Chambers feels it is good for athletes not to specialize in triathlon too early. It helps to maintain their drive long-term and creates rounded individuals. But, while this is positive for the athlete, it creates difficulties for coaches trying to build programs.
Triathlon is a young sport and, as such, the pathways for competitive juniors to make it to elite senior level racing are still developing. But significant progress is being made. In British Columbia, for example, there is now a provincial race series for junior triathletes.
“It was only three, maybe two years ago when the only options for 16- or 17-year-olds were to do a local sprint or be racing the junior national series,” says Medcalf.
But there is still progress to be made. There are just three races in the B.C. series: in May, June and a final event in September. According to Chambers, this creates a bottleneck as talented younger athletes look to move on from participation-based events and want more serious racing opportunities.
Guest and Deutsch both admit the balance of participation against the number of races is tricky to get right. If there were more races, would there be more racers? Or do the athletes need to come first to create the demand? Canada has the additional issue of widely dispersed population centres. Travel to races is difficult and it can be hard to convince parents to make the trip, especially for short events.
For elite juniors looking for the best competition, the problems are even greater. The National Junior Series consists of three races in 2017. The events are based in Ontario or Quebec, making travel harder from outside those provinces.
“In some cases we would stay for a couple of weeks for two races and then go back. So it’s definitely not cheap,” says Deutsch.
Funding is mainly directed to senior athletes with Olympic potential so, until an athlete reaches this point, they must be predominantly self-funded. It is not an easy situation to rectify. Triathlon Canada simply does not currently have the resources to support junior triathlon as they would like. In a lot of ways it all comes back to participation. Greater numbers of juniors – and adults – increase the profile of the sport and create revenue. In addition to introductory programs, Guest feels communities should make better use of current stars to inspire kids and wishes elite triathletes were household names.
There is a lot to be excited about for triathlon in Canada. At senior level, there are a bunch of talented athletes kicking on from Rio for the next Olympic cycle. And over longer distances, Canadian racers are among the best in the world.
But for this success to continue the sport must adapt. Governing bodies have to do more to attract the stars of the future and provide them with the opportunities they need to thrive in the sport.
Luke Yates is a freelance jounralist and triathlete from Vancouver.