Some of the best triathletes in the world have joined a newly formed endurance team. Two-time Ironman world champion Chris “Macca” McCormack fills us in on the details.
Although the name Bahrain Endurance has been floating around for a few months—and several big-name athletes have been racing with the logo on their kits for much of the 2015 season—there had been no official announcement about the team until this morning. With the details now available to the public, Triathlete.com caught up with two-time Ironman world champion Chris “Macca” McCormack, who has been appointed to manage the team and the overall project, about how the team came together and what its goals are for the future. Here are 10 things to know about the big reveal of the Bahrain Endurance 13 Team.
1. The idea came from a conversation on a boat.
McCormack met Bahrain’s Prince, His Highness Shaikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, at Challenge Philippines in 2014 and quickly identified his passion for the sport of triathlon and endurance sports in general. About a month later McCormack helped to assemble a team to support Shaikh Nasser’s brother, Shaikh Khalid, in a 36K swim from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain for charity. While on the boat, the two chatted about endurance racing and what he loves about the sport. “He was telling me about his concerns about his people and the health of the region,” McCormack says. “He thought the qualities of endurance racing were noble qualities that transcended sport. I vividly remember him saying, to be successful at a marathon or triathlon, whether you’re in the front or back of the field, you need to commit to something. It takes hard work, dedication. During the race, it’s a true metaphor for life. You go through highs and lows and the ultimate goal is happiness and finishing. … Right there we talked about a team and taking this vision to the world.”
2. The team will expand beyond triathlon.
McCormack says the goal is to eventually grow to possibly cycling and running or other sports where endurance is the key element, with the “13” (representing the number of athletes on the team) serving as the triathlon branch.
“We need to start looking at endurance racing as an entire entity,” McCormack says of His Highness’ vision. “That’s where you’ll get the corporate partnerships. When you look at people doing an around-the-world yacht race, they’re endurance racers. That’s a billion-dollar sport with big sponsorships. He said, ‘Why aren’t we all grouped as a similar type of people?’ That’s the direction he wants to take this.”
3. It’s a star-studded triathlon cast.
The official roster has yet to be announced, but 11 of the 13 athletes have been seen wearing the race kits in 2015. They include Jan Frodeno (GER), Javier Gomez (ESP), Terenzo Bozzone (NZL), Ben Hoffman (USA), James Cunnama (RSA), Luke Bell (AUS), Daniela Ryf (SUI), Jodie Swallow (GBR), Caroline Steffen (SUI), Brent McMahon (CAN) and Joe Gambles (AUS). Paul Ambrose (AUS), Fredrik Croneborg (GER), McCormack and three others are a part of the development unit known as the “racing team.”
“We looked at athletes from all around the world,” McCormack says of the selection process. “He wanted to make sure the athletes are articulate. He wanted to be sure that they’re good role models and good people—not just a bunch of athletes with big résumés. They’re confident athletes who believe in the vision.”
4. The bonus pool for the team is very unique.
The bonus structure for the athletes on the team is something not seen before in triathlon. In addition to their base salaries, athletes will earn bonuses based on a laid out incentive structure. “There is no cap on bonuses,” McCormack explains. “That was a clear directive from His Highness. If an athletes wins, then he should make as much money as he or she wants. Also, every single time an athlete is successful, he or she shares a piece of his performance bonus with the entire team.”
Additionally, McCormack says they’ll be setting a standard that all athletes will be paid within seven days. Timely payment has been an issue within professional triathlon.
5. Athletes will keep their individual sponsors … for now.
The goal is to eventually get all of the athletes under team sponsorships, as opposed to the individual ones they carry now, but McCormack says that is still likely a few years away.
“We see it working that way in the long run,” McCormack says. “His Highness was very clear that he didn’t want to disrupt anything because with rapid change comes fear and he didn’t want to do that. Ultimately that is the direction we want to go. You need the athletes to embrace that first.”
6. The team’s main message is about health and wellness.
The big picture goal in all of this, McCormack says, is to help society, both locally in Bahrain and globally, achieve better health. His Highness believes that media and sponsorship attention is too focused on sports that most people stop participating in once they reach a certain age.
“His Highness wants endurance sport to be the forefront of global sport,” McCormack says. “Because he believes when you move in that direction people will change. Getting the community involved is what he wants to push forward. He wants to change viewership… He wants to embrace sports that you can also participate in. Get out there and do something. He wants sports news to lead with that, and these athletes at the top should be rewarded because they’re true ambassadors for life.”
7. A few athletes were hesitant.
We did ask McCormack if there were any concerns from the athletes about some of the allegations against Bahrain royalty that date back to 2011.
“It was a discussion that came up for some of them,” he explains. “I said to a lot of them, ‘You’ve been to Bahrain, you’ve met the prince, you’ve spoken to the locals, you draw your own conclusions.’ There were a few athletes who were much more political who spent some time talking it through. There were a few athletes who decided it wasn’t for them. As for any criticism of the region, most will say that they’re investing in athletes and they’re buying into the endurance vision more so than any claims or what’s happening in the region.”
8. The team structure goes beyond the elite 13 team.
In addition to the Bahrain Endurance 13 team, there is also a Bahrain Endurance Racing Team with six athletes and then a Bahraini national team.
“Every single athlete shares a layer of their performance bonus with a team down,” McCormack says of the structure. “Basically the top 13 help fund the racing team. The more success the 13 have, the more success the racing team has and the bigger we can grow it. The Bahrain Endurance 13 will also have a lot of say in who they pick as future stars.”
9. McCormack plans to hand off his spot in the near future.
Technically McCormack is on the developmental racing team, but he says that likely won’t be for long.
“I’ve been so caught up in this,” he says. “I’m still competing, but I’m definitely off of the big stuff. I’ll race a few of the Challenge events and a few of the 70.3 events, but I think my wife would divorce me if I try to do another Ironman. I’ll still race a couple more years, but really just next level down. I’m really involved in these things that I enjoy doing. I’m on the racing team for now, but I want to walk away from that and give the opportunity to someone else. We’re looking for the next talented kid to replace me. “
10. There’s one big name yet to be revealed … but you can probably figure out who it is.
As mentioned before, we know 11 of the 13 names on the team. We’ve been told that another announcement will come this Thursday and one of the biggest names will be revealed on Sunday after Sheikh Nasser races at Ironman 70.3 Mallorca. We pressed McCormack a bit about who the final athlete may be, and we’re betting you can guess who it is based on his hints: “He’s a monster on the bike. He’s been to Bahrain. He’s become close with His Highness. He drives a Mercedes. And, he’s German.”