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Is Getting a Professional Licence and Keeping it Too Easy?

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With so many fierce age groupers in Triathlon now, too many professionals are getting complacent. In other sports, this complacency sees athletes lose their professional ticket, and have to re-qualify, yet in triathlon, this isn’t the case. This makes me wonder: To preserve the quality of the sport, should professional cards be harder to hold on to?

Some age groupers train as much as pros

Plenty of age groupers who work long hours and have hectic lives race against other athletes who have a lot more time to train and commit to the work that’s required for this sport.
This issue significantly highlights the uniqueness that is Triathlon currently and that there is no other sport like it in the world.

Amateurs can measure themselves directly against pro athletes on the same course on the same day, and even run passed them in some cases these days.

Imagine an amateur cyclist wearing a 1983 baggy old Phonak Kit who is having the “day of his life” catching Fabian Cancellara on a bad day at Milan San Remo!

After being around the sport for a long enough I have noticed that the gap between age groupers and pro athletes is becoming increasingly smaller.

For example, at Ironman Western Australia in 2014, the first Australian across the line was an age grouper who made it in 8:46, which was good enough for 10th overall and not that far behind the eventual winner. This would have been unheard of 10-12 years ago in the sport, which highlights the fact that the gaps in ability are getting smaller.

Work and life choices are up to each person, and people should not be judged on this, but when it comes to Ironman World Championship spots, judgments set in. The bloke who works 80 hours a week in an accounting firm in the 35-39 age group could be lining up against an online poker player who works 5 hours a week and can train 30 hours a week. Is this fair?

Should there be a mixed low-pro/strong age grouper category?

Realistically, should we have “another” category for these pro age groupers? Or subsequently force athletes to go pro once they have attained a particular placing overall, thus deciding for them. A lot of coaches don’t want age groupers to go pro until they’ve cemented their skills in all areas, learn more in the interview with Matt Dixon.

Should prize money dictate the professional license?

Some might say that certain Pro athletes would also qualify for this pro age group field, given that most pro athletes usually have to work to attain a basic livelihood putting them in the same situation as most amateurs. Golf is an excellent example of actual professional sport, in that your ability to turn professional is directly related to how much money you make and your standing on the money list. Not meeting the minimum requirements will send you back to PGA tour school to earn your Tour card back again.

Should keeping your professional license be harder in triathlon?

Attaining a pro card in triathlon is relatively easy, especially in long course triathlon. If you meet the requirements and grab a few AG podiums, you’re qualified for your licence.

Getting a professional licence is easy, but keeping it is too easy

This is a valid qualification process and is great for young, aspiring professionals, but the main crux of this issue is how long an athlete should stay in the pro ranks if they are not performing.

There are no current criteria required to renew a pro licence each year. It’s just a matter of having the cash to pay in June/July. Currently, there are professional category athletes who struggle to win their age group consistently overall and struggle to make a dollar in the sport.

These athletes are developing and gaining experience, but the fact these athletes are still pros degrades the quality of the sport for the general public and potential sponsors. We currently have athletes with pro licences who have not travelled under 9 hours for an Ironman.

This begs the question: Should these athletes be relegated back to age group for a year if they don’t perform? This happens in Australian Rules Football (AFL), and a few bad games will send you back the reserves until you earn your place again, thus making you hungry and non-complacent.

With the introduction of Super League and the injection of huge sponsorship money from companies in Asia and the Middle East, triathlon is changing quickly. The top pros are getting faster, so are the top age groupers, but it’s the people in the middle of each field who are floundering.

To encourage competition and the highest quality of triathlon racing, professional licenses should be made harder to keep.

Matty has been a professional triathlete for 18 years and has competed at the highest level in long course triathlon during this time. Matt turned pro at the age of 20 and trained with a World Champion Triathlon Squad on the Gold Coast for a year before heading over to the French Professional club circuit to make a living from the sport. Now a Level 1 Triathlon Coach Accredited through Triathlon Australia.

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Why Young Athlete’s Should Consider Super League in Their Career

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Super League is the most lucrative, exclusive league in triathlon, and it’s changing the landscape of the sport. With shorter distances, faster races, harder courses and huge prize money, if you’re not getting into Super League you may be missing out.

Super League pays in prize money, appearances and key moves in races

Chris McCormack, the creator of Super League, told Trizone Super League is where the money’s at. “We want to ensure a solid prize purse which is now moving forward bigger than the WTS,” McCormick (Macca) told Trizone. “All aggressive racing will be rewarded with money, not just crossing the line first.”

Ever heard of MVP (most valuable player)? Macca has, and he wants to find the MVP of triathlon. “There may be other possible primes including ‘fan favourite’ and ‘most aggressive/combative,’ and some who are best in the race, like an MVP,” said Macca.

Super League offers athletes, including those young additions who may not be within the top three at the finish line, the chance to win money thanks to aggressive moves during races, and key stage wins.

Even if you’re not first across the line, you can still make money in Super League.

Being a pro doesn’t pay the bills

Unless you’re Flora Duffy, who’s won every triathlon league in the world last year, being a professional triathlete isn’t a financially rewarding job and is fraught with disaster if injury strikes. Even some of the world’s best pros didn’t earn a huge amount of prize money in 2016 despite fantastic results.

Despite placing third in Kona last year, Heather Jackson finished the year earning just $65,000, with Ben Hoffman finished with a reported $62,000. These amounts don’t include sponsorship deals as those amounts are private, but for two some of the world’s top athletes, you can see the sums aren’t huge.

For those pros who don’t make the podium at Kona, especially those who don’t even finish within the top eight at an Ironman race, they don’t even go home with any cash at all.

Expenses for triathletes are huge and often under-estimated

With plenty of athletes paying for their own plane fares, hotel rooms, physiotherapy appointments and other unforeseen travel and medical costs, being a pro can be tough.

Red Bull athlete Jesse Thomas told triathlete.com he predicts he spends $25,000 USD per year on travel. “This means there are around 400 guys with pro licenses making little to no money from the sport,” said Thomas.

But what if triathletes focused their training solely on short course, sprint events like Super League?

Jess Thomas knows prize money isn’t enough

“Prize money will not pay your living. Unless you place in the top three at a world championship, Hy-Vee or Challenge Bahrain, you can’t survive off of just prize money. As an example, here’s my prize money total for a decent post-injury 2014:

  • First place at Wildflower Long Course: $5,000
  • First place at Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant: $3,000
  • Second place at Ironman 70.3 Princeton: $2,000
  • Third place at Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs: $1,000
  • Fifth place at NYC Triathlon: $750
  • Sixth place at Ironman 70.3 Vineman: $1,500
  • 12th place at Ironman 70.3 World Championship: $0

Super League has 1.5 Million to give away after just 4 races

With just four championships on the Super League calendar for 2017 and $1.5 million USD up for grabs, Super League might just be the answer to a pro’s desperation for prize money. Only thing is, with short, sharp yet exhausting sprint race formats, many pros gearing up for Ironman aren’t prepared for Super League.

Focusing on Super League means working on sprint-distance

Super League is events between the best triathletes in the world, but it’s the shorter course superstars who do best on the lightning fast courses. In the first Super League event on Hamilton Island, Richard Murray was ranked first, followed by Mario Mola and Kristian Blummenfelt. ITU’s Aussie superstar Jake Birtwhistle made it to fourth place.

We weren’t surprised to see any of these top-ranked athletes on the podium, but it was exciting to see ITU’s newest Aussie superstar Matthew Hauser in 11th place. Hauser’s inclusion in Super League, at only just 19, is an indication Super League may be the future for young triathletes. In Jersey last weekend, Hauser finished Stage three in fourth, even further proof it could be the future for younger athletes.

Focusing on ITU means young athletes can compete for their countries, aim for Olympic prestige, but also look to their own financial futures with Super League.

Earn more by doing Super League

ITU’s overall rankings prize of $755,000 tops the chart, with the Ironman World Championship coming in second at $650,000 and the Island House Invitational coming in third at $500,000. Recently though, Macca has secured more prize money than the WTS, making it the most lucrative racing league in the sport.

With so many pro triathletes struggling to make a decent living, Super League might just be the answers to many triathletes’ struggles. What do you think? Is Super League the answer?

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