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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