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Growing the Sport of Triathlon

Posted: Oct 04 2013

Now don’t get me wrong, the sport of Triathlon is doing just fine. Triathlon Business International recently had their first International Conference, The World Triathlon Corporation is adding races at an amazing rate and a recent study from SFIA (the Sports Fitness Industry Association) estimated that the number of unique triathlon participants rose by over 17% in 2012.


But from my perspective, we’re just scratching the surface.  I know I’m biased but there seems to be a disconnect between the amazingness of the sport and the amount of mainstream coverage.  To borrow from and probably misappropriate the words of one of history’s great leaders, I’d say…”Rarely in the field of human competition has so much energy, passion, emotion and strategy been witnessed by so few.”


In other words, how is it that a sport that is as complex and full of emotion as triathlon isn’t seen more in the news and on television? 


Some may say that it just isn’t that spectator friendly but I’d have to push back a bit.  I recently watched the Cross-Fit games (on ESPN by the way) and was enthralled.  Seeing incredibly fit athletes compete against each other in an event that wrung out every ounce of emotional and physical energy in them was extremely compelling (hint, hint).  As amazing as Cross-Fit is, surely triathlon is in the same league.


So, with that as backdrop and because triathlon is definitely in our blood, we offer three unsolicited suggestions on how to accelerate the growth of the sport (and yes, number three is somewhat self-serving but it is also true):


1.      Technology and Race Coverage: There is no doubt that long course triathlon is full of human interest stories and we should continue to highlight and celebrate them.  In addition to that, I’d love to see organizers embrace technology to help tell the tactical story of the race. From my perspective, it would be fascinating to have all of the athletes transmit heart rate, speed and power data so that the commentators could weave the information into their coverage.  Knowing that Chris Lieto is starting to drop the hammer after the turn at Hawi would be even more exciting if you could see and quantify the extent to which he is pressing the gas.  Combine that with stats on exactly how big a gap is on the run and when a pass will occur at the current pace and I think you’ve got a heck of a narrative.


2.      Make the athletes stars:  Actually, I think I’d say, make the athletes into super stars.  I think race organizers and equipment manufacturers would eventually see a nice return on this investment.  In and of itself, the sport is exciting.  If you add an element of superstardom, I think we’ll have an amazing combination.  I’ll date myself with this comment but some of you may recall when Michael Jordan the basketball player took up baseball.  For a period of time, tickets to the Double A Birmingham Barons were hot items. Amazing what a star can for a team, event and/or sport!  If we can do a better job of celebrating and promoting the incredible athleticism displayed by the best in our sport, I think we’ll all be better for it.


3.      Embrace new formats:  Ok…as I mentioned, this is a bit self-serving but I also think it is absolutely true.  Coeur Sports ( elected to sponsor the Super Sprint Triathlon in Las Vegas during Interbike. For those of you who haven’t seen this type of race, it is a double super-sprint format where athletes complete two continuous, non-stop circuits of the same course.  Each circuit consists of a 300-meter pool swim, a five mile bike and 1.5-mile run.  I can’t tell you how exciting this format is.  It is just amazing!  First, you can pretty much see the athletes the entire time.  Second, the race is absolutely full of tactical intrigue.  The athletes had twice as many opportunities to showcase the tenants of “game theory” and decide when they needed to cooperate and when it was every athlete for themselves.  If you get Universal Sports, I’d certainly recommend that watch the replay on Monday, Oct. 7th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.  My point in bringing this up is that this type of format should help bring more fans into the sport. And as most of you probably know, once triathlon is in your blood…


So there you have it.  Coeur’s unsolicited suggestions on some ways to help continue and hopefully accelerate the growth of this great sport. We’d welcome your thoughts as well.