The thing about Island House

The Crank likes what he sees in events like the Island House Triathlon and Super League - events that celebrate the pros.

| November 22, 2017 | RACES

Photo >Tommy Zaferes | Island House Triathlon

So the recent dash in the Bahamas highlighted yet again the struggles of triathlon to create a fan base.

The Island House triathlon is a sweet race. Let’s be clear about that. The crystal clear waters, idyllic sand and "kokomo" vibe is the perfect back drop for this invitational. The best in both long and short course worlds converge and have a crack at the win. And, for the most part, the build it and they will come mentality headed up by race directors Luke and Beth McKenzie has worked. A little more laid back than the more corporate set up of Super League, both race formats have shown a willingness to put entertainment over the purity of the straight triathlon. And they have also made the heroes of this race the pros. It is probably one of the few times a season pros feel like they are part of something bigger than an amateur sport. But herein lies the problem.

For many seasons triathlon has been dominated by the age grouper. They are the life blood of the sport. Age groupers make it possible for pros to race and for races to be featured around the world. Volunteers man many of the aid stations and look after the fatiguing athletes. So, largely, this sport is simply about participation with the pros as an add on, a side show.

Unlike other sports, where fans turn up to watch the event (think tennis, surfing, football, etc.), triathlon has no such luck. Think about it, when was the last time you turned up to a race and saw a bunch of Frodeno flags or a group of supporters whose sole aim was to watch the pro race? It doesn’t, or rarely, happens, other than at the Olympics and at some of the standout European races - Roth, Austria, Frankfurt and the like. At most other races people view the pros as an addition to the age group races that they are either watching or participating in. No one books a flight to a race to see what Sebastian Kienle can get up to. (As much as we admire the guy.)

And back to Island House and Super League. These races seem to be superbly organized, well shot and well attended. The McKenzies have put together a good product that should be taken to the world and stand alone as a group of brilliant pros fight it out. But triathlon is stuck in the malaise of the afore-mentioned issue - the pros are the add on. And that has to be part of the challenge facing independent races trying to gain a foothold in the mainstream part of the sport. Super League was built for television. The "rivalries," personality pieces and matching race suits all smack of a product rather than a traditional race. Island House lets the environment do the talking.

Let’s hope these races continue. Professionals need to be the hero and need to be celebrated. Both events are a contrast, but make genuine attempts to become star vehicles. Ironman, Challenge etc. need to take a leaf from this playbook if the sport is to move beyond being an amateur specatacle.