A NEW CHAM­PI­ONSHIP

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - T1 - KEVIN MACKIN­NON EDI­TOR

IBRING LOTS OF bias when it comes to talk­ing about Chal­lenge Fam­ily’s in­au­gu­ral Cham­pi­onship race at the X-bionic Sphere in Samorin, Slo­vakia – I was hired as the race an­nouncer and MC for the press con­fer­ences and ban­quets. That bias aside, though, it’s easy to say that the event was a huge suc­cess – ex­actly what Chal­lenge needed if it is to make any head­way in the half- and full-dis­tance race land­scape around the world.

It started with in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing rac­ing. Canada’s own Lionel San­ders took the ti­tle, but not be­fore he en­dured an “Iron­war” type bat­tle for 16 km of the run with Ger­many’s Se­bas­tian Kienle. The two were sec­onds apart through­out the swim and bike, and took turns bat­ter­ing each other on the chal­leng­ing (par­don the pun) run course that in­cluded sand, grass and in­tense heat. San­ders fi­nally broke away with 5 km to go.

The women’s race was even more ex­cit­ing, al­though the re­sult wasn’t such great news for Canada. Heather Wurtele seemed on track to take the win, only to be passed with 1.7 km to go by Aus­tralia’s Annabel Lux­ford, who was then passed in the last kilo­me­tre by Lucy Charles, who, un­til just a few years ago, was a mem­ber of Great Bri­tain’s na­tional swim team.

The rac­ing was spe­cial, for sure, but there were so many other pos­i­tives. Ath­letes loved the 20 m draft rule that was en­forced for both pros and age groupers. The live cov­er­age of the race, pro­duced by Peter Henning, the 18-time Emmy award-win­ning pro­ducer who used to pro­duce the NBC Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship show, was spec­tac­u­lar and put Iron­man’s of­fer­ings for all their races ex­cept Kona to shame.

“My over­all feel­ing for the Cham­pi­onship was that it re­ally was a “cham­pi­onship” in re­gards to the pro­fes­sion­al­ism – the race, the course, the way the ath­letes were looked after and the field that it drew,” said Lux­ford at the press con­fer­ence after the race. “All of those things are the epit­ome of what a cham­pi­onship should be.”

Maybe it was the smaller field (there were only 900 ath­letes com­pet­ing in Samorin). Maybe it was be­cause it was all so new. But de­spite all that “cham­pi­onship” feel­ing, there was a re­laxed at­mos­phere that made the race spe­cial. The pos­i­tive en­ergy from all the ath­letes at the awards cer­e­mony was sec­ond to none.

Here’s the kicker, though. Chal­lenge al­ready has Roth, a full-dis­tance race that ex­udes all those same feel­ings. This was a great start for this first-time race. Now they have to fig­ure out how to de­liver some­thing close to that same ex­pe­ri­ence at all their races, which now num­ber al­most 40 around the world. I hope that Chal­lenge can fig­ure out how to make money with events that fea­ture smaller fields and 20 m, draft-free rac­ing for all the com­peti­tors.

Don’t get me wrong – the last thing I would ever do is tell you not to get to any of the races held at Mont-trem­blant, which is ev­ery bit an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but a very dif­fer­ent one. Or many of the other great Iron­man events held here in Canada and around the world. To con­tinue to grow, though, our sport needs op­tions so ath­letes can en­joy lots of dif­fer­ent race ex­pe­ri­ences.

The pros and ath­letes who took in the Cham­pi­onship made it very clear that this was one ex­pe­ri­ence more triath­letes should take in. The bar was set very high. Now the Chal­lenge Fam­ily will have to fig­ure out how to meet fu­ture ex­pec­ta­tions.

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