the short list.
Of course, there is no actual title for #1 runner in the world, because that’d be silly. Hurdles v. marathons v. trails? That’s what drunken bar debates are made for.
But, we’re triathlon, not running, and so here we are.
While there are world titles and world champions and short-course world rankings (and rumors of Ironman world rankings coming back), there hasn’t been much of a tennis-style ranking for the overall sport to date. Enter the Pro Triathletes Organization and their #racefortherankings.
Although the final 2022 PTO rankings actually came out a week or so ago, people only super started paying attention with the social media countdown to the #1 spot earlier last week.
**Before we debate whether this is accurate or not, I’m going to caveat everything we ever say about the best athletes in the world with the fact that obviously every one of them is very very good. We’re discussing tiny percentages of difference within the upper echelons. Of course, they would all finish hours ahead of me. In actual fact, Anne did finish Roth three hours ahead of me.**
Now that being said. There are some oddities in the rankings that left a lot of people scratching their heads. (According to our very informal Instagram stories poll, 36% of you thought the PTO got it wrong and 49% thought it was ‘eh, close enough.’ And, fyi, the remainder said it was spot on.) We’ve outlined the basics of the ranking system before, but there are a couple of things I think caused a few eventual surprises: Top three races count, so you could have an up or down year as long as you have three good races. PTO Open races get a 5% boost, which is their right. And your best full-distance race of the year gets a 10% boost, with the argument being that longer distance athletes can’t race as frequently—also fair, but it means if you don’t have that one full-distance bump in your top three races then you’re gonna have a hard time cracking in.
So how did Anne end up on top? High scores around ~110 points for Hawaii & St. George world champ podiums, plus a 10% boost for her Roth win that got her up to 131.41 points for that race. (That’s a lot, if you didn’t know. Daniela Ryf’s St. George world title got her 137 points. Chelsea Sodaro’s Kona world title earned her 133.11.)
While there’s been much talk about the opaqueness of the scoring system—how do the points for a performance get determined, how can anyone follow it, how can athletes prepare if they don’t know what points are in advance—one of the things that actually stands out to me is how the points drop off as you scroll down from the top. (Hint: They drop off drastically, both in the overall rankings and in any individual race performance.) I understand it’s determined via an algorithm, where if xx = 100 points then it’s a simple calculation and extrapolation of how each athlete’s time relates to xx. But, when you start to look at how Alistair Brownlee scored 102 points at Swansea 70.3, you pretty quickly realize it all drops off very hard from there.
However. If you click on it right now, you know what else you’ll realize: The 2022 points don’t line up with the current scores shown, which now have a “Strength of Field” factor listed at the top of each race. (Check Alistair for an example.) Which I think means: The much-discussed updates and changes to the PTO points ranking system are quietly being rolled out now that 2022’s bow is tied….
Now if only the PTO would go ahead and also announce their 2023 Tour races.
UPDATE NOTE: It has been clarified that the new scores & strength of field factor that showed up briefly Tuesday night was a back-end technical error that pushed a test program live to the site, and is not yet ready to be finalized and rolled out. The PTO stats and rankings are now back to showing the original scores until the new changes are finalized.
READ: Will the PTO succeed?
Photo: Eric Bakke/CLASH Endurance
CLASH of the almost Titans
I finally got around to watching the CLASH Daytona coverage that aired on FoxSports1 on New Year’s. And CLASH is still, hands down, one of the best race broadcasts in triathlon. It’s professionally shot, in the style of major sports, and the editing together of a clip show flows smoothly; the commentary has a higher end touch to it; the show bothers to set up the story lines and bring you into why you should care. Overall, it didn’t make me want to throw things at the TV—unlike some tri broadcasts—and it appears to knows who its audience is.
I think there are still two major questions about long-course triathlon airing on broadcast TV that have yet to be answered by anyone:
1. Is there a way to make these race recap shows interesting? Does anyone independently want to watch them? Why? (And I mean that non-ironically: Why would someone watch a race recap broadcast that they already known the results of, to what end. If they don’t know, would they want to watch.) Condensing a men & women’s race into a one-hour TV clip show has the effect of someone basically telling you about a cool thing instead of actually seeing the cool thing. Obviously, Ironman’s NBC broadcast solves this by showing you lots of human interest profiles instead.
2. Short-course can be exciting just because it’s fast—if you shoot it and plan it right, as Super League has demonstrated. Ironman can be mesmerizing just because it’s stupidly long (and no one wants to watch the whole eight hours anyway). But how do you make all these other different mid-distance races worth watching on TV? You need the best athletes—and you only get the best athletes if you pay for the best athletes. You need crowds and spectator-ness. You need drama—which is hard to build if your spectators don’t know why Angi Olmo winning Daytona was awesome. Basically, I’m not sure any of the broadcasts have those things. I’m not sure the product (in any of its forms) fully makes sense yet, as entertainment. Because let’s be real, entertainment is the business we’re in.
Mark your calendar
This section is on quasi-hiatus until our calendars get filled again with the season starting. Check out our 2023 calendar of races you should care about to plan ahead. Two quick things though:
Since it’s January, we’ll give a shoutout to a handful of the southern hemisphere big guns (+ Javi Gomez) who will be duking it out at Tauranga Half this weekend.
And this Friday: the Global Triathlon Awards livestream. I have a gown, you all, an actual gown.
This is the rest of the news that makes up the “ish” in triathlonish. Things I think you want to know about this week, and also things I just think are interesting in our sports.
On the topic of entertainment, the PTO released their Youtube doc of the 2022 PTO Tour. It’s like a recap video, but highlights. (Youtub)
World Triathlon announced the rest of its 2023 schedule: Cagliari and Montreal were added to the WTCS list, making it a very crowded calendar. And a few World Cups were cut. It’s a mix of sprint, super-sprint, and standard. (Tri-Stats asks if there should be a sprint-specific series, which I think is an interesting question.) (World Triathlon/Tri-Stats)
You have until the end of the month to put in for the Paris Olympic tickets draw. That doesn’t mean you get tickets; it means you get a time slot to buy tickets during. FYI. (Paris 2024)
CLASH also announced an interesting new cycling relay around the racetrack, so we can live out all our Breaking Away fantasies. (CLASH)
It seems like every athlete is announcing training camps you can join them on, going to new coaches, life goals, but interestingly not actually that many new sponsorships yet. Maybe they all need to shoot their announcement content first. (Instagram)
Female athletes are leaving megabrands like Nike for smaller outlets where they get more attention, voice, and, well, more money. (Surface)
Tri-Stats also did a fairly detailed breakdown of why so much tri potential in Africa and Asia has gone untapped. One reason: World Tri should invest (among other things). (Tri-Stats)
The Norwegians made more of their press tour with a Youtube video inside their testing techniques and part 73 of the Rich Roll/Norwegian podcast series with coach Olav. None of it’s super new, but if you’re hungry for Norwegian content and just aren’t getting enough from their Morocco training camp on Strava, then go nuts. (Youtube/Rich Roll/Strava)
Specialized was the latest to announce layoffs. (Bicycle Retailer)
Strava announced layoffs back in December and now very distinctly did NOT announce their incredibly confusing price changes. Of course, DC Rainmaker has the most thorough explanation of the non-explanation. While I don’t care much if Strava wants to raise their price (the map building feature is quite useful), not telling people how much their increase will be, and obtusely basing it on where they live and when they purchased, is not great comms. (DC Rainmaker)
The crew behind CyclingTips (which was my favorite cycling publication, as someone who only loosely cares about cycling) is back with something new and has a lot of jobs posted at, if you know stuff about cycling. (Substack)
Des Linden & Kara Goucher are also out with a new podcast, and the title is on point. (Apple Podcasts)
Biggest news of the weekend: Emily Sisson broke her own American record in the half-marathon. And other things from Houston. (Citius Mag)
Who’s better: trail runners or road runners? (Outside)
Pro cyclists have very bad bone density. (VeloNews)
One last thing
OK, two things this week…
And also I’d be 1000% down for this: