We caught up with reigning Ironman world champion Mirinda Carfrae in Boulder to talk about recent Ironman initiatives affecting the pro ranks, her recent Roth win and how it might affect her bid to defend her Kona crown, what motivates her to race to her “absolute limit” and more.
Triathlete.com: A couple days before Ironman Boulder you and a group of fellow pro female triathletes met with Ironman CEO Andrew Messick. What was the discussion and outcome?
MC: Basically what happened was at Ironman Frankfurt they had the All-world athletes start with the pro women, and the pro women started with the pro men, so it was a mass start. It was just an absolute gong show. Liz Blatchford sent out an email and said, ‘This is not okay; we need to have a fair race. We are professional athletes and this is just not fair. Let’s try to get a meeting with WTC.’ She suggested Boulder, which is perfect because a lot of us live in Boulder. We tried to include other prominent female athletes—Meredith Kessler has always been at the forefront of trying to get fair racing for the women for a couple of years now. We asked Paula [Newby-Fraser] to organize a meeting and they went along with it, and we got a meeting. In the room it was myself, Liz Blatchford, Mary Beth Ellis, Rachel Joyce, Cait Snow, Julie Dibens, Jodie Swallow, Leanda Cave and Jenny Fletcher. Tim [O’Donnell] and James [Cunnama] came in to just show that the men were supporting us in wanting a fair race. It is not their battle, but they see what we are having to deal with and they believe it is not fair as well. So we went into the meeting hoping to push change in the regional championship races, specifically, but also across all Ironman events. We had gone in to fight for races outside of Kona, to be more like Kona where we feel like the last two years we have had a fair race. A common issue amongst the pro women is that there will be age-groupers too close to the pro women and they get swept up in big packs, so [pro] women are cycling amongst amateurs like in Brazil where Sara Gross won and she was kind of bullied after because people were telling her that she cheated, but in reality she had nowhere to go. It was a three-lap bike course and it was a mass start, so there is going to be drafting.
What we are asking for—and obviously we realize it is not feasible at a lot of events due to road closures, hours of sunlight in the day, there are so many different obstacles when you put on an Ironman so we understood that—but we were asking for a 5-minute gap from the lead men and 25 minutes to the age groupers, which is what it has been the last two years in Kona. The first thing they told us when we walked in was that we will be starting 5 minutes after the pro men, age-group men will go off 15 minutes after us and age-group women will go off 15 minutes after that. So we were all devastated as soon as they said that.
In the end they compromised and gave us 20 minutes from the age-group men. It was 25 the last few years and they were planning on giving us 15, but we strongly urged them to give us some more time and they pushed it back out to 20 which shows that they are listening and trying to come up with a compromise or a way to give us a fair race as well. They have their reasons that they cannot, but we had some great suggestions that are still being considered for this year in Kona and certainly 2015 and beyond. But in an ideal world we would have a 10-minute separation from the pro men and then 25 minutes from the age-groupers. We are asking to move toward that direction in championship races and also any other Ironman events around the world because we feel that that is the amount of time we need to ensure a fair race. Where we aren’t catching the tail end of the pro men field and amateurs aren’t swimming up into the pro women’s field and biking with our pack. So that is what we are still trying to work towards, but obviously there are some Ironman events that have multi-lap swims so starting age groupers 25 minutes behind us in those races would be chaos as we would be coming around right as we were starting. We would like to just see movement towards a more professional sport for the women.
The second thing we wanted to talk about was even slots for the pro men and the women in Kona, and that is an ongoing conversation. It is more about symbolism—the best women work just as hard as the best men. Granted there are less overall pro women then there are pro men, but at the top level we feel that the 50th woman and man are working equally as hard. They are at least receptive to our ideas and are willing to listen and try to come up with a solution that works.
The third issue, which is not really a women’s issue but there were some women in the group that had had issues this year, was standardized rules across all WTC events. For example, Leanda Cave not wearing her number in Nice and getting a DQ, whereas in all North America events you do not have to wear your number on the bike. It is not just that—there are some WTC events where there is a 7- or 10- or 12-meter drafting rule, and we would just like to see uniform rules across all WTC events. They are well aware of that problem and are trying to work it out.
Triathlete.com: What’s your reaction to the news that Ironman will redistribute pro prize money/points in 2015, effectively reducing the number of pro races?
MC: I think it is a positive change. In recent years there have been so many Ironman events added and now anyone can win an Ironman and it doesn’t mean as much. So I think if you can limit the number of Ironman events and increase the prize money, because honestly I would have loved to see 10 races in the year with really big prize money paying 15 deep. Then have smaller events like Ironman Lake Placid and Wisconsin, put a small prize purse, but just take away the points so entry-level pros can go and do those races. I was reading Kelly Williamson’s blog and she was talking about how there are other opportunities to make money in this sport that you do not have to go and race WTC events. There are other events offering prize money and as a professional you need to realize what your ability is and take the right steps. So, for example when I started the sport I had to pick events where I knew I could get in the top 3 or 5. You would add up how much the flight cost, how much a rental car cost, and how much a hotel cost and figure out what place you needed to get in the race to break even or make money—that is what we all did. It would be like, ‘Okay, I gotta get top 3, and if I don’t get top three I am not eating for the next week,’ and that is how we got better because we had to race well.
I think there are some pro triathletes out there that just think that they are pro so they should be getting paid, but our sport isn’t at that level. I am quoting a lot of Kelly’s blog here. Triathlon is not golf, NFL, baseball—it is tough to make a living in our sport and you need to take the steps and be smart about our business. If you are good enough you will make it. That might be kind of elitist, but that is sports. I think it is a step in the right direction on limiting the number of Ironman events that have pro fields.