Friday, November 21, 2014

Fast & Furious - Is Shorter Better for Triathlon?

The racing at the Las Vegas USAT Super Sprint was fast and furious!

In the space of 48 hours back in September I saw the two most exciting triathlon races I had seen in some time, live and in person.

At Interbike on a Thursday night, under the lights in Las Vegas, I watched the finals of the USAT Super Sprint Series, produced in cooperation with Marc Lee and Kanga Productions. This short and sweet, swim/bike/run racing, all took place in a large vacant parking lot, that was a stones throw away from the famous Las Vegas strip. The women's final, in particular was a barn-burner, with all 10 women, swimming, cycling and running neck and neck, and with a desperate and exciting sprint finish to the line, that almost needed a photo-timer to sort out!

I hoped on a plane shortly after the women finished in Las Vegas, and headed back home, and directly to the Subaru Centurion Canada Cycling event on Friday, in Blue Mountain, about 2 hours north of Toronto where I was working as the Race and Event Announcer. Part of the Centurion weekend of events, was the Subaru eGames triathlon - in set up and concept it was similar to the USAT Super Sprint, with very short, repeated legs of swim/bike/run. Unfortunately, inclement weather necessitated the cancelling of the swim, which turned the eGames triathlon into a duathlon. Despite the absence of swimming, the racing over the very short, multiple lap run and bike legs was very exciting, with the winners in doubt right up until the end.

Video highlights of the Subaru eGames are here -

Earlier, in the summer, I watched on TV some of the ITU World Cup event from Hamburg, Germany. The part that I watched was the 4-person, national team relay - 2 men and 2 women, racing again, over very short multi-lap swim/bike/run legs, and then when done, tagging off to a teammate. The race was amazing - with non-stop action, and some interesting strategy thrown in of which athlete would go in which position for the various national teams. The whole thing lasted less than an hour and made for great spectating and TV!

A year and a half ago, I was part of a two-day consultative exercise, that brought together many key people in the sport of triathon, from race and event management, from sports administration, from the media, and some top level marketing people. Also invited were Canadian Olympians and Olympic medalists from 4 different sports! The focus - come up with a new style or format for triathlon racing and competition. We did come up with something exciting - but for now, I'll have to keep this under wraps. Like the above examples, I can tell you that it was short and fast!

One interesting conclusion, that came out of the above two-day consultation was an agreement, that while we thought this new short and fast concept could be a winner, ironically, the current modern-day-triathlete, may not be a big fan of it! And that is why triathlon right now is at a bit of a cross-roads - some exciting shorter race formats are being experimented with, but for the most part the larger masses of Age-Group and participatory triathletes are more focused on longer races and seem little interested in it!

The situation is somewhat akin to what Nordic Skiing went through a number of years ago - the skate technique changed everything. In particular,  the format of the racing. Shorter race formats started to be introduced, which were much more viewer friendly on-site, but also for TV. At first this was met with a fair amount of resistance from traditionalists, but after time, people started to come around to their popularity.The sprint events at FIS Nordic Skiing events now draw the largest crowds, the biggest TV numbers AND, perhaps most importantly, young skiers are being drawn into nordic skiing, because they want to do the sprint events!

On that last point - could there be some lessons for triathlon there?

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richard westwood said...

Thought provoking! It will be interesting to see how this develops. Most of my friends who were competing in triathlon have switched to Cross-fit. The training commitment is easier to accommodate and they seem to be having fun. So I could see the shorter stuff being more attractive to some. I think there is a significant social component to the "training community" which requires a critical mass for it to take hold. I'm curious as whether this new format will garner that critical mass. But with a lower "cost" all around (e.g. cost of the event, cost in terms of training, cost in terms of time, etc), it's definitely worth a try.

Steve Fleck said...

Richard - I think we might still be a while from when this really takes hold. Still too much focus and obsession on longer racing, among many triathletes (see the conclusions that a group of very smart people came to in the blog). Like most things everything runs it's course.

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