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Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FEATURES - KEVIN MACKIN­NON EDITOR

DAG OLIVER COULDN’T hold him­self back any longer. For three days much of the con­ver­sa­tion at the Triathlon Busi­ness In­ter­na­tional (TBI) con­fer­ence had been fo­cused on how to make triathlon more ac­ces­si­ble in or­der to at­tract more peo­ple to the sport. Speaker af­ter speaker had pushed for­ward the no­tion that the growth of triathlon, in North Amer­ica any­way, was start­ing to level out. Again and again we heard that those of us in the busi­ness needed to fig­ure out how to make it less in­tim­i­dat­ing to be­come a triath­lete. Much of that con­ver­sa­tion fo­cused on the swim, sug­gest­ing that shorter swims or pool events might be the an­swer.

“How are duathlons do­ing in North Amer­ica?” Oliver, the race di­rec­tor of the Norse­man Xtreme Triathlon, asked. “If it’s the same as it is in Nor­way, they aren’t very pop­u­lar. I don’t think the an­swer is to make things eas­ier. I put on a race where we tell peo­ple it’s go­ing to be in­cred­i­bly hard. That they prob­a­bly won’t be able to do it. And we get 5,000 ap­pli­ca­tions for 250 spots.”

Oliver isn’t kid­ding. They make no bones about how chal­leng­ing the Norse­man Xtreme is. You start the day with a 4-m drop off a ferry into the Har­dan­ger­fjord in 13 to 15 C wa­ter. Once you’ve com­pleted the 3.8-km swim, you em­bark on a 180-km bike ride that takes you in­land through the Har­dan­gervidda moun­tain plateau and through five moun­tain passes. The 42.2-km run fin­ishes at the rocky peak of Gaus­tatop­pen, 1,850 m above sea level. Along the way ath­letes deal with 5,000 m of climb­ing. The day can bring beau­ti­ful sun­shine or a blast­ing bliz­zard. Some years both. De­spite those tough con­di­tions the dropout rate at the race is less than three per cent.

It has be­come a bucket-list event for triath­letes around the world who are drawn to the old-school charm and chal­lenge. De­ter­mined to main­tain that at­mos­phere at their race, Oliver and the rest of the or­ga­niz­ing crew fol­low a few sim­ple core val­ues cher­ish the fact that, at their race, the jour­ney truly is the prize.

As de­mand for en­tries grew, the lot­tery sys­tem was de­vel­oped. To sign up for the lot­tery you have to pay $10. Race or­ga­niz­ers do­nated 80 per cent of the money raised ($40,000) to Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders last year, keep­ing the rest to help put on the event.

Oliver’s event has be­come a rar­ity in the world of triathlon th­ese days – a suc­cess­ful race that isn’t part of a larger se­ries. They don’t an­swer to a larger cor­po­ra­tion who are look­ing for prof­its. They’re just putting on an epic race that they know will change peo­ple’s lives.

Races like the Norse­man Xtreme aren’t go­ing to at­tract lots of begin­ners to the sport, but they cer­tainly grab their at­ten­tion, just like Iron­man did in the late ’70s. While I un­der­stand that those in the triathlon busi­ness are con­cerned to see par­tic­i­pa­tion num­bers level out, I’m not so sure that we won’t see some promis­ing num­bers over the next few years. My guess is that triathlon will re­ceive a healthy up­swing of sup­port later this year when the world watches events un­fold in Rio.

All of us in the in­dus­try, though, can cer­tainly learn a few lessons from Dag Oliver and the rest of the folks at the Norse­man Xtreme. It’s im­por­tant that we re­main true to the sport, and not sell it short. Maybe peo­ple do want to be told that what they’re em­bark­ing on is re­ally hard. That it will take train­ing and ded­i­ca­tion to com­plete. That just be­cause it’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take on the chal­lenge. Don’t just wait for your next is­sue of to get to your doorstep, join us ev­ery day at for all the lat­est news and in­for­ma­tion. We post up­wards of 20 sto­ries a week, in­clud­ing race up­dates, prod­uct re­views, age group and pro pro­files and much more.

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