A blockbuster two weekends of full-distance racing is on tap in Europe - Ironman Austria and then the Ironman European Championship and Challenge Roth. Exciting, frustrating or a combination of the two?
June 27, 2017 | NEWS|
The next two weekends promise to be incredibly exciting and incredibly frustrating for triathlon fans. We're looking forward to a few weeks of full-distance coverage including the Ironman European Championship, Ironman Austria and Challenge Roth.
Up first will be Ironman Austria. On the men's front, Jan Frodeno will highlight the Ironman Austria event as he hopes to go after the fastest ever Ironman time. The next weekend sees Sebastian Kienle back in Frankfurt to try and defend his title with a bunch of his speedy countrymen ready to push him to the limit. Neither race will feature the biggest name in women's full-distance racing right now - Daniela Ryf - she'll be at Challenge Roth the same weekend as Frankfurt to see if she can break Chrissie Wellington's world best time. That said, all three races feature strong women's fields that should also provide some exciting racing.
Add to the exciting pro racing the fact that Klagenfurt (the site of Ironman Austria) and Frankfurt (the home of the Ironman European Championship) are two of the most exciting race venues in the sport. Roth is second to none when it comes to fan support. All three finish lines are amongst the greatest in the sport. and feature huge age group fields, making each race a spectacular festival.
So where's the frustrating part, you ask? The fact that all the superstars registered for each race won't be facing off against each other. For that we have to wait until Kona. Can you imagine if the French Open and Wimbledon took place at the same time and Rafael Nadal was in Paris while Andy Murray and Roger Federer were over in the UK?
There is, of course, an upside to all of this - it just ramps up the anticipation and excitement around Kona. But why couldn't we have that kind of excitement a few times a year? Is the US Open any less exciting because there have been three other Grand Slam tennis events ahead of it? I would argue that it's possibly even more exciting as we get a final grand slam showdown.
Yes, I know that it makes no sense to ask our athletes to race four full-distance races a year. Two would probably be good and it seems like many pros are figuring out how to fit three fulls in and still rip things up when they need to. (Both world champs did at least three fulls last year - Frodeno did Lanzarote, Roth and Kona, while Ryf started Frankfurt, did Roth and Switzerland a week apart and then did Kona.) So I get that we can't ever have a four grand slam season.
But couldn't we at least ask to see more of the big guns facing off against each other more often? How exciting was the Challenge Championship in Samorin as we watched Lionel Sanders and Kienle battle through 16 km of the 21 km run?
This isn't an easy issue to get figured out. The fact that the sport really begins from a participation standpoint means that it is dramatically different to spectator sports like golf or tennis. They aren't trying to accommodate 3,000 tennis enthusiasts at Wimbledon. And Ironman certainly doesn't want to start putting on pro only races. The corporation makes its money from age group competitors. The pros bring exposure to the events, but it's hard to draw a direct line between that exposure and revenue - I would guess the sales folks at Ironman wouldn't tell you that a lot of their sponsorship dollars are driven by companies clamoring to attach themselves to the pro races.
The ITU's World Triathlon Series seems to have nailed things pretty well - each and every WTS series race is pretty competitive - but it really is a completely different beast than full-distance racing. Ten or 11 standard distance races in a season is a no-brainer. That many fulls? Yeah, not at an elite level. Finishing, totally possible. Racing at the intenstity that Jan or Sebastian or Daniela or Rachel (Joyce) go at in every race? Not happening.
The Collins Cup, once it all gets figured out and has its first event next year, might change all that. (The race will be a long-distance race featuring teams of 12 from the USA, Europe and "Internationals.") If it can gather the world's best and not affect their participation in Kona, well, that might provide that second showdown I'm looking for.
Forcing the best pros to only race at the regional championships (Asia-Pacific, Africa, North America, South America and Europe) would be a good start. The question is whether the pros want that. Do they want to have two or three major showdowns in a year, or do they want to put all their eggs in the Kona basket. My guess is most would prefer the former, but it would be interesting to find out.
For now, though, we'll have to "settle" with three very exciting races over two weekends. Which we're looking forward to as well.