Thursday, 28 March 2013

Ironman Melbourne Swim Debacle

Ironman Melbourne was last weekend and being one of the biggest races with the best athletes outside the world championships in Hawaii, I'm always excited (as a spectator) to wander down and watch this.  Last year's event was held in the most pristine conditions I've ever seen in melbs- dead still day, 26 degrees and bright blue sky.  If you didn't go fast that day you weren't ready.

This year was a bit different.  The 10 or so consecutive days of perfection had long passed and it was maybe 23 degrees and windy.  I seem to enjoy the whinging environment that is Twitter and read many of the comments from interstate athletes about how typical it was to have cold weather in melbs.  "Shoulda been here last week, mate..."  I don't mind people whinging about the weather but if you're an athlete who is prepared to swim 3.8kms, ride 180kms and then run 42kms I'm at a loss to understand how 23 degrees is an issue for you.  Discomfort should be in your job title.

In the days leading up to the race there was debate over the swim course; which format would be used to make it safer for athletes, etc.  I'm fine with that, in fact, I appreciate that kind of thought from organisers.  Cutting the swim in half... I'm confused.  If it's too dangerous to go in the water, the whole swim should have been cancelled, not just half.  This issue has gone through my head all week (I'm obviously not very busy) and the conclusion I keep coming back to is this: Ironman Triathlon is an extreme sport which has become a bucket list item for the mainstream.

I would have been so angry if I were racing and the swim was reduced.  I would have placed better as my swim is my weakness, but if I didn't want to swim I would have entered a duathlon.  I do understand, however, why the swim was shortened and given the circumstances I think the organisers made the right decision.  They don't want the PR associated with having a dead athlete in their race and I understand that but I think there is a solution to stop swims being cancelled. 

2 weeks ago I thought differently.  In fact I posted a comment on an article on expressing my views.  I previously argued that Ironman doesn't need any qualification system and as prices are already too high and races too few I wouldn't support that.  But given that the very nature of an ironman is being changed to accommodate unprepared bucket listers, maybe a qualification system is the only way to ensure that all entrants are prepared for the race, no matter what the conditions.

The changed course, coupled with the chop created an opportunity for people to cut corners.  The short swim (only 1500m in the end) meant that the majority of athletes got on the bike at the same time, rendering it nearly impossible to have a clear run and not be sitting on someone's wheel ('drafting', an illegal practice which gives you a 4 minute penalty if caught).  There were many problems caused by the swim, or the very concept that organisers need to protect the unprepared, and this probably changed the outcome of the race for many.

I'll leave you with some footage of the carnage to help you make up your own mind.

1 comment:

Ports said...

I agree and will go further to say tri is the new 'it' thing for cashed up corporates. ....theres a reason a large business related publication sponsers a very popular summer series.

further to your point.....isn't open water swimming just that? ?? athlete vs the elements. handling a little chop is the sane as an aero bike pisition or a smooth running style.

it sucks for the guys who do love the sport and do put in the huge training programs to ensure they are cherry ripe come race day as generally 1 a year is all you can afford!