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What It’s Like To Be A Professional Triathlete

  • By Jené Shaw
  • Published Jul 29, 2013
  • Updated Jul 29, 2013 at 3:06 PM UTC
Illustrations by Leigh Guldig.

On Kona:

“The [Kona Pro Rankings] system gears all the athletes toward Kona but does not emphasize the other races on the schedule. If it is ingrained that Kona is what every triathlete is striving for, you will not get the top competitors at other races around the world, which hurts the sport as a whole. There is something wrong with a system where some of the top competitors only race one Ironman race to qualify for Kona. It does not benefit them to enter other races because the focus is so much on Kona, including sponsor dollars, podium incentives, and the general perception from the public. It can only hurt them physically to enter other races if there is no need to do it, since prize money is insignificant to what can be earned from an appearance in Kona. If we want the sport of triathlon to gain more visibility, we need the top athletes racing, not preparing for Kona for 75 percent of the year.”

“Sponsors haven’t embraced racing non-Ironman events. And you find the security and higher percentage of your income comes from sponsors. There’s still so much emphasis on Kona and until that changes, there’s always going to be that lure to race the Ironman events. Obviously they’ve got the television exposure and to overcome that, the other players are going to have to be better at race-day media. Hawaii is Hawaii, and it’s got the exposure and that’s what sponsors want.”

“The whole validating thing—I like to see people make a bit of a joke of it and just cross the line. Like Greg Bennett last year. The whole Hy-Vee qualifying decision was made early in the year. [In early 2012, WTC, the corporation behind Ironman, decided to allow winners of the Hy-Vee Triathlon and Ironman World Championship 70.3 to get an automatic Kona spot with an Ironman validation.] Then Greg went to validate in Melbourne, and I don’t know what his goals were, but he jogged around the course and at the end of the day didn’t have a great race. But Craig Alexander, Joe Gambles, Cam Brown dragged their butts around for the next two months recovering from a hard race. Then Greg could go to the U.S., he’s fresh, because he hasn’t run a 2:40 marathon. If he had his game together and wanted to, he could run around and do short-course races for good prize money. So with this whole validation thing, you might as well just walk. It’s just strange.”

“I guess the appeal of the sport was always Kona. I think the more you get wrapped up in it and the more you get to know the politics, it becomes more and more frustrating. It’s still viewed as the pinnacle of the sport, and it is. It would’ve been great to have a revolving [location for the Ironman] World Championship. You can’t change it, it makes for legends, but Hawaii doesn’t suit every athlete. I think you’d see different winners if you moved it to Asia-Pacific, had one race in Europe and every fourth year it returned. I think you’d see a change in the world champions.”

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FILED UNDER: Features / InsideTri

Jené Shaw

Jené Shaw

Jené Shaw is a senior editor at Triathlete magazine, a five-time Ironman finisher and a USAT Level 1 certified coach

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