ITU World Long Course Champion Mary Beth Ellis is calling for consistent rules and rulings.

I may be a non-practicing engineer but I recall all the key principles from my undergraduate engineering studies. In any information technology field, a key tenet is garbage in equals garbage out (GIGO). This refers to the fact that any computer model operates by logical processes.  If the data provided is nonsensical or inaccurate (garbage in) then the outcome will also be nonsensical (garbage out). GIGO is also commonly used to describe failures in human decision-making due to faulty, incomplete, or imprecise data.

Why GIGO in Triathlon you ask? Well as professional athletes we are racing to be fastest across the finish line and every second counts.  But currently in sport there is a problem with consistency and from race to race the rules are constantly changing.  Without clear rules that are consistently enforced by educated officials and a fair field of play, our sport and its results are not only arbitrary but have become garbage.

GIGO2GIGO in triathlon: Arbitrary drafting rules enforced differently event to event.

First, starting with consistent rules, the long course organisers do not have a global set of rules that are executed at every event around the world.  The ITU does this with excruciating detail and it pays off.  ITU races are consistent and well executed leading to fair racing and making it easy for officials as they need only refer to the rulebook. In long course racing, the rules are not only widely different around the world but are also enforced differently by different officials.  The rules enforced in France are different from those in Denmark, the US, or Australia.  Athletes don’t know whether to wear a number belt or not, what helmet they can use, whether items need to be in their transition bags, if there is a race briefing and if it’s mandatory, and last but certainly not least the draft zone anywhere from 7 meters to 20 meters but may or may not be enforced at races or even consistently in one event from official to official. When the rules and their inconsistencies are not always clearly communicated to athletes and enforced properly, the race results are random.


cervelo2Flick Abram was DQ’d at Alpe d’Huez triathlon for not wearing her race number belt on the run.

Second, without a consistent set of rules, the officials have a very difficult task and little to no guidance.  As was shown clearly during the NFL lockout in the United States, officiating matters and consistent enforcement is critical.  The long course organisers need to ensure that the head referee at every race knows the global rules and leads the entire team at the event to enforce them fairly for the professionals leading the race as well as those at the tail end of the race.  Investing in education and adequate compensation for their officials should be a priority for long course races.

Finally, a fair field of play is not delivered on a regular basis to the women.  Too often, female professionals are not given appropriate start times relative to the professional and age group men.  At the front of the race, the faster swimmers have to deal with interference from a handful of slower professional men.  While the women who are slower swimmers face an even bigger issue with age group men as the sheer numbers riding with them leads to dangerous and often untenable situations.  The professional women are only asking for a fair race but time and time again we are forced to have our races questioned after the fact due to conditions completely outside our control.  Elite marathons had this issue and resolved it by completely separating and creating a women’s professional start clear from all men.  These world class marathons created an event where the women have a race that is both fair and completely their own.  In triathlon with the interference occurring on the bike, we need our own race even more desperately as the advantages and disadvantages of all this traffic are more impactful.  The professional women triathletes deserve a fair and safe race that showcases all their abilities without any outside factors affecting the outcome.

I don’t want our sport to be arbitrary.  To prevent this we need to establish long course rules that are standardised across all countries, brands, and events, have officials that are properly educated and compensated for their time and effort, and create fair races that provide women especially with competitions free from outside interference. It’s time to once and for all take out the garbage and make our sport clean and fair for all.

Pro Penalty Box


Leanda Cave was DQ’d in Ironman France for forgetting to put on her race number belt for the bike.

Heather Wurtele was DQ’d in Ironman Cour d’Alene for abandonment of equipment when she took Christie Sym’s bike after she had a bike mechanical which prevented her from continuing on her own bike.

Outside assistance from Bek Keat saved Chrissie Wellington’s Kona.  But the unauthorized assistance rule is never enforced.

It states “Unauthorized Assistance. No participant shall accept from any person (other than a race official) physical assistance in any form, including food, drink, equipment, support, pacing, a replacement bicycle or bicycle parts, unless an express exception has been granted and approved, in writing, by USA Triathlon. The receipt of information regarding the progress, split times, or location of other competitors on the race course shall not be considered the acceptance of unauthorized assistance. Any violation of this Section shall result in a variable time penalty”

Cutting the course in Challenge Dubai or at the Koh Sumai Triathlon is fine but will lead to a DQ at other events depending on officials and the race organiser’s subjective opinion.

Mitch Anderson and Annabelle Luxford being give one minute start penalty for arriving late to a race briefing at 70.3 Busso.  The penalty was eliminated after they paid to protest this ruling.

Mary Beth Ellis receiving a four minute penalty in Challenge Denmark for not properly packing her T1 bag and leaving the legs of her wetsuit hanging outside.

Chrissie receiving assistance in 2008. online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

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