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#11: What if it's actually good if Kona isn't always in Kona?
Take big breaths. And hear me out.
issue 11: Nov. 30, 2022
What do you guys wanna chat about this week? Anything big going on?
Kidding. With so many things in the works right now, I decided to hold a story on the industry’s reliance on volunteers. Don’t want to overload you all. I did send out a call for questions to paid members, but otherwise sticking with your weekly Wednesday morning newsletter here (a tiny bit later that usual).
Can we talk about this now
This last week or two, as everyone’s gotten worked up about tri rumors re:Kona moving, I’ve been reading comments and talking to people to get a sense of the mood (always important to do, as long as you squint to blur the edges). And one opinion I heard a few times—“having a separate women’s race cheapens it”—was stupid enough, as if the women are only defined in their relation to the men, that it actually made me stop and think.
So, now that the reports are out there, let’s do this. Reportedly:
The 2023 Ironman World Championship will be split into men’s and women’s races, with the women in Kona in October and the men in Nice, France in September
Those races will then switch the following year, and (ideally, possibly?) rotate locations in the future
Yes, there are details to be worked out. Yes, I’m sure you have questions and we’re all waiting for an official announcement or confirmation. Yes, there are absolutely situations in 2023 that will be rough for the couples and families who will now have people racing in two locations, for the Legacy athletes, for people who have things already booked. I don’t have answers, but I’m sure there’ll be some sorting out of these first-year issues that come up.
But what if this a good thing? Not just the best of a bad situation, but a good thing. What if it doesn’t cheapen anything but makes its value even clearer?
Photo: Donald Miralle/Ironman
If you were going to go back in time and invent a sport, create a story around that sport, how would you do it? Would you tie it so permanently to one small place and one group of people? Would you build an entire sport and a global brand around a very specific time-stamped confined mythology? I like Kona plenty, but, look, even the Olympics realized they had to rotate outside of Greece. If you were really starting fresh would you build it like we built it?
My point is this: A lot of athletes can get their heads around the fact that Ironman is in a hard spot. Two days in Kona was/is off-the-table; the local community there isn’t happy. Yet, Ironman has committed to a women’s-only championship day. They’ve done this for all the good reasons—clean racing, deeper fields, more media coverage, full spotlight, it’s the goddamn standard in pretty much every sport except for gravel (not without controversy) and to a degree large running races—and, sure, for all the reasons having to do with money too. Going backwards to cram 3500+ athletes into one day on the island isn’t really an option; you’d be stuck taking away next year’s extra promised spots from AG women (not a good look) and stuffing too many women in between the men again. And we’d be back to lots of boring arguments about how much space there is on the pier.
So if you have to have two days and you can’t have two days in Kona, then having one day in Kona and one day somewhere else is probably the best option.
Lots of athletes can get their heads around this and sort of accept it.
But I actually think it’s an opportunity too—and not just in that way my coach used to call getting lost an “opportunity for bonus miles.” It’s an opportunity to change the narrative of the sport. We can still have Kona, it still exists for people to do. We can now also have a world championship that exists in other cool hard interesting historic places, that’s more accessible for some people to travel to, that has different conditions for different athletes. We’ll have to build it into something. We’ll have to do that. But think what we could build.
Plus, women’s Kona’s gonna be fun.
I opened up a thread for questions from paid subscribers—and have actually been impressed so far with the level of nuanced thought. For the record, my concerns (taking into account some of the points that have been raised) are thus:
It’ll be tough to get enough industry buzz and media attention on both races. That’ll come down to lots of little things and I think it would behoove everyone to consider those things and make it a bit easier for brands and outlets in these first years.
Having to travel to both races isn’t exactly going to be cheaper.
There’s likely some messing around with dates and calendars and other race organizations (*cough* PTO) that’ll have to happen.
Triathlon, obviously, has a history of a we’re-all-in-this-together vibe, or at least it thinks it does. While people are forgetting that many many sports split contests by gender (as I sit here and watch the men’s World Cup), it is nice to be able to see everyone together in one general location. Hopefully, we can still maintain that feel and, hopefully, this doesn’t turn into a ‘pick one’ situation. Triathlon may simply not be big enough to sustain overall interest and fun across two things.
The elephant in the room: How hard should it be to qualify for the world championship? And, more importantly how hard do people think it should be? While I’m not overly concerned about the roll-downs yet, I am concerned about the perceptions of the roll-downs. It probably makes sense to put some kind of floor in place (ie. you have to at least be top 10 in your AG at your qualifying race). And it’d be nice to not overstuff these individual days with too many people just because there are two of them; the money grab will cost you in the end. Let’s say 1,800/day is a nice number.
And the performance of the weekend is…
Now, let’s talk about the actual racing going on. I was quite proud of all you all for getting the correct answer here, and not just because I like Flora the best:
Here’s the thing:
#3 - The men’s WTCS Grand Final was wacky. Super wacky. No one would have predicted. (OK, well, very few people predicted.) Leo Bergere required both the full French team to get him away on the bike—preview of Paris 2024?—and quite a bit of luck. In order to win the series title: he had to win the race, Alex Yee had to be 4th or lower, and Hayden Wilde had to finish 6th or lower. And, with Alex on the losing end of the sprint for 3rd, that’s exactly what happened. Like we said: it was wacky. But. It was simply a very exciting, well-executed race, with the chips falling for the Frenchman. Best of the weekend? We have other contenders to consider, which brings us to…
#2 - Yes, Patrick Lange ran an Ironman marathon record of 2:30:32 at Ironman Israel. That’s very fast. It’s four minutes, 30 seconds faster than his previous best. It also was only five minutes faster than Gregory Barnaby ran in 3rd and seven minutes faster than Daniel Baekkegard in 2nd; point being everyone ran quite fast. I know Lange ran it in shoes that are illegal in running races (but we’re not in running races are we?), and I know it was rainy and tough. But, clearly, it wasn’t slow. I’m not saying the course was short or not accurate or that it isn’t impressive—it is—but certification doesn’t exist in triathlon and we have no historical context on a first-year race. He ran very fast, and also a little faster than he’s run before.
#1 - That means that within the context of history, it’s hard to ignore that Flora Duffy’s fourth World Triathlon series title was on the next level beyond what were also record-setting performances. Four titles is the most titles for any woman. Plus, it was done under more pressure from Georgia Taylor-Brown than she’s come under on her previous title wins (IMO), and it was an absolute Master Class in how to keep throwing your best tools at a race until one sticks. When it comes to draft-legal racing, as a performance, her race in Abu Dhabi firmly put her in a very small pool (ie. with just Alistair Brownlee and Javi Gomez) as one of the best to ever do it.
Photo: World Triathlon
Mark your calendar
These are just the things I think are big or worth knowing. And, in my estimation, we’re almost done with those for the year.
Indian Wells 70.3 - Sunday, Dec. 4 @ 7 a.m. PT: Last big U.S. 70.3 of the year. Money’s on Paula Findlay and Lionel Sanders repeating, but who doesn’t love a good Lionel v. Sam Long battle? (Coverage on OutsideTV)
CLASH Daytona - Friday, Dec. 2: Always a fun, big-money clash between the short-coursers and the long-course athletes. I think we all want to see how Vince Luis and Leo Bergere will do off that wacky World Tri race. (Livestream will be available on CLASH’s Facebook. Women start at 10 a.m. ET and men at 1 p.m. ET)
The other biggest results of this past weekend
When I’m 52, I want to be like Dede Griesbauer, who not only won the women’s Ultraman World Championship but was third overall AND set a new course record of 23 hours, 22 minutes for the 10K swim + 90-mile bike, 171-mile bike, and double marathon run.
Good to see Ruth Astle bounce back from the rough race in Kona to win Israel.
It was also good to see Morgan Pearson back in 2nd at the WTCS Abu Dhabi race after a year of injury. His 29:15 10K was obviously fast and probably helped mix things up into the wackiness that ensued.
And Abu Dhabi had the first World Tri para mixed relay, along with the paratri world champs. Kudos to USAT (and others) for pushing for the mixed relay, very cool.
Like I mentioned last week, while in the UAE, World Tri hosted a bunch of exec meetings to approve World Tri things. That included the aforementioned new maternity policy and an agreement to implement the running shoe rules on Jan. 1. (Yes, that will put a ban on Iden and Lange’s super stacked shoes. Yes, Ironman has said they’ll comply with whatever World Tri implements.) (World Triathlon/Triathlete)
They also approved a 2023 schedule, with the Grand Final in Spain in September and the Paris test event in August. (World Triathlon)
I heard that age-group athletes were give an NFT for the Abu Dhabi race, which is actually a use of NFTs that makes sense. I pitched something similar once, that we could create digital All-American badges, race finisher badges, use blockchain to track and link certifications and results to your digital profiles so they’d be impossible to fake. It could work. Or not.
If you missed the NBC Kona doc on Sunday, you can watch it on Youtube now. Speaking of things we’re going to have to change in how we talk about and frame them. (Youtube)
Fox Sports FS1 will show a PTO doc (of the three PTO Tour races) on Dec. 17. (PTO)
Are you going to Endurance Exchange in January? I think I am. (Endurance Exchange)
The USA Track & Field CEO made $3.8 million last year. The part I don’t quite understand is that his base salary was $685K + a $500K bonus, so I’m not sure what the other $2 million deferred compensation is? For reference, in the last tax filings for USA Triathlon, the CEO made $338K. So that’s different. (Runner’s World/ProPublica)
NCAA cross-country champ Katelyn Tuohy signed with Adidas, though she’ll keep running collegiately. It’s one of the new NIL deals. (LetsRun)
I just learned that cross-country skiing will up the women’s distances this year. (They were always just oddly shorter than the men’s; not enough to be their own whole thing, like the heptathlon, just more like ‘let’s only let them do 10K instead of 15K.’ It was weird.) And if there are going to be first-ever medals handed out in the women’s 50K, then you can bet Jessie Diggins wants one. (New York Times)
Kenya running could get banned for institutional doping, something I always have mixed feelings about—the blanket bans, not the doping. (Washington Post)
I was curious about NEOM, the Saudi super city that hosted those Super League races. And, well, you need to go down this wormhole. (Haaretz)
And I always appreciate a good round-up of drinking: 25 of the best places to have a beer post-race. (Triathlete)
One last thing
This is why Molly Seidel is my favorite. (Click to watch the video recap donut turkey race.)