Why our short-course elites deserve more respect
Not everyone can win an Olympic medal, but the level of elite short-course racers should be rewarded with a higher profile, argues our 220 columnist
The inaugural Global Triathlon Awards took place last month and I disagreed with the award for Male Triathlete of the Year. Rather than being given to reigning Ironman world champion Gustav Iden, in my opinion, it should have gone to Kristian Blummenfelt.
There wasn’t much to split the Norwegians but I figured Blummenfelt’s greater range of performance over all distances should have won him the accolade.
In many ways debate is the point of subjective competitions like this – disagreement over indifference every time – but what I found puzzling was one reply to my tweet that homed in on how disrespectful it was to Iden to suggest the wrong man won.
Is it really a sleight to suggest another athlete has performed better? Or just a viewpoint? These are, after all, the biggest names in tri. The plaudits roll in thick and fast and not just on a glitzy night in Nice.
Why our short course elites deserve more respect
In contrast, where more focus – if not respect – for the athletic abilities on show would be welcome, at least more than once every four years, is in elite short-course racing. It was a point raised in a recent interview with pro James Teagle, who was discussing just how much quality there is below Olympic competition, and, equally, how much of it goes unnoticed.
Perhaps it typifies the harsh world of pro sport, but how many readers know that Britain currently has both U23 world champions in Connor Bentley and Kate Waugh?
Or how many of you could name those in contention to earn GB’s third Olympic spot alongside Alex Yee and Jonny Brownlee in Paris 2024?
The past decade of racing for GB’s elite men illustrates not just how much talent there is, but how hard it is to take the final step to Olympic success. For more than a decade, Britain has done exceedingly well at junior and U23 level where world podiums have been won by Marc Austin, Gordon Benson, Tom Bishop, Dominic Coy, Sam Dickinson, Ben Dikjstra, Matt Sharp, David McNamee and Grant Sheldon.
Yet to date not one of these names has broken through to win a World Series race, let alone an Olympic medal. Will Bentley or the U23s third-placed finisher, Hamish Reilly, be able to take that step? Let’s hope so, but even if they can’t it shouldn’t mean that they have failed.
Watch a World Triathlon race
Rather, it would be great to see them gain more recognition and reward for the World Series, World Cup and European Cup performances where the difference between first and 31st can be fractions.
All deserve more credit for being phenomenal triathletes, but not all can stand atop Olympic podiums. If you’ve not done so before, watch any World Triathlon race to see their quality. Or check the results and see the splits.
Or consider that when Iden returned to race in Leeds WTCS last June, he was the last of the finishers in 48th place. Disrespecting Iden again? More underlining just how talented those racing in draft-legal competition really are.
Illustration: Daniel Seex