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Monday, February 25, 2013

Chill Out Triathletes!

Chiillllllllllll out triathletes! While it seems that we are on our way to losing the mass swim starts at WTC races, this is not finalized, nor is it guaranteed to be forever. Before everyone barks back at WTC for taking away the "iconic" part of IM, or the "greatest spectacle in sports" lets sit back and look at this through several lens. First we should look at why WTC is doing what they are doing. And without an official press release (expected to be soon) we can only guess as to why, so lets take a gander.

Say what you will about mass starts vs TT/wave starts and the rates of deaths in races. It should be known that WTC had deaths in 3 of their races last year (IMTX, IMNY, IMCDA) that is 3 too many. Unfortunately another 2 swimmers passed away at IMSA 70.3 (mass start) just a few weeks ago. WTC realizes that a problem exists in their product and that safety may be compromised, so they are being proactive to find a possible solution, potentially. I really cannot believe people are so upset about losing mass starts because WTC wants to increase the safety for you (these deaths can happen to ANYONE!). If you really have a problem with this then your priorities are clearly not in order.

Registration Numbers
This is where I think it gets really funny. Common complaints with triathletes: the course is too crowded, I can't register because it sells out too fast, there is only 1 Kona slot in my AG!? This all shows how impossible it can be to make everyone happy. Decrease the athlete capacity and it becomes more difficult to register, increase and the course is too crowded, so what do you want?

Of course doing these waves starts now suggests that WTC wants to increase the athlete capacity at races, and of course athletes complain about this.  First remember WTC is a business and profit is the goal. Sometimes it really amazes me that people do not understand this. Doing wave starts could increase the capacity at races, which in turn could increase the exposure of the sport, and increasing the exposure can increase the participation rates. More sedentary lifestyles motivated by Ironman, more become aware of the importance of okay this got off on a bit of a tangent but I think we all know where I am coming from. Triathlon is still a very niche sport.

Skills of Triathletes as Swimmers
Let's be honest, and the truth may hurt a bit, but triathletes are simply not great swimmers. The confidence of most triathletes is shaken the moment a race may not be "wetsuit-legal". Yes you may be able to swim 2.4 miles, but that doesn't put you in the elite category. Add in the fact that most IM's on the NA circuit these days have about a 30-40% first time Ironman rate, most athletes are experiencing a mass start for the first time. This really may not be the most safe option possible. 

I feel that a certain aspect and respect to safety is being overlooked here. 

So everyone complains about the drafting on courses, and now WTC has laid out a possible solution and everyone still complains...typical triathletes. Some WTC NA courses have become very congested, especially at the beginning, numerous bike accidents have occurred as well, and yes drafting is rampant.  So now that the swim exit might not be as crowded, a less crowded bike course can be offered which can lead to less drafting and yet athletes are unhappy, go figure.

Athlete Experience
I think we will be fine here. Crowds will still show up to watch the swim start, you will still be cheered on during the bike, and people will still scream for you at the finish line. You still swim, bike, and run 140.6 miles. Midnight finish might change a bit, or will it? IMLou has done a TT start since it's inception and from all accounts that I have heard, its still just as powerful as a finish as any other.

Some athletes are arguing that they will not be racing against each other on the same time. Let's be honest again, unless you are pro, or racing for a Kona slot (approx 250 athletes max) you are most likely racing your own race, so what really does it matter? If anything I think this will help a lot of the triathlete egos and let them race better knowing they are truly racing their own race and not the competitor next to them.

In conclusion.....
For whatever reason WTC is doing this, we must realize it is their product and they can do what they want. In fact, it seems they have partially chosen to take this route based on consumer feedback (that means you the athlete). But hey, you are still going to shelve out the $750 to register, even if you threaten to never race WTC again (we all do it post-race anyway). Every sport evolves over time, and the NFL is having a very similar challenge in regards to athlete safety currently as well. I think that we should all look at this in a positive manner instead of being so negative about it. After all, triathletes are some of the most positive minded athletes I know.

But if over time, this change decreases the deaths that happen at WTC races then they made the right decision...end of story. Just remember WTC is not the only player in town and you can race several other Ironman-distance races put on by just as great, if not better companies, and still call yourself an Ironman and do your mass swim start thing.

If you are still really bothered by this I suggest you talk to a widow of an athlete, or family member that has lost a life and see if your opinion changes.


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