Ironman Austria drafting controversy highlights wider problems

Organising Ironman races is no easy task but, as the fallout from the Austrian event proved, mistakes at the sharp end keep being repeated. Tim Heming explains why fair competition is pro joke…

Credit: Getty Images

It’s a fair bet that the vast majority of those crossing the Ironman Austria finish line at the start of the month were in joyous spirits and thankful to the organisers, World Triathlon Corporation, for providing a rewarding – possibly life-changing – experience.

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Albeit unashamedly for-profit, as decreed by Wanda Group, its Chinese conglomerate owners, the brand consistently deliver world-class endurance events across the world, and for two decades Klagenfurt has been a particularly popular destination given its picturesque course, and potential for fast times and Kona qualification.

It’s provided some seminal moments in professional racing too, such as in 2011 when Marino Vanhoenacker won his sixth title in 7:45:58, a time that stood as an Ironman-brand record for five years.

So what’s this gripe of a column for?

Well, nothing, if you’re counting the Ironman coffers or deservedly admiring your bling while sipping a post-race Stiegl.

Yet for those at the sharp end of the race and trying to make a living from the relatively trifling prize money on offer, or for those devotedly – or perhaps deludedly – following Ironman racing and trying to believe in its viability as professional sport, there was quite a bit that went wonky.

Unfortunately, in a week in which cycling was mired in a debacle over whether Chris Froome would race the Tour de France, Austria delivered a podium half-filled with triathletes who can be linked to the stench of doping. They comprise men’s winner Michael Weiss, runner-up Ivan Tutukin, and women’s runner-up Lisa Huetthaler. Each sorry tale has its vagaries, and a quick web-search will send you down those rabbit holes if you choose, but it underlines how triathlon is not free of the stigma that blights so many sports.  

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However, the focus for this column – and an area that could be more easily rectified (if there’s a will) – was highlighted by a “Statement Regarding Drafting and Moto-pacing at Ironman Austria” released by fourth-placed British professional, Susie Cheetham, shortly after the race.

 

*Statement Regarding Drafting and Moto-pacing at Ironman Austria* Many people may have been disappointed be scenes of drafting and moto-pacing at Ironman Austria. I felt that unfair racing and officiating took place at the front of the women’s race, and that it affected the results on the day. I presented video and photo evidence this morning in an appeal against one of the top 3 girls for unfair drafting, and against the race officials for inadequate marshalling and providing an unfair advantage due to inadequate Moto-discipline. I’m pleased to say that after reviewing my evidence, and race footage, my appeal has been upheld. It has been agreed that the front 3 women received an unfair advantage. Although I have been told that retrospective penalties cannot be applied under the race rules; action will be taken to ADVANCE ALL WOMEN PROS BY 5 MIN FROM 4TH PLACE. The official results will be amended. I’m happy with this outcome as it vindicates my concerns that the front of the women’s race was not raced fairly. Unfortunately this will not change the positions and I believe that the advantage gained was a lot more than 5 min. I would also have raced differently if I had known I was 9 min back off the bike, rather than 14 min. I really appreciate the genuine concern and interest that I have been shown by the race organisers, officials and Ironman management. I think the matter has been handled swiftly and as well as possible, and I hope this can be used to learn and make this beautiful race better. Susie