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Triathlon saw big performance, big money, and big changes.
A lot can happen in a year, and 2017 was no exception. Triathlon saw big performances, big money, and big changes. The 17 news stories that shaped 2017:
17. Short Course Gets a Major Makeover
“Ironman owns the luster of triathlon and they’re out to dominate the world…but short course triathlon has almost fallen off the map.” said Scott Hutmacher, Brand Manager of Life Time Tri. To change this, Life Time announced a major overhaul of its short-course race series to make the sport friendly and accessible to new triathletes while getting vets stoked on going short. Changes include an elimination of USAT fees, self-selected start waves and transition placement, and a qualifying series for a championship race in New York City.
16. Sub-8s For Everyone!
First it was Ben Hoffmann and Nils Frommhold in South Africa. Then five—yes, five—men at Ironman Texas. Not to be outdone, Tim Don unleashed a record-breaking day in Brazil. Jan Frodeno picked one up in Austria, as did Bart Aernouts at Challenge Roth and Joe Skipper at Challenge Almere. The men’s podium in Barcelona, as well as the top four men in Cozumel, were members of the club, and Lionel Sanders bagged one in Arizona. In case you lost count, that’s 19 sub-8 hour performances in 2017, the most ever recorded in a single year.
15. Rocky Steps In
When Rob Urbach stepped down as CEO of USA Triathlon in May, he left some big shoes to fill. After all, his legacy included a collegiate recruitment program that yielded the likes of Olympic gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen, securing triathlon as an NCAA emerging women’s sport, and membership that reached all-time highs for the sport. Rocky Harris, a former COO of the athletic department at Arizona State University, was selected as the new boss. In an interview with Triathlete, Harris shared aspirations to further the momentum of success by fostering collaboration across race organizations, leveraging technology, and retaining athletes for lifelong participation in the sport.
14. Alistair Brownlee Goes Long
When the two-time Olympic gold medalist announced he would give 70.3 racing a go, many were curious: Could the British star successfully translate his ITU speed and aggressive style to the 70.3 distance? The answer was a resounding yes. In his first attempt at the distance, Brownlee not only won, but set a course record at Challenge Gran Canaria. He followed that up with another win and course record at the Ironman 70.3 North American Championships in St. George, Utah. He returned to ITU less than a month later to successfully defend his title at his hometown race in Leeds, proving that going long doesn’t have to mean slowing down.
13. Double the Racing, Double the Fun at 70.3 Worlds
For the first time in history, an Ironman championship event featured a two-day, split-field format. This allowed male and female professionals clean, fair competition for their respective $125,000 prize purses. Ironman also increased the number of female pro spots to be equal to the men’s pro field as well as upped their allocation of age-group spots for women. The format was a unanimous hit for pros and age-groupers alike, and will continue for the 2018 World Championship in South Africa.
12. Ryf Dominates (Again)
The fact that Daniela Ryf had another stellar year is not news—she steamrolls the competition in just about every race she enters, after all. Her three-peats at both the 70.3 and Ironman World Championships are yet another brick in cementing Ryf’s status as one of the greatest triathletes of all time. But this year’s performances did not come easily, as Ryf battled injuries mid-season. At the finish line in Kona, she stated her victory was “the hardest I’ve ever had to fight for a win.” For someone who has seemed superhuman for years, this admission is surprising—and inspiring.
11. Wildflower is Back, Baby!
The Woodstock of Triathlon is returning in 2018, and it’s kind of a big deal. Legendary for its intensity, on-site camping, and occasional nude cheerleaders, the California racing festival fostered a sense of camaraderie unlike anything else in multisport. Drought and low water levels in Lake San Antonio canceled the 2017 event, but with new ownership and a whole lot of rain from Mother Nature, the festival will be back and better than ever May 4-6.
10. WTF is Ostarine?
Chances are you entered 2017 having never uttered the word “ostarine.” But by the time the year ended, the banned substance was on everybody’s lips. Several pros, including Beth Gerdes, Lauren Barnett, and Lucas Pozzetta tested positive for the banned substance in 2017, and all three claimed tainted supplements. Independent lab tests have verified some of these claims, leading to increased concerns from professional and age-group athletes alike about the safety and compliance of their sport nutrition products.
9. Lights, Action, Triathlon!
2017 is the year triathlon became must-see TV. In addition to increased airtime for ITU events (19 live broadcasts in total!) and live coverage of the Ironman World Championships on NBC Sports, several new initiatives emerged to bring triathlon to the masses. Perhaps the most exciting is the two-day Collins Cup, an event pitting three teams of triathlon’s best in a head-to-head race in June 2018. Coverage will include live metrics, microphones on each competitor, visual and auditory commentary, and a thrilling, spectator-friendly race format.
8. Terenzo Bozzone is a Boss
4 races, 4 weeks, in 4 countries—it’s an effort that would leave most triathletes feeling wrecked, yet New Zealand pro Terenzo Bozzone simply got stronger. Less than one month after his best-ever finish at the Ironman World Championship, where he took sixth place, Bozzone jumped back onto the race circuit, placing first at Ironman 70.3 Los Cabos, second at the Island House Invitational, second at the Ironman 70.3 Middle East Championships, and first at Ironman Western Australia. In total, his four-week spree yielded $67,000 in prize money and all but guaranteed a spot at the 2018 Ironman World Championship.
7. Show Pros the Money!
It’s a tough time to be a short-course, non-drafting triathlete. What used to be a lucrative specialty for pros (the Olympic-distance Hy-Vee Triathlon once boasted the richest prize purse in the sport at one million dollars) had become all but obsolete, as sprint and Olympic races eschewed professional prize purses in favor of focusing on the age-group experience. But there’s hope: In January, IMG, the owners of the iconic Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, announced a five-race series with a combined professional prize purse of $180,000. Can it breathe life back into professional short-course, non-drafting racing? Time will tell.
6. All Hail Patrick Lange
Just about everyone was surprised to see Patrick Lange break the tape at the Ironman World Championship this year—including Lange himself. His 8:01:40 victory set a new record for the event, and brings the sport tantalizingly close to breaking 8 hours on the notoriously tough Kona course.
5. Retailers Rethink Their Strategies
In the Age of Amazon, triathlon brands are rethinking their strategies to stay relevant—and profitable. Market researchers show consumers who live an active lifestyle are more likely than the average consumer to shop or buy online, leading many brands to consider cutting out the middleman with a direct-to-consumer model like that of Canyon Bikes, which began sales in the U.S. in 2017. The year saw a lot of interesting changes to business models: some went big (the merger of Felt Bicycles with ski manufacturer Rossignol) and others went small (Zoot Sports returned to its triathlon roots in October). Which strategy will pay off? That’s anyone’s guess.
4. Racing Like a Mother
Until this year, a pregnant professional triathlete was a rarity. Most professional women postponed motherhood until after retirement—the consequences of taking time away from training and racing simply seemed too great. However, some pioneering pros, including Sam Warriner and Gina Crawford, showed that it could be done. The sport’s recent baby boom—new moms include Mirinda Carfrae, Jodie Swallow, Rachel Joyce, Gwen Jorgensen, Eva Wutti, and Meredith Kessler—reveals a major change in the way pros view pregnancy. The all-mom podium at Ironman Chattanooga or Wutti’s win at Ironman Austria only a year after giving birth shows parenthood doesn’t have to come at the cost of performance.
The system isn’t perfect, of course—Rachel Joyce’s fight for a Kona spot underscores how women are unfairly penalized for taking maternity leave—but the conversation for balance and fairness has begun, thanks to these tough mothers.
3. Mixed Relay Olympics
Though there were no Olympic games in 2017, we still had Olympic fever as ITU officials, athletes, and fans campaigned heavily in the beginning part of the year for the addition of a mixed relay triathlon event to the Games. It worked—the International Olympic Committee officially added the event to the program for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, giving triathetes the possibility to earn another medal and the sport to showcase a thrilling, spectator-friendly format to a world audience.
2. Goodbye, Gwen
Though we don’t yet know who will be on Team USA for triathlon at the 2020 Olympic Games, we do know Gwen Jorgensen will be absent from the list. That doesn’t exactly mean she’ll be absent from the games altogether: in a shocking announcement late this year, Jorgensen said she would be leaving triathlon to pursue an Olympic gold medal in the marathon.
1. The Year of Flora Duffy
Is there anything Flora Duffy can’t do? Her year was simply outstanding: a second-straight ITU World Championship title, a history-making fourth-straight XTERRA Championship win, and the top podium spot at the Island House Invitational. In 2017, she pocketed almost $300,000 in prize earnings alone—more than any other professional athlete, male or female, in the sport.