Melanie Baumann at Ironman Vichy 70.3. Photo: FinisherPix

Last weekend multiple Ironman champion and pre-race favourite, Diana Riesler, along with scores of AG athletes were disqualified at Ironman Vichy. Rather than tell the story through the perspective of our pro athletes, here is a letter we received from age group athlete, Melanie Baumann, outlining the situation and providing constructive feedback for future consideration:   

Last Saturday, I competed at the Ironman 70.3 in Vichy in France. Sadly, I got disqualified in T1 in this Ironman because of a new ITU rule regarding swimwear (according to a head referee at the event, but I can’t seem to find that rule anywhere), taken into effect by the French Federation in the middle of the season. Of course I’m not happy with this DQ, but I can deal with it and my life goes on nevertheless. After all I was allowed to finish the race and get a good training session in, the only „damage” being the missing result.

So while I wanted to put this matter to rest, the events at the full distance Ironman Vichy the next day made me reconsider. If a serious contender for the female PRO win is getting disqualified because of this ridiculous rule and going home with $0 instead of a possible $5000, then this is not peanuts and just not funny anymore!!! And it’s important to talk about this.

It’s best to start from the top.

Hot temperatures in the lead up and on race day warmed up the water to over 25°C, which resulted in a non-wetsuit swim.

THE RULE IN QUESTION

Written in the 2016 Ironman Competition Rules (WTC) from 2/2/2016 regarding non-wetsuit swims:

Section 4.03 Swimwear policy when the use if wetsuits is prohibited:

(f) A textile race kit may be worn underneath swimwear, provided, however, that the textile race kit must not extend past elbow and must not extend past the knees. (DSQ).

So this is a simple rule in my opinion, you can wear your trisuit underneath your swimwear. It doesn’t matter if you wear a one piece or two piece trisuit or what ever, or how much skin is covered by that trisuit underneath your swimwear. Or so one might think!

WTC/Ironman is an international organization and their events are of international dimension. Therefore it’s great to have those competition rules applying to all races around the globe, it makes life so much simpler for all the international athletes. BUT WAIT, it’s not that simple: The national federation of the country where the event is held can somehow change or add rules! While this makes sense in order to complying with national road rules and specific safety issues, it doesn’t make sense for any other matters.

I had a chat with the head referee after my DQ and he told me that the French Federation has adapted a rule allegedly set by ITU this spring or summer (can someone please show me this?!). It allegedly states that if you wear a swimsuit over your trisuit, then the trisuit must not cover all of your upper body. This means that if you wear a one piece trisuit, you have to pull down the upper part and regarding a two piece, you can’t wear a tri top that covers all of your upper body, only a bra for female athletes is allowed. (Though it’s reported afterwards some females were disqualified even with the bra top underneath).

Is there anyone out there, who can explain to me why this rule makes sense? Is there a safety issue? And why does a national federation feel the urge to implement such a non-important rule in the middle of the season, with no pressure and against the competition rules set by Ironman itself?! And why isn’t it mentioned in the rules on the specific Ironman Vichy webpage, it only says regarding swim wear:

3. In case it is forbidden to swim in a wet-suit, the athletes may only wear a swim suit with FINA certification. Wearing more than one swim suit is forbidden. http://eu.ironman.com/triathlon/events/emea/ironman/vichy/athletes/reglement.aspx#ixzz4IhNYVRL1

Understood, just one swim suit! But nothing about the trisuit underneath? So, not even in their specific written IM Vichy race rules did they specify this rule, that they wanted to enforce so strongly! But no matter if this rule really exists in the ITU rules, it doesn’t make sense! But I leave everybody to their own opinion about this!

Now what does this mean? You need to read the rules of WTC/Ironman and ITU and the respective national federation. And don’t forget, it’s not enough to read them at the beginning of the season, but be aware of any updates at any time! And also be aware, that it’s not clear which rules are actually in effect!

THE REFEREES

I don’t know if it was addressed during the PRO briefing, but I admit it was addressed during our age group briefing on Friday at 7.30pm! Race start was Saturday at 6.50am! Now this is a problem: Even if you understand that rule, you have to find a solution for that within no time! In my case, my tri top has a stitched in bra and because I didn’t have another sports bra on this short trip, I had 2 choices: Go topless under the swim suit or swim without swim suit. Option 2 would have caused a huge drag with a two piece trisuit, so I only had option 1, not happy about that either, but in the end the only remaining possibility. So I asked a referee in a black and white zebra outfit, if it’s okay to wear my tri top with the stitched in bra and pull it up a little bit, so it wouldn’t cover all of my belly. He then said yes, no problem… and there was my solution!

Or so I thought. The next morning, coming into T1, I was stopped by a referee, showing me a red card, because of not complying with that rule. I told him about the information I got the night before, but no success. After some discussion he referred me to the head referee, who confirmed the red card and DQ. A little bit devastated I walked to my bike and then wanted to return the chip and exit the race. That referee and his entourage then asked me about my story and then said, I can go on and they will take care of the rest and that he will make sure I won’t be disqualified. So after 14 minutes in transition I was allowed to continue my race, but not sure if I really get a result or not! At the finish line I went straight to Mika Timing, asking if I got the result or if I’m still disqualified. The guy said: „Oh, you’re bib number 9 and were disqualified after the swim… Yeah, that’s been settled, you’re okay, the DQ was deleted earlier on!“ Cool, I thought!

Imagine my surprise, that 3 hours after the race I got disqualified again! Talking to the head referee again after the renewed DQ, he told me that I shouldn’t ask a normal referee about rules and only the head referees with the yellow arm band! Well, thanks for that update… My understanding was, that I can ask any referee about rules, because after all they all need to know the rules in order to showing yellow, blue or red cards! And if a referee doesn’t know or is not allowed to give an answer, then I expect him/her to refer me to a head referee. This has not happened the evening before!

This is not really about my DQ, but more about the inconsistency between the referees, their communications and the enforcements of rules within the event organization. There needs to be some consistency there! As far as I know, quite a lot of athletes were disqualified because of that rule, but also a lot of athletes were not sanctioned, even though violating that same rule!

I accept the decision of a DQ, because I have probably violated (even though I asked before the race) this ridiculous rule after all,  but I think it’s important to address such a matter! In order to making it easier for any party involved, WTC should release rules that are binding for every one of their Ironman branded races around the globe, the only exception being safety issues or rules set by local public authorities. Any other approach is making WTC rules obsolete!

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