Lately, there has been a lot of talk in triathlon about the new WTC rules for qualifying for a the World Championships (5% rule) and receiving prize money (8% rule). I have held off on giving my opinion because I am a new Professional and I am still learning the ropes. However, after seeing this rule play out in several races this spring, I definitely have some thoughts. While I understand the WTC is trying to raise the bar for the professional athletes, I can't help but think they are approaching this in a way that could end up stifling competition instead of promoting it.
First, the 5% rule for qualifying for the World Championships---Kona or Clearwater. I strongly agree with the idea of making it challenging to qualify for those two races. The fields should be elite and smaller to insure fair races. Obviously, the Clearwater race has it's problems but I am not even going to address that here. In Ironman St. George Caitlin Snow finished outside of the 5% time and did not receive a spot to Kona. She has finished 12th and 15th in Kona the last 2 years. She is clearly one of the elite Ironman Professional athletes and deserves to be on the start line at the World Championships. You might say "well then she has to qualify at another race and finish within 5% of the winner." I will counter that argument by saying that competing an Ironman is a bit different than doing an Olympic Distance race. It takes awhile to recover from an Ironman. Most people (Hillary excluded---love you girl!) only compete 2-3 ironmans a year. Now, Caitlin Snow has to decide whether to do another one in an attempt to qualify for Kona or forgo the World Championship this year, thus taking a great competitor off the start line in Kona. Now, she may have already planned to do another Ironman, I do not know Caitlin personally, but for the sake of my argument it makes sense to cite this situation. Maybe it would be better not to allow Kona slots to rolldown past a certain finish place. Top 3 or Top 5? Or, somehow come up with an aggregate time and base the percentage on that somehow? I just feel like the WTC wanted to make these changes and did not really think them through or talk to their professional athletes about how these rules could be implemented. I think most of us would agree that it should not be "easy" to qualify for the World Championships.
Second, the 8% rule. This is the rule that will probably affect me the most as I am a new professional. Triathlon is not a huge money maker unless you are one of the best in the world. Most athletes are scraping by, race to race. If they are not making money they may chose not to race any more. This could cannibalize already small pro fields (especially women) at some races. Plus, it does not really support the up and coming Pro. Maybe in their 1st year they are finishing within 8-10% of the winner and earning money at some races and not others. Everyone has to start somewhere. Not everyone comes out of nowhere (Chrissie Wellington-esque) to win the World Championships. Most professional triathletes started at the bottom and worked their way up. They won some prize money, gained sponsors and gradually began to have better results. If we take away people's ability to do this and earn what little money is available there will probably be less of us out there. I think this rule has affected the women's races (Malaysia and St. Croix) a little bit more than the men's because there are usually fewer professional women than men. Perhaps the WTC could make the rule 8% of the 2nd place finishers time? Other triathlon race series (Challenge comes to mind) implement a rule based off the 2nd place time. Or, maybe just pay out the prize money as advertised? I really don't believe that Professionals will decide not to race because the organizers are going to pay out the prize purse as advertised. I think there is a compromise that will work for both sides. However, to figure this out I think the WTC needs to solicit the opinions of the athletes and take their thoughts seriously.
Lastly, since I am the up and coming professional fighting to be within 8% of the winners I have been working very hard this week. My coach really challenged me Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and I am enjoying an easy day today. The weather has been beautiful and I have been out on my bike a lot. I am getting faster and stronger. The hills seem a bit smaller and I like to think I am "popping" over them more than before. The NCM has been taking me on some great rides and we did a few runs together and I was definitely pushed outside of my comfort zone. I am hopeful these changes will allow me to take my racing to the next level.
The Tour of California comes through town on Monday. I can't wait! I am going to be standing out on Oakville Grade to watch them come up the climb. It is 610 feet in about 1 mile. They will probably make it look easy.
Thanks for reading---Happy and Safe Training to all!