Changes to Ironman

At some point in the next few days I plan to write a post about what I thought of The Ironman Experience and if it’s worth what you pay. But, in the meantime, Ironman/World Triathlon Corporation has been busy making news.

Obviously, there was the whole crowdfunding to pay 7th place at Ironman Lake Placid to shame Ironman and push the debate about professional prize purses into the public eye. (You can read my interview with the organizers of that.) Personally, I think the campaign was interesting and certainly achieved its goal of attracting attention to the issue. And, it seemed like a really stupid PR move for an Ironman Corp. VP to take the check away at the finish line — no matter what he personally thought about the campaign and the organizers. But, there’s also been a lot of blowharding of course.

And that blowhard bullshit has definitely come from all sides. I mean what kind of advice is the Ironman/WTC CEO getting if he decides to go on Slowtwitch and poke the beast? This string in the forum, which he started, was the craziest and most interesting thing I’ve read in awhile. It included this weird story.

(I think my actual favorite part of it was that here is the Ironman CEO starting a debate — or whatever he intended to start — about professional prize purses and what is necessary to grow the sport, and instead someone starts posting about putting the aid stations at IM Canada closer together. I THINK YOU MISSED THE POINT.)

There were a few interesting points in the string, though. A number of people pointed out that the races are clearly being diluted, right? If there are fields where there aren’t even as many professionals as prize money, then it’s safe to say that for whatever reason the incentives aren’t there to get enough pros to the starts of races — though at the same time even if there was $500 in prize money for 7th would it be worth it if it cost you $1500 to do the race? Probably not. Ironman is definitely causing that over-saturation in part with their massive scaling up, but they’ve also created some of the incentives that stop people from going pro in the first place.

Side note: one of the most interesting points someone made was that under the ranking Kona qualification system for pros, Ironman has made it so that top age group athletes have no incentive to go pro — they won’t make it to Kona as a pro, but they can just keep going over and over and over as an age grouper — so Ironman’s kind of shooting themselves in the foot in the long run. And, anyway, we all know what my opinions are about people staying age group long after they shouldn’t anymore.

Whether Ironman listened to the growing concerns or not, the announcement today about the changes they’re making for next year was fascinating.

By eliminating prize money from a number of races, they’re hoping to combat that dilution of talent and reward early season racing more. They’re also paying ten deep at the championship races and rewarding automatic Kona spots. In some ways this took into account the arguments people have been making, but how it’ll actually work out is definitely still a big mystery.

Witsup has a pretty good layout of what all the changes entail and how it will affect people. It seems like clearly the biggest problem is just that by eliminating the number of races that newer entry-level pros can earn any money at makes it harder for them to move up. When we don’t have a developing ground for athletes we don’t make it easy for the sport to develop. But, I don’t know that the system before really worked for the mid-level pros. They were never able to actually break-even.

So, is all this a step in the right direction? Is Ironman finally dealing with some of its problems? Some of them? Any guesses on how this’ll work out eventually?

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