Tuesday, November 17, 2009

20 Questions with . . . Graham Fraser

There is no question that Ironman, and it's spin-off half-distance cousin the 70.3 race are the flavors-of-the-month in triathlon these days. In North America and perhaps even further afield, there is one man to thank for that - Graham Fraser. Odd then, that Fraser has more or less checked out, and left the triathlon house! However, Fraser is, more than anything else, more than being the best Race Director and Event Manger in triathlon, a visionary! After all, this is the man who 24 years ago, literally on a whim, with nothing else to do, organized his first triathlon race in Grimsby, Ontario in 1986. At the time, triathlon was still a freakish side-show, practiced by fitness fanatics, but Fraser saw more to it. He thought, that if you organized, great, well run races with supportive sponsors and partners, that not only would he do well and make a bit of living at it, but that the sport itself would flourish. He was right on all counts - those series of races that he started organizing were the starting points for, both Olympic Triathlon and Ironman World Champions, several successful product suppliers in the business, the entry point for some major triathlon sport sponsors, and for some of the first real serious TV race coverage of triathlon anywhere in the world!

Late last year Fraser sold his licenses to run Ironman branded, full length Ironman and 70.3 races in various locations around North America, back to the World Triathlon Corporation for an un-disclosed sum. He retained one license for Ironman Canada - the first Ironman race that he owned, and one he personally saved from the brink of cancellation in the early in the 1990's. He makes it no secret that it's always been his favorite Ironman event and the one that was used as a template to set up the other Ironman and 70.3 events he started in Lake Placid, NY, Oceanside CA, and other locations around the continent.

Not one to sit around too long and watch the grass grow, Fraser has moved on already, and over this past summer, inspired by a cycling trip he took to the Tour de France, has formed a new series of events called Centurion Cycling. These events are modeled after the Gran-Fondo style of events that are very popular in Europe and attract thousands of entries. The Centurion events will fill a gap that exists right now in bike road racing and riding, between full-on Category( Pro, 1, 2, 3 etc . .) road racing and big charity rides. They will be 100 mile races (as well as 50 mile and 25 mile events), that are run over challenging terrain and open to anyone. The location and courses will be scenic - the kind of place that you have always wanted to go to ride. For a day, you will get the feel of what it's like to compete in a big Road Race, but do it on your terms and at your pace. This is Fraser's vision. Many are expecting the Centurion series to be the next big thing!

1. What got you into triathlons in the first place?
I had a friend ask me to do the Paris(Ontario) triathlon in 1983. I could not swim(Still can't!), and I did well for a hockey player!

2. With some free time now, what's next for you?
Obviously the Centurion cycling events but also spending more time with my family.

3. Is the Centurion Cycling series going to be the next big thing?
It has potential. We'll give it our best shot, creating an event with a different slant to it, and a different experience from other events.

4. How big can the Centurion Series get?
How big it's get's is not the goal . . . how much good it can do is the goal.

5. When you started that first triathlon you organized back in 1986, did you ever think that it would get this big for you?
Never. I was 25. I was just looking for something to do that summer and I always wanted to work in sports.

6. What's wrong with triathlon these days?
It does not have much wrong with it. Every generation looks at it a bit different. Ironman was never meant to be a do-2-3-a-year type of event. Some people are loosing perspective.

7. What's right with triathlon these days?
It has introduced a lot of people to a active and healthy lifestyle which, North America sorely needs these days.

8. If out for a training ride with Lance Armstrong, what would you talk about?
Would love to hear the off-the-record stuff, that he can't talk about. Who his real friends are? Training advice, of course. What motivates him? How his foundation works? It would be a long ride. Hope that I could keep up!

9. Will we see Lance Armstrong or other top road racers in the Centurion events?
It would be really nice to have his foundation involved.

10. What is the one thing all Race Directors should take care of first?
Simple. Athletes need to come first. Specifically, their safety. Plus little things that will give them a memorable experience.

11. What is the best triathlon race that you have ever been to, that has not been one of yours?
Challenge Roth

12. Are we doing the right things in terms of developing youth triathlon?
Kids need to do some team sports. If they do tris, do it for fun and with no specific training programs. If they really love triathlon, they can get "serious" at sixteen.

13. Why has Canada been such a leader in the sport of triathlon in a number of different areas?
A little luck with the talent pool coupled with great opportunities to race and compete. Plus everyone in the sport is generally really nice. That helps a lot.

14. Will you ever do another Ironman?
If my kids do it I might. To be honest, I was never good at the distance stuff. I think I have ADD! Now it's cycling and Nordic skiing - easier on the body.

15. Tubular or clincher?
Clinchers for training. Tubulars for racing.

16. Where's your favorite place to ride?
France. The Tour de France was unbelievable. Lake Placid is another place I like and the canyons around Boulder.

17. Who are you inspired by?
Steve Fleck!! [ LOL. He's joking. Full disclosure - I may be the only person still active in the sport who raced in that first triathlon Graham organized in Grimsby, Ontario nearly 25 years ago.]

18. Who will win the Stanley Cup this year?
Buffalo - I have been waiting 30 years!

19. Will Toronto ever win the Stanley cup?
No. Not in our, or our kids life-time either! They should just move the team to Hamilton!

20. What makes you the most proud?
Seeing people make the move at our events over the years from spectator, to volunteer, to volunteer captain, to doing their first triathlon, to finishing a 70.3 or Ironman race.


Michael S. Donia, D.C. said...

Thanks for doing these Steve!

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything except the part about Buffalo Sabres....

Jeff said...

How are you Steve? I really enjoy reading your interviews. Ontario has such a rich history of triathlon and triathletes.

Great stuff!

I was hoping to learn why Graham sold his stake in triathlon.

Cheers, Jeff Krar

Fleck said...


I didn't buy the Sabres stuff either. But then again, I am a Leafs fan and used to the absolute, hopeless and total futility of cheerng for Toronto!! Perhaps the only team, year-over-year WORSE than Buffalo! :)

Fleck said...

Jeff - Thanks.

Not sure on the timing.

Hammstah said...

I've been a big Graham Fan for many years. It's nice to see what he's up to these days. Always a gentleman, diplomat, professional, businessman, and customer-focused. That's a hard mix to get properly balanced, and Graham has set the bar high for all of us.