SUPER LEAGUE TRIATHLON
EVEN THOUGH IT was over 35 years ago, it’s not unusual still to meet triathletes who were inspired by Julie Moss as she crawled to the finish line at the 1982 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. As people watched the dramatic footage, which aired on ABC’S Wide World of Sports, they were literally calling up their friends and telling them to turn on the television to watch Moss as she struggled to the line.
For years the coverage of the Ironman World Championship, which has aired on NBC for over 20 years now, served as an intro for many people to the sport of triathlon. Since 2000 many have also been inspired by the Olympic games coverage, too – especially here in Canada through the first four Olympiads that featured our very own Simon Whitfield, who managed to win both a gold and silver medal at the games.
Viewership of the Ironman World Championship has declined over the years – in this age of multiple channels and Internet access people can very much customize their viewing – so, while many people are aware of “that race in Hawaii,” they are considerably less likely to have watched it of late. The Olympics come every four years and, while the ITU does fantastic coverage of World Triathlon Series events, I would guess that the majority of the people paying to watch the races online are triathlon fans. There’s been lots of talk, especially here in North America, that the sport’s popularity is plateauing, especially on the pro level.
Two-time Ironman world champion Chris Mccormack, one of the most colourful pros the sport has ever seen, recently launched an event that he hopes will increase the sport’s awareness and expand on its popularity. Thanks to the backing of Leonid Boguslavsky, an IT and Internet mogul from Russia, Super League Triathlon was born. Featuring 24 of the world’s premier short-course athletes
(including Olympic gold medallist Alistair Brownlee), the Super League Triathlon debuted in March on Hamilton Island, a highend vacation spot in Australia. The three-day event featured a variety of different races – all included swimming, cycling and running, but the orders were often moved around. Day one featured three different races, all 10 minutes apart, that started with a different discipline each time. Day two began with a time trial on the bike in the morning (featuring a climb that got as steep as 24 per cent), followed later in the day by a swim-run-swim-bike-run race. Day three featured three short-distance tris – the first two eliminated competitors until there were just 10 duking it out in the final.
“We want triathlon to be exciting, innovative and entertaining – this is critical for any sport’s survival in this era,” Mccormack says. “I believe Super League Triathlon will lead the way for professional triathlon racing in this capacity.”
The Super League Triathlon was certainly entertaining. Won by South African Richard Murray, it provided three days of exciting racing that all fit into a 90-minute to two-hour time frame. The question is, was it exciting for those who don’t do the sport? Is it going to attract the interest of the average sports fan and get them to add it to their list of sports shows they watch?
My guess is not. But I hope I am wrong. The Super League Triathlon was fun to watch. Mccormack and his partners promise that they’ll be adding a women’s division to the next event (which they really need to – we’ve always prided ourselves on gender equality in triathlon), but we don’t know where or when that will be.
I hope we do get to see more events like the Super League Triathlon. The ITU has created some exciting race formats, too – in June we’ll see our own version of a heats-to-final race at the National Championship in Ottawa, along with the always-exciting team relay, an event that will hopefully be added to the Olympics in 2020. Even if it doesn’t garner much interest from the average sports fan who will prefer to watch a ball or puck moving around a field or rink, this innovative tri programming provides a lot more triathlon action for us triathlon fans to watch.