Long distance revolution
Jakob Ohlsen Published: 11th September 2017
After simulations and wind tunnel measurements by the company Swiss Side have once again confirmed that drafting can bring decisive advantages even at gaps of more than ten metres, another debate has arisen on the drafting regulations for half- and full-distance triathlon races. Increasing numbers of participants with a higher strength in depth let organizers and race officials face a problem which can hardly be solved.
While the athletes fight for fair racing-conditions, only a few races are shown on TV. When a race is broadcasted live on television, not many viewers can get enthusiastic about an eight-hour triathlon coverage, in which there might be not a single lead change in a worst case scenario. Let's face it, most long-distance competitions are not very exciting for the spectators. Races such as the 70.3 World Championships 2016, in which Tim Reed and Sebastian Kienle fought for the victory up to the finish line, are a rarity in long-distance triathlon.
But why do cycling broadcasts, which also last several hours, reach millions of viewers worldwide, while a triathlon fan has to settle for a semi-professional stream to watch the Ironman Hawaii, while he hopes that the camera motorcycles will have enough fuel on board this year? A pure cyclist can recover in the slipstream of the pack after an exhausting (and suspenseful) attack. Such an attack would quickly deprive a long-distance athlete of a good race result. In a bicycle race the sprinter can put everything on one card and doesn't have to spare himself for tomorrow's mountain stage, while in triathlon swimming, cycling or running specialists are noted, but very rarely honoured accordingly.
The long distance triathlon as a single sport shall of course remain an integral part of the triathlon world. Nevertheless, the media attention could be increased by new race formats that allow team tactics, contain special rankings and even allow drafting under certain circumstances.
In short distance triathlon the Super League thrills the spectators with a multi-day event in which different race formats and time bonuses lead to exciting races. Together with a broadcast on Tour de France level, in March 2017 the Super League provided a spectator experience that a triathlon fan has never seen before.
Many long- and half-distance organizers concentrate on the marketing of races as age group events. The driving force behind these events, the professional athletes, often have to settle for low prize money and poor coverage. The organisers seem to forget that the marketing of professional sports events (see cycling) can also be worthwhile and that both organisers and athletes would benefit equally from the interest of the media. So when will the long distance revolution come and would a long distance race with drafting even work?