Friday, January 1, 2010

Triathlon - 2010 and Beyond

October of 2010 will be 10 years since a naive college swimmer and rookie Ironman finished in Kona. The changes in me and my observation of the sport during the last two aggravating seasons of injury and near recovery have changed my perspective on the sport. I still love to train and race, but I see things a bit clearer now. I can see the not so hidden agendas of people a lot better. Sometimes the agendas are fine and other times not.

Getting into officiating five years ago opened my eyes to race planning and management, a deep understanding of the rules and why the rules were built by each governing federation, and athletes. Let's debunk some of the mystery behind the differences in the rules. The different federations have different rules largely because their race venues and championships have different needs. Methods of enforcement and rules you can call in one federation would be unsafe or unfair in another. After five years of officiating, I feel the rules themselves are pretty close to what we need. Sure, I would change a few things here and there, but as a whole the rules and enforcement are not the sport's problem. Think of the slightly different rules like competing in a different league or competition. American League baseball versus National League baseball. FIFA soccer (or football) versus Olympic soccer. The rules are slightly different, but the game is the same.

So, what has changed? We have. The athletes. Athletes have worked to get better and some have chosen the "win at all costs" mentality. Integrity is the cost of a podium position in many people's opinion. I'm consistently amazed at the ignorance of the rules by athletes and their coaches. Coaches aren't teaching the rules. It's pay your money and I'll show you how to physically prepare for a race. Coaches generally teach everything but the experience, sportsmanship, personal responsibility (charity and pay it forward) and the rules. Imagine what a mess the village Little League would be without someone teaching the rules.

The same people who would tell you that for months on end they endured difficult sets and watched their diet like a Miss Universe contestant (probably closer) are the same athletes that will not know the draft zone or will swim over the top of a blind athlete instead of around. Recently, athletes have started screaming for drug testing in the age group ranks, yet one popular (and powerful) supplement company has yet to speak about their legal woes and seemingly difficulty in manufacturing a clean product. If you're an athlete using those supplements, do you still complain about others "doping"? Interesting double standard. Lastly, compare asthma sufferers in the general population to asthma sufferers in triathlon.

This year I heard a lot of complaining about drafting, but noticed that many of the same people complaining were the same ones after the race saying things like, "I had to play the game." Admitting drafting too. Greg Remaly and Tom Room made some bold statements (I applaud them for saying it. It takes balls to criticize your colleagues openly and demand change.) My only desire is that instead of boycotting the races - Greg and Tom get involved and become part of the solution. These are guys are smart and are needed to help facilitate change. Talk to race management with your suggestions on rule changes, penalties and sanctions for athletes who break the rules. Triathlon is still a young sport that needs guidance and leadership from the people in the front of the field.

Mary Beth Ellis gave her opinion on professionalism in triathlon. I have to say I agree with her. All you have to do is attend one pro meeting and observe a pro triathlon. Perhaps that isn't fair for me to have an opinion as I have raced elite only twice and at the age group level at that. I do race as a mature, responsible person with a professional attitude.

It is our responsibility as an athlete for how WE RACE. I cannot control the way officials interpret and enforce the rules. I cannot control where marshals are on course; either seeing or missing drafting peletons. What I can control is my spacing between myself and the person in front of me relative to the pace I am capable of. That's it. I am accountable. I am the integrity of my race. I affect others in the race by my following of the rules. Going around all the swim buoys on the correct side, keeping the proper difference, not running across the finish line with anyone who didn't do the race, if I "Blazeman role" across the line - I look first so I don't interfere with another athlete's race. What I call "uncommon courtesy" is a disappearing behavior. I control my attitude and my actions.

Speaking of behavior, this year I saw a lot embarrassing behavior from age groupers and professionals. Age groupers who "have been racing for 15 years and never had a penalty" complaining for fouls like cutting the swim course "because it was crowded" or dropping a bike on the ground instead of hanging it on the rack in front of them. Professionals, and I use that term loosely, complaining about penalties on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. These weren't just complaints, but full out attacks on race management, officials and everyone except one person... themselves.

The only way for professionals and amateur athletes to "learn" is to lose the sponsorship money and promotion. Sponsors are part of this too. One particular company sponsors a guy known for drafting and encouraging others to draft with him. The same company sponsors a woman who consistently rides about 10 minutes slower than the pro men but has "struggled" on the swim and run. This sponsor should realize that we do see what is happening at races. We know how they "won". These two athletes may have been first, but they didn't win anything. Least of which, my respect.

In summary, I point the finger of responsibility in the mirror and ask you to do the same. It is the athlete who is responsible for being the watchdog of our sport.

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