Discover more from Triathlonish
#38: Tragedy in Hamburg
What to do?
issue #38: June 7, 2023
All-sporters! A couple of quick announcements:
Book Club on Thursday: If you’ve read our book club book, ‘Up to Speed,’ then share your thoughts in the Chat. And paid subscribers, join us at 5:30 p.m PT/8:30 p.m. ET on Thursday for a Q&A with the author. (Zoom link in your email!) Bring your questions.
Podcast: We’ve officially fully joined forces and shifted the podcast over to the Feisty Triathlon feed.
Chat: And a few of us would like to know if anyone has any insight on new Ironman races coming to North America in the first half of 2024?
Yesterday was also my birthday and while I don’t have 38 pieces of advice for my 38 years, I did come up with a couple last year. This year I’d add: Read widely, and remember that everyone thinks they’re the good guy.
Now on to this week’s triathlon-ish news.
What can be done to stop this from happening?
I didn’t watch Ironman Hamburg live. It was overnight here and I was very tired. So I woke up Sunday morning to a rash of messages about what had happened: In a narrow section of the course, where athletes were biking in both directions, a moto driver hit a cyclist head-on. The driver died on scene; the athlete and passenger (a photographer) were both taken to the hospital with serious injuries. Remarkably, there wasn’t a domino effect and an even bigger pile-up.
There have been deaths before in races, but this one hit a lot of people differently. I think for a few reasons: 1. The accident was captured live on air, and was pretty horrific to see. 2. Unlike fatalities that occur as a result of a heart attack or a freak crash, this appeared to be very preventable. 3. The lack of a bigger official response on the Ironman broadcast and for about five hours before a statement was released looked heartless to many, especially to those in Germany where the race and crash were live on national TV.
I don’t think we need to link to the video—there’s no real value in doing so—but if you were watching then what you saw was a string of many motos in a long line next to the men’s pro field. A motorcycle from farther back pulls out to the side (into oncoming traffic) to pass everyone, leaves the frame, and then a cyclist from the other direction goes flying across the screen and into the riders on this side of the road, you can see the crashed moto in the background. It’s pretty gut-wrenching.
Often I think the pros complain about the occasional moto as a bit of a red herring and a necessary part of the job, but it’s clear from reports on the ground and from the screenshot above (right before the accident) that there were somewhere around 15-18 motos surrounding the pro men’s field in Hamburg—which is far, far too many for safety and for racing. And it’s clear, if you look at the shot above, that there should not be two-way traffic with that many motos on that narrow of a road. I didn’t even realize bikes were going the other way until the collision; it seems unbelievable. (According to past participants, the moto traffic was limited in this section last year because of the risk.)
I think—because of how courses are designed, road size and infrastructure, and the relative importance of triathlon locally—that race moto traffic comes up as a dangerous problem more often in Europe than here. (Here, in the U.S., the biggest safety problem is typically cars driving onto the course.)
I also think it’s clear from the comments and from local athletes that this is being perceived very differently in Europe than it is here. In Germany, it appears to be national news—the German TV broadcast of the race was cut after the crash and the crew transitioned to instead cover the news of what had happened.
What should be done differently?
Moto drivers are often volunteers. There is not typically safety training specific to driving around cyclists or on a race course, which is actually a unique skillset. As a sport, we’ve avoided too many serious accidents to date mostly by luck. But it’s probably time to bring moto drivers in-house and provide training.
As the demand for motos increases with the increase of money in the sport—more live broadcasts, more brands wanting photos, more individual athlete content creators—there probably needs to be a standard that limits the number of motos on course and provides everyone what they need: third-party non-endemic pool photographers, an in-house photographer or two providing brands with content, one live stream that can be picked up by multiple broadcasters, race officials, and roving mechanics. And that’s it.
We should also, obviously, utilize various forms of cameras when possible: drones, stationary cameras. Learn from cycling.
It’s going to always be hard for triathlon to take over roads and city centers. But if there have to be sections where the road is narrow or on a bike path or a risky part of a shoulder, then it seems reasonable that these areas are generally marked ‘no passing’ or ‘no moto traffic.’
It’s also clear that what bothered a lot of people was the lack of acknowledgement on the Ironman broadcast. The commentary team works from their studio in the U.S. (and so did not have the same amount of detail and information being fed to them). While there was a brief statement on air and on the ground in Germany of what had happened about an hour after, there was a slowness to any bigger statement—liability concerns, notifying family first—and no overarching change in content or style on air, which was all most people could see. There probably needs to be better communication with the commentary team and with announcers on the ground, given the public-facing nature of their job. The tone should have been different.
Should the race have been stopped?
I don’t know.
Ironman has since said in a statement that they did consider stopping the race, but it was too difficult and unsafe to round up thousands of dispersed athletes. They instead had athletes walking their bikes around that section for a period of time. In most cases that is, in fact, the medical response plan of even the best race directors: treat the emergency, re-route or stop the athletes on course as necessary for safety, do not create additional burden by making ad hoc changes or having too many people involved. While the priority has to immediately be responding to the emergency—which includes diverting or stopping any athletes necessary to get medical personnel on scene—once that’s been treated, I’m not sure what the other athletes are meant to do.
Should the broadcast have been stopped? Yes. The race? I don’t know.
I’ve seen a number of people criticizing the pro men and athletes for continuing on too. But I’m not sure that’s kind. Or that it’s right either. They didn’t cause the accident or hinder the response. I don’t know that those in the front group, who saw something terrible go down next to them or right in front them, even knew fully what happened at the time. Or that there was anything they could do about it. I think they’re struggling to process in their own various ways. Think about what you’ve seen in races, think about how you’ve responded in the moment to something terrible. Or how you simply hoped, when there was nothing you could do, that it was being handled by the best people who could do something about it. Or how you felt when you found out later the terrible details and outcomes. I think piling onto anyone dealing with all of that is not going to help whatever they’re going through.
Let’s exercise a little grace.
The week’s results
Ironman Hamburg: While the actual results of the race took a hard back seat to what happened, the athletes still worked their way to the finish. And the biggest thing to note was Jan Frodeno came up short, which he rarely does. He was just over five minutes out of first and 38 seconds out of second—but he still ended up 4th. Denis Chevrot took the very close race on the run.
World Triathlon European Championship: Poor water quality turned it into a duathlon, which Luxembourg’s Jeanne Lehair won and became the second most famous athlete in Luxembourg.
Rest of the weekend’s results on our Results page.
Mark your calendars:
Boulder 70.3: The triathlon world championships of Boulder. Given the number of people based there and people in town for training camps, the start lists are packed. A brief overview: Sam Long, Lionel Sanders, Taylor Knibb, Holly Lawrence, Jeanni Metzler.
There are a few big 70.3s this weekend, most notably the men head to Staffordshire and the women head to Switzerland—where we’ll have Daniela Ryf v. Ashleigh Gentle.
And some of the big British names (Thomas Bishop, Fenella Langridge, Lucy Byram) head to Challenge Wales.
Watch: Challenge’s Live feed on Sunday at 5 a.m. PT/8 a.m. ET
Other races: Warsaw 70.3, Challenge Geraardsbergen, Challenge Cagnes-Sur-Mer
Things from around our sports this week that you should know about.
Unbound (formerly DK) was this past weekend. It’s like the Kona of gravel, with all the baggage that comes with that. This year it was absolute mud too—which destroyed a lot of athletes’ days and bikes, and turned into total chaos as the mud built up so quickly wheels wouldn’t spin. It’s honestly a bit hard to follow all the different distances and races (and the drama), but a big shoutout to former triathlete Kristen Legan, who won the absolutely epic Unbound XL 350-mile race. When I say we used to race against each other before she found cycling I mean that she pretty much always beat me. (Escape Collective/Cycling Weekly/Instagram/Velo)
Plus, it’s always funny when cyclists complain about race coverage. (Twitter)
Runners and cyclists also hate when I tell them their thing is the new triathlon. But what is the state of gravel tri, anyway? (Triathlete)
The rest of the year’s PTO races will air on Outside Watch again. (PTO)
Speaking of Outside Inc, VeloNews and CyclingTips and Peloton have all officially merged into Velo. They also changed all the IG and Twitter handles, which was very confusing and a little bit funny. (Velo)
Escape Collective is doing a podcast mini-series on the Netflix Tour series. (Apple Podasts)
In the bizarre backyard ultra—the race where you run one loop of ~4.1 miles every hour on the hour—Jennifer Russo went for 74 laps/hours and covered 311 miles, breaking the previous women’s record. And also continuing to make me never want to do this event. (Runner’s World)
Another bizarre record, which captured the Bay Area imagination and has a long history here: A group of 100 women in a range of ages went after the 100 x 1-mile record. They had to average 5:38 miles and did it with nine minutes to spare. (San Francisco Chronicle/Sporthive)
However bizarre the record, there’s always someone who cares enough to cheat. (Outside)
Now that we’re actually getting into the season with serious results and movement in the rankings (and now that we have a year of rankings under us), take a look at the big changes after the first wave of races. (Triathlete)
Kevin Collington tried to get by on 12 hours training/week and says it can not be done as a pro—which might be what I was doing wrong. (Kevin Collington)
Five self-coaching success stories (and 500 failures). (Triathlete)
Daniela Ryf is getting better after being sick at Ibiza. (Instagram)
If someone told you you were ‘slow af’ would you make it the name of your running club? I mean yes. (New York Times)
We probably need to change how we talk (and think) about food and weight with kids. Let yourself eat whatever the hell you want to eat; it’ll work out better in the long run. And if you’re wrestling with those feelings—thinking ‘yes, but…’—then it’s probably also worth looking at the research on weight and health outcomes. This piece on what happened when a CDC researcher published an analysis that found no link between weight and excess deaths is fascinating. (Outside/MSN/ScienceDirect)
One last thing
Looks so fun.