Over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen races with less than stacked fields. It’s drawn criticism and has moved us back to a couple of old hobby horse discussions:
Equal numbers for men and women at Kona, and how good does a pro have to be to be deserving of pay?
It’s been discussed many times and my opinion hasn’t changed from what I advised the former CEO Lew Friedland 17 years ago at Ironman Zurich.
Make the pros equal. Invite 25 men and women – all of whom are paid for qualifying for the World Championship. Have 5 wild cards to use at your discretion for injuries or mitigating circumstances for top athletes.
Prize money for the professionals to begin at 20. Split the pro race. Men start at the current times, women later at noon so they get a fair race and to keeps interest through the day.
It would create a much more competitive field and exciting race, but there’s no will to do that because of the second problem:
Pro purses at races.
Ironman’s current policy seems to be pretty clear on this – ‘We don’t want them’ – and are pursuing a rather effective strategy of watering the prize pool to the point where the ‘professional fields’ are so diluted in most races that they are destined to die a natural death.
It is not the correct strategy. It kills the development of the next champions and undermines the very great aspect of our sport where amateurs can compete next to the sport’s best.
The frustration should not be directed at those athletes doing their best.
You are not going to see deep pro fields while ever the prize money is so small that after taking into account travel and accommodation expenses – to place second or third means you effectively lose money. And that’s with the risk of a Jan Frodeno or Daniela Ryf sweeping down on your race and making a podium your best possible outcome.
There needs to be a system in place, which provides athletes – at their level – the opportunity and financial incentive to work their way up.
- Tier 1 – Kona Championship
- Tier 2 – 4 Major Championships
- Tier 3 – 10 Regional races
- Tier 4 – Pro race series
To get into the higher tiered races with higher prize money races would require qualification from a tier lower.
This way an up and coming pro would not run into an Angry Bird or Mirinda Carfrae as they develop up the ranks. It would also give the pros a pathway to success and would allow not just the Top 10 in the world a way to earn a living, but the top 50.
Why no implementation? Because there is no will.
One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think that phasing the pros out all together is on the agenda.
Ironman is a company valued at close to $1 billion dollars, but is too cheap to spend $10 million a year on a prize pool for the pro ranks? No, it is clear they are not part of a larger strategy.
In the meantime it is not fair or fun to watch a developing pro get beaten up by Frodeno or Brownlee by 20 minutes. They shouldn’t be there racing those guys in the first place.
Similarly, in answer to the criticism of ‘these guys are not good enough! They are beaten by age groupers!’ you can only shake your head and laugh. Some ‘age group’ athletes are training 40 hours a week and are between 25 and 40 years-old. They race age group for a reason – they can’t handle the heat of being a pro.
So let’s stick to the main problem for now. The current pros do not need a boot. They need a hand and a sustainable pathway so that they can become great athletes over a period of time – without relying on their parents’ gold card.