STATE OF PLAY

The World Triathlon Se­ries’ multi-race for­mat has its plus points, but can­not pros­per while be­ing sub­servient to the Olympic Games

220 Triathlon Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Is it time for the World Triathlon Se­ries to re­turn to a one-off race for the world ti­tle? The ques­tion has been of­ten posited since the In­ter­na­tional Triathlon Union first in­tro­duced the multi-race se­ries in 2009 that de­mands triath­letes ac­crue points through­out the sea­son be­fore lin­ing up for an up weighted Grand Fi­nal.

The sport’s lu­mi­nar­ies have long lamented aban­don­ing a sin­gle showdown for­mat, among the ques­tion­ing voices, Alistair Brown­lee. The two-time Olympic cham­pion has fea­tured in­creas­ingly spar­ingly since win­ning a sec­ond world ti­tle in 2011, but in en­joy­ing the Grand Fi­nal spoils four times, has un­der­scored his ap­petite for one-day com­pe­ti­tion.

The se­ries con­cept is no fail­ure. It gives promi­nence to re­gional races, is ad­mirably global to widen triathlon’s out­reach, and has es­tab­lished host venues that draw large crowds (Ham­burg and Leeds) and loyal in­vest­ment (Yokohama and Ed­mon­ton). It’s also cli­maxed in no­table drama – the Jonny Brown­lee ver­sus Javier Gomez sprint fin­ish in Lon­don, 2013, or Jonny’s im­plo­sion in Cozumel in 2016.

Yet it suf­fers, not be­cause of its drawn-out for­mat, but be­cause vir­tu­ally all stake­hold­ers are be­holden to ma­jor Games. Fed­er­a­tions’ fund­ing is ma­jorly linked to Olympic per­for­mance, mean­ing jobs teeter per­ilously on re­sults of a once-ev­ery-four-year con­test. For those rac­ing, a medal un­locks non-en­demic spon­sor­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties, which, given lowly prize money, few would be­grudge. The net re­sult is that the WTS’s lus­tre is stymied be­cause the world’s best can never fully com­mit – and the tal­ent drains as fol­lows…

The year af­ter the Olympics, triath­letes, ei­ther fraz­zled by the qual­i­fi­ca­tion process, or re­al­is­ing they don’t have the top-end speed to still be com­pet­i­tive in four years, turn to other op­tions, with many find­ing a niche – and more au­ton­omy – in non-draft­ing events.

The fol­low­ing year, the Com­mon­wealths take prece­dence for many lead­ing na­tions. Take 2018. Both Flora Duffy and Henri Schoe­man peaked for gold in Gold Coast in April, yet couldn’t sus­tain form and fit­ness to mount a WTS chal­lenge. The shame be­ing Duffy was favourite for a third straight ti­tle.

At­ten­tion then turns back to Olympic qual­i­fi­ca­tion, but the va­garies of na­tions’ se­lec­tion cri­te­ria mean triath­letes race se­lec­tively, tac­ti­cally and of­ten con­ser­va­tively to se­cure an Olympic berth.

In Games’ year, the fo­cus is all on the one race. As if to em­pha­sise, no triath­lete has won Olympic gold and the WTS in the same year.

For the WTS to pros­per, it needs all the best triath­letes to be in­vested all of the time. In turn, that helps en­gage both pub­lic and spon­sors, and lays a foun­da­tion for fans to care enough to fol­low the nar­ra­tive of the sea­son and un­der­stand the nu­ance of a Grand Fi­nal when the first across the line isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the world cham­pion. Oth­er­wise, a one-off showdown is the way to go.

“To em­pha­sise, no triath­lete has won Olympic gold and the WTS in the same year”

TIM HEMING Cut­ting through the spin of tri to ad­dress the is­sues that mat­ter, Tim is a sports jour­nal­ist who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively on triathlon for the na­tional press.

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