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What to Expect in Multisport in 2017

Triathlon insiders share their predictions for the new year.

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Triathlon insiders share their predictions for the new year.

If you’ve never competed in a SwimRun, ridden a bike with disc brakes or watched a collegiate triathlon competition, you’ll probably get your chance very soon. Every year, multisport grows in both expected and unexpected ways, and 2017 will be no exception. We asked those with their finger on the pulse of triathlon what they forecast for 2017. Their predictions:

Fresh Faces

Chuck Menke, USA Triathlon Chief Marketing Officer

“While much has been made about the challenges associated with reaching this demographic, we actually anticipate seeing increased participation from the younger subset of the millennial generation. We believe children who grew up during the late 1990s and the 2000s in the households of triathlete parents will continue to gravitate toward the sport. This was evidenced within the 18-24 year-old demo this past year by record-high participation at our Collegiate Club National Championships. Similarly, we expect to see continued burgeoning growth at the high school level, which is tremendously exciting and led to the recent debut of our High School National Championships, which will be expanded in 2017.”

A Surge in SwimRun

Michael Lemmel, Race Director, ÖTILLÖ

“[ÖTILLÖ] founded the first SwimRun race in 2006. In 2017, there will be close to 400 SwimRun races worldwide with close to 40,000 participants. I think a lot of people want to experience something new in multisport, something where the challenge is in the unknown. In SwimRun, you compete with a partner, you compete in nature and each race is different rom the others. That means you cannot control any factors but your teamwork and your open mind. This, I think, is intriguing and very challenging. SwimRun is extremely analog in a very digital world, and you only need a wetsuit, running shoes and a partner. Simple!”

Fast & Furious Pro Racing

Thorsten Radde,
“2016 saw some of the fastest men’s iron-distance racing in history. Expect to see even faster races in 2017. We’ve already seen the run course record broken this year, but it’s foolish to predict exact finishing times in Kona as it’s so weather-dependent. Instead, I predict that we will see at least three male iron-distance podiums where the third place finisher will go sub-eight. In 2016, there was only one race (Challenge Roth with Nils Frommhold going 7:57), the fastest third place in an Ironman-branded race was TJ Tollakson at Ironman Arizona in 8:02.

“This year has also seen some very dominating performances on the female side of racing—just think of Daniela’s 23 minute win in Kona. In fact, the average time difference between the female winner and runner-up has grown from under 10 minutes in 2015 to 12:28. A lot of the women will have to give some extra thought on how to catch up to Daniela and will work extra hard this winter to make up lost ground. As we’ve seen in the years after Chrissie has dominated long distance triathlon, the overall level racing will improve, if not this year then for sure in 2018.”

NCAA Growth

Rob Urbach, USA Triathlon Chief Executive Officer

“Building off the momentum of the United States’ first-ever Olympic gold medal in triathlon by Gwen Jorgensen, we predict even more buy-in from NCAA athletics programs as women’s triathlon continues to evolve from its current Emerging Sport status, to one day becoming a full-fledged NCAA Championship Sport. Arizona State University’s team national championship in 2016 made a strong statement for the future of the sport at the varsity collegiate level.”

Swim, Bike, Snapchat

Kebby Holden, Founder, Coeur Sports

“Unlike most sports, the average Joe (or Jane) can have an impact on triathlon thanks to social media, and the more socially prolific athletes will make their voices heard.

“Also, pros will work more closely with their sponsors to engage customers and try to draw new participants into the sport. Being fast won’t be enough. Pros will need to be fast and engaging!”

Train Between The Ears

Lesley Paterson, professional triathlete and co-author of The Brave Athlete: Calm The F**k down and Rise To The Occasion (March 2017)

“I see the trend for 2017 focused on the psychology of training, sports and behavior. More and more athletes are dealing with psychological or emotional issues that are limiting their progress—not just in sport, but in life. We live in a stressful world that can be extraordinarily demanding, and thus we need to understand how our minds are built and programmed to get us through it.”

The Downlow on Doping

Mark Johnson, author, Spitting In The Soup: Inside The Dirty Game of Doping in Sports

“In 2016, the World Anti-Doping Agency released a two-part report exposing systematic, state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes and subversion of Olympic anti-doping test systems. The fact that Cold War style doping continues in 2016 will naturally focus attention on drug use in 2017.

“I think the WADA report will also remind people that doping is more than a matter of single athletes making bad personal choices. We can toss out doped individuals all day, but that is like putting a finger in a leaking dike compared to addressing doping that is managed, funded and encouraged by national interests. The fact that the Russian Olympic team was allowed to compete in Rio—even though WADA had clear evidence they were doped—sends a message that geopolitical interests trump our will to get drugs out of sport.

“A drumbeat of doping scandals in sports like cycling, swimming and marathon would certainly raise fan suspicions about the integrity of a sport that combines these disciplines. Whether they make us jaded, I don’t know. As I explore in Spitting in the Soup, doping has always been essential to endurance sports. Doping is old; it’s anti-doping that is a relatively new force on the scene. This is especially true in the United States, where we did not even form an anti-doping agency until the year 2000—35 years after countries like France and Belgium criminalized doping. Clean sport demands a radical cultural, economic and nationalistic transformation that is not going to go down easy.”

Whole Recoil

Gordon Wright, President, Outside PR

“The ‘whole’ foods fad is starting to wane now. Athletes are going, ‘I wish I had something that was convenient and portable and kind of targeted to my needs’ and then realizing that those products have always been there for them [in the form of gels, bars, chews, and drinks]. Because nobody really likes a cashew butter and avocado sandwich leaking out of their jersey pocket.”

All Hail Disc Brakes!

Jordan Rapp, professional triathlete

“The obvious trend for 2017 is disc brakes. Disc brakes are the future. That much is clear. While right now, the decision between rim brakes and disc brakes seems to have some real parity, that’s going to change. And it’s going to change quickly. Disc brakes are already fast—aerodynamically—and the process of optimizing calipers, hose routing, etc. hasn’t even really begun. And I think that comparing these two technologies in that way—recognizing that disc brakes from the standpoint of road optimization is years behind rim brakes and yet they are still quite close—gives you some sense of why everyone on the engineering side has shifted to discs.

“The hard part for the consumer, of course, is that immediately all of their existing wheels become obsolete. And that’s tough. And I’m sure that the prospect of selling more wheels is certainly part of the calculus in the short term. But planned obsolescence has been a critical part of any sort of paradigm shift. Yes, it’s easy to see the profit motive. And I won’t deny that’s a negative for the consumer. But we’ve come to accept that sort of obsolescence in computers, in photography, and in numerous other fields. The idea that bike parts would forever maintain backwards compatibility has always been a huge limiter. Whether steerer tubes, stems, tires, or any other sort of ‘core’ technology, there’s always some backlash when standards change.

“Disc brakes are here. It’s going to be a process to get to the point where disc brakes are fully optimized for use on the road, but we need to start somewhere. And 2017 is, I think, really the beginning of that journey.”

Less Is More

Elisette Carlson, Founder, SMACK! Media

“The focus for triathlon training used to be on mileage and hours—not so much hard intensity, but iron-distance effort or easier. Over the past few years, harder intervals have made their way into the training routines of some triathletes, but this year I see us adopting more and more tabata and HIIT-style workouts customized for the swim, bike and run. Where we used to do 80 or 90 minute sessions, now we’ll get more out of 45 or 60 minutes that is 100 percent workout—heart-rate up and sweating.”

Made In The USA

Kebby Holden, Founder, Coeur Sports

“Thanks to the shorter supply chains and high quality, we will see an increase in products produced in the United States. The days of enormous product runs of cheap (and lower quality) items from China may be gone as we move to a more ‘just in time’ production process where exceptionally high-quality products are produced in smaller batches.” 

Ironman Giveth, and Ironman Taketh Away

Thorsten Radde,

“Expect new Ironman races showing up in new locations at the cost of older races. Ironman continues to evolve their racing calendar. Races that have not been able to gain a solid base of participants within three or four years won’t continue—think of Lake Tahoe and some other, smaller races in the U.S., but also international races such as Melbourne, Japan, Mallorca or Fortaleza. Instead, new races will keep being added in new locations—in 2017 there are new IMs at least in Hamburg, [Germany] Mar Del Plata [Argentina] and Xiamen [China].”

Speed and Style

KJ Greenwood, Founder, Hearsay PR

“2017 marks the year that triathletes demand better from their race and post-race apparel. Gone are the days of any lycra fabric sealing the deal when it comes to one’s next kit. Now, dimpled and luxurious fabrics make it possible to be a stylish speed racer. Bright colors and accents will rule the course. For the age-group athlete who has to bounce from training straight to work, dressier workleisure will be the activewear answer to yoga pants.”