#21: What we do best: rules!
The actual consequences of the actual policies, a reading.
issue #21: Feb. 8, 2023
All sporters, I’ve got a couple quick announcements before we get down to this week’s newsletter:
Sid & I decided to only record the podcast every other week until we have actual races and interviews lined up and things to talk about again. May I suggest filling the void in your life by catching up on this episode with the first Afghan woman to complete the 70.3 World Championships.
This past Sunday, paid subscribers also got a roundup/exec summary of the gear & training news I thought was worthwhile this last month. It’s something new I’m trying monthly(ish).
And. We have a giveaway winner! Barbara G. will be joining me at USA Triathlon’s Fantasy Camp at the beginning of March.
Also you all are the best. One of Triathlonish’s amazing readers sent me an actual card! (You’re my favorite, don’t tell anyone.) Now on to the news.
What’s more exciting than new regulations? Nothing.
Originally, I thought we’d have a bunch of shorter things this week and nothing huge, and then Ironman released their 2023 competition rules and lots of people had big confused feelings without really knowing what they were having feelings about. So it’s now time for me to perform my primary service in the world: Actually reading things all the way through.
Summary: Most of the competition rules simply come into compliance (or maintain compliance) with existing World Triathlon rules—eg. no headphones or cameras or two-way communication devices, standard regulations on bikes and wheels, temperature cut-offs for wetsuits, etc.
Two rules that stood out, though:
Ironman confirmed they are following World Tri rules on super shoes (which is following World Athletics rules, which means shoes thicker than 40mm are now banned—for instance, the On prototypes worn at Kona). This isn’t actually news, and was reported before as going into effect Jan. 1, but it’s confirmed now. You can see a list of pre-approved shoes here (click on “manuals & guidelines”).
Ironman also outlined rules banning anything below the elbow or knee in non-wetsuit swims, with a bunch of specifications about permitted above-the-elbow material. Obviously, this is meant to control swimskins and floatation, but it has the effect of prohibiting hijabi athletes from competing, as Khadijah pointed out on IG. This feels like something that could/should be worked out (and apparently USAT is already working it out for USAT-sanctioned events).
The biggest Ironman rule announcement, however, is the creation of two new divisions and policies.
First up: A new physically challenged/intellectual disability open division.
What this does is formalize the PC, special teams, and newly created intellectual disability categories, clarify the rules for those athletes, and give them a place to compete. It also automatically puts all these athletes into the drawing for world champs spots in this category.
[If you weren’t aware, those world champs spots have historically been given out via a kind of discretionary selection process that often created a lot of behind-the-scenes drama. I think formalizing this new category makes a lot of sense, and can hopefully be expanded and improved upon.]
Then, the big one: Adopting World Triathlon’s policy on transgender women and establishing a non-competitive Open division.
The first half of this is that Ironman simply confirmed they will follow World Triathlon’s newly established policy on allowing trans women to compete in the women’s categories with restrictions, most notably: a four-year period in which they can not have competed in the men’s category in any related sports, and a two-year period in which their testosterone limits must have been maintained below a certain level (2.5 nanomoles per liter). Many sports’ governing bodies have similar policies that differ over the amount of time, testosterone levels, and requirements. Lots more details here. (There are no regulations on trans men.)
It’s not, yet, clear what will happen at Ironman races where the national governing body for that location has not followed World Triathlon’s guidance and has instead adopted their own domestic rules internally.
Why are so many sports creating policies regulating trans athletes right now? It has to do with an expiring IOC rule. I wrote about the details last summer.
The second half of this, however, is the creation of a non-competitive “Open” category, with no parameters on it. Obviously, this is designed as a way for trans women to race if they have not medically transitioned, are in the process of it, or for other reasons don’t meet the many paperwork requirements.
Importantly, though, creating a noncompetitive Open category—which means NO WORLD CHAMPS SPOTS OR AWARDS, so chill out—also creates a framework for athletes who might not want to be constrained by competitive regulations: who want to wear wetsuits in warmer temps, use modified equipment, or not be involved in a mass start. It seems obvious that this allows for the possibility of Ironman eventually having a competitive wave/category with one set of rules—ie. charge athletes a fee for anti-doping, for draft detection technology, for higher levels of hand-holding and service—and a non-competitive wave/category for athletes who don’t want those things and don’t care about Kona. As Slowtwitch points out, there’s some precedent for this; there are also some issues to a two-tiered system, of course. But, in many ways it makes sense and has been an idea thrown around for years.
This is a smart move by Ironman.
Why is this Open category confusing people? 1. Because they didn’t actually read the policy. 2. Because British Tri also announced an “Open” category last year, which was really just a renaming of the men’s category, and required all men, trans women, trans men, and nonbinary athletes to compete in the newly renamed category. This is different.
(Related. I continue to find it quite bizarre the way the Brit Tri policy has been framed as this inclusive, middle-of-the-road compromise, when in practical actual reality it’s simply a ban on trans women competing in the women’s category. On a purely factual basis, it’s one of the more restrictive policies out there—not the most, but one of. I guess that’s the power of marketing.)
Now a photo from this past weekend to break things up:
How you ask the question
Since we’re talking about it. I had a revelation last week. (Yes, of the ‘what even are borders other than imaginary lines’ kind.) My epiphany: So much of the angst and anger and fear about girls who are trans doing girls sports is fueled, yes, by a specific segment of media and politicians who need to create some kind of boogeyman to prop up and blame, and the War on Christmas got old, but also it’s fueled hugely by the modern youth sports industry.
Think about it this way: If you think of kids sports as something kids just do around the neighborhood, a low-key way for them to be outside and get healthy and make some friends and learn some skills, then your conclusion is probably going to be ‘whatever, let everyone play.’ But if you’ve invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars and view this thing as the ticket to your kid’s future and a college scholarship, then you’re a lot more likely to think there’s only so much to go around and you have to hold on to what’s your’s. Whether or not your kid is actually going to be a pro athlete is almost irrelevant, the modern youth sports industry has become a well-documented out-of-control machine. And it shapes your view, then, of all related things.
For about eight years, since back before it was a regular FOX New hot topic, I’ve reported on and covered and read and studied how to fairly include trans athletes in our sports. And even four or five years ago, it wasn’t a question that everyone, especially people who don’t otherwise care about women’s sports, immediately had an answer to or an opinion about. There was more willingness to understand gray area, to consider the deeply flawed history of sex testing in sports (oh god, the history of it), to think about nuance and cost/benefit on an aggregate and individual level. But that doesn’t seem to be true anymore. Now, probably, you already have an opinion, maybe you’ve already unsubscribed, certainly I’m not going to convince you of anything.
One of the things I’ve learned, though, whether I convince anyone of this or not, is that all of those studies and facts and experts only matter within the context of how you view them. Your lens changes what you see. If you view women who are trans as women, then your question becomes how can we all figure out a way to make this work, what needs to be done practically so these women can fairly compete as women. Let’s understand together. But if you view them not as women, rather as interlopers, then you’re going to come at it by trying to answer the question of how to control them and keep them out. It’s an important distinction in approach. If you think of sex as two check boxes with no room in between, then yeah, you’re going to think there is no question to resolve here. Penis or no penis? Done. But if you’ve thought about or worked in the biological grey area that exists for a small percentage of people between the two ends of the spectrum—extra chromosomes, cellular differences, androgynous features, non-distinct genitalia—then you’re more likely to acknowledge that doctors have to pick a box when a kid is born and they mostly typically get it right but not always. If you’ve considered the history of what’s happened in the past when we’ve tried to draw a line, then you’re probably going to exercise a little hubris this time around. Maybe you’ll think about who gets killed because of laws, who in this story commits suicide at higher rates, what is the practical outcome for everyone of how policies will be enforced. How does it play out? And I don’t know but I’d imagine if your daughter has told you that actually they’re your son, then probably your point of view on what they need protecting from changes. What angle you look at it from determines what you see.
I don’t know what your answer would be, but I do know that it will depend entirely on how you choose to phrase the question and on what you think the question actually is.
Photo: Obviously, graphic design is in my future.
Money, money, money
Our last big topic for today, which I originally thought was going to be our only topic: the 2022 prize money standings.
As always, Thorsten has the full prize money stats and has broken down the trends year-over-year. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but I’ll give you my highlights. The primary reason the prize money list is interesting is because it’s a good barometer for pros’ finances—though, certainly, there are athletes who make plenty of sponsor money without an equal amount of prize income (see: Jan Frodeno last year). And because we can then see how these finances change over the years.
Top earners in 2022: Kristian Blummenfelt ($491,700), which means with sponsorships I’m betting he cracked $1 million—to which my husband’s insight was ‘if that guy can’t make seven figures, then something’s wrong.’ And Ashleigh Gentle ($351,368), though I’m guessing, since she was wearing an all-black kit without sponsors at the start of the year and was coming off the Australia Olympic system to begin a long-course career, that her sponsor money wasn’t massive.
33 athletes cracked $100K and 15 of them cracked $200K, which is a lot (!) more than there used to be. Thanks, largely, to the PTO.
The PTO money (namely the three big $1 million races last year + the year-end bonus) is the primary influx of cash for pros, though on the short-course side Super League is helping keep those athletes in the dough.
It’s a good time to be one of the top pro triathletes in the world. (I don’t think, however, that’s rolling as deep as far down the list.) Let’s hope/see if this money sticks around in a long-term sustainable form or if everyone just gets their’s and bounces…
Results & the calendar
Tasmania 70.3 this past weekend: Won by race favorites Ellie Salthouse (less than a minute ahead of Grace Thek) and Jake Birtwhistle (who took the win on his long-course debut, but only held on to it 15 seconds ahead of Mitch Kibby).
Not super important but some Boulder short-course stars got out at the snow gravel event Old Man Winter.
There was also this big indoor track meet in Boston that runners were all worked up about. (Is it just me or does running in the U.S. seem way too New England-y?)
And coming up….well, it’s two weeks before the tri season really really starts.
Other things I think are interesting around the non-ball sports world.
A month ago, my husband and I had an extended discussion during our long run about Colleen Quigley’s move to triathlon. (He is one of the Olympic steeplechaser’s 236K IG followers. In sum: We concluded runners often underestimate the bike.) So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when she finally announced she’d be racing a triathlon this weekend for her pro license. As someone who’s raced UCSD’s Tritonman before I can tell you it is both a very non-technical bike course (loops around Fiesta Island, no U-turns) and also can be a soft-ish field (compared to a Continental or America Cup) depending on whether development or elite juniors show up. Good luck to her. (Instagram/Triathlete)
Lionel Sanders will be racing the first Super League Arena Games in Montreal on Feb. 25. Reportedly, drafting will be turned off. How will it go? (Instagram)
On that note, an argument against “meddling” in triathlon, which I’m actually fine with. (Tri-Stats)
It appears Gwen Jorgensen will be making her return to tri at the Oceania Cup in Taupo, New Zealand also on Feb. 25.
Katie Zaferes will be returning to racing post-partum at WTCS Abu Dhabi on March 3. (Tri-Stats)
Sebi Kienle will be racing Norseman. (Instagram)
The men’s field for Challenge Roth was announced, also includes Sebi. It’s quite big, and I assume it means Lucy Charles-Barclay will be in the women’s field. (Twitter)
The New York Times covered the Kona-Nice world champs split, which didn’t add anything new to the discussion, but also didn’t get anything wrong (other than the notion that Nice is more expensive for everyone). So that’s something. (New York Times)
Since we’re talking about things that didn’t add anything new to the triathlon oeuvre: I actually listened to the much discussed ‘Andrew Messick walks out of the How They Train podcast’ episode. And I’m here to save you a click: No one “walked out” of anything. I’d also like to point out—as someone who’s asked a lot of tough questions of many people, including Andrew, over the years (and also lobbed plenty of softballs just to see how they’d get hit)—there’s a way to ask questions that actually looks for answers and there’s a way to ask them that’s really just because you want to make a speech. Save yourself the hour here and get the same experience by scrolling in all caps on tri forums. (How They Train)
Lauren Fleshman and Jesse Thomas announced they’re getting divorced (though she suggested they may still do their popular podcast and also that the response each of them has gotten has been…different). (Instagram/Twitter)
Michelle Vesterby announced she was issued a three-month doping ban due to an asthma inhaler. It sounds, per English translation, like she had a TUE for the inhaler, forgot to get it renewed while she was pregnant, got COVID and ended up getting the inhaler prescribed again but didn’t have a current TUE (therapeutic use exemption). (Instagram/DR)
Canyon delivered on those sponsorship announcements with Kat Matthews and Chelsea Sodaro coming over from BMC. Why is Canyon investing in tri when everyone else isn’t? I have a few off-the-record guesses + they likely don’t have the inventory surplus problem of some of the non-DTC brands. (Instagram)
Ebikes are awesome. Ebikes are also unregulated. A really good story about the pros, cons, a death, who’s liable, and what should be done. (Bicycling)
Not doing a long run every weekend isn’t actually a new idea, but sometimes old ideas are new again. (TrailRunner)
How long does it take to lose your fitness? (Three days, IMO.) (New York Times)
One last thing
I was working traffic control at an intersection for our local 10K once and this woman asked me what the race was “for.” And I was like, “It’s for finding out who’s fastest?”
This is your best newsletter yet. I loved what you said about which lens one looks through... but I have to admit an exclusionary lens makes me both sad and frustrated and feeling like I don't know how to "fix" it. I think your last paragraph in the "How you ask the question" section should be required reading for everyone in sport. Period.
Lots of good stuff here:
1 - Ebikes scare the crap out of me b/c many of the people riding them recreationally don't have the bike handling skills to be going 25mph on a multi-use trail.
2 - You're dead-on in how youth sports is poisoning discussion on gender diversity. It's too easy for parents to see the "boy pretending to be a girl" identity as somehow preventing their daughter from getting that college scholarship they so richly deserve. Look, if your kid is good, that shows through, period. A 13-year old who's been raised as a boy but is understanding that's not right as they hit puberty, they've got A WHOLE LOT going on...treat them with compassion and care, not revilement.
3 - Ironman needs to reckon better with the needs of the small minority for who wearing too little body coverage is deeply problematic, not only for cultural reasons but in some cases for health reasons. They can set the rules to eliminate competitive advantage (e.g. full-body swimskin), and provide streamlined approval process for individual needs. Figure it out, it's not that hard.