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.