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Last Weekend Now: An Odd Weekend of Pro Racing in Dubai and Florida

What was weirder: A couples championship for $100K in Florida or Blummenfelt being beaten for just $15K in Dubai?

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Last Weekend Now is your Monday rundown of what’s happening in pro triathlon, brought to you with commentary by Brad Culp. (Ed note: So yell at him if you don’t like the comments.)

What a weird weekend. We had the absolute cream of the triathlon crop racing for $40,000 in one of the richest places on earth, while the B team headed to Florida for a share of $100,000, including $10K guaranteed (as long as you were in a harmonious, monogamous, heterosexual relationship with another pro athlete). If that last sentence read weird, it’s because it is weird.

Let’s start with the triathlon royalty that got their season underway in the glitz and glam of Dubai before we get to the lucky couples who got an all-inclusive trip to exercise in Florida.

Van Riel and Philipp best Blummenfelt, Ryf in Dubai

(Photo: James Mitchell/Ironman)

Somehow the weirdest thing to happen this weekend was that Olympic champion and suspected Norse god Kristian Blummenfelt started a race that he did not win. That was in part because he had a really bad day, but also because Belgium’s Marten Van Riel reeled off a 3:26:06 finishing time. This is particularly impressive given that it’s only his second 70.3, and he’s now two-for-two at the distance.

It’s easy to forget that Van Riel finished fourth at last year’s Olympics, because it’s easy to forget who finished fourth at the Olympics. It clearly put a chip on the shoulders of the 29-year-old, who has been perhaps the best non-Norwegian or British triathlete on Earth over the past year. The win in Dubai was never really in doubt on the run, after Van Riel surged away from Denmark’s Daniel Baekkegard out of T2 and went on to win by nearly two minutes.

Van Riel’s lack of competition on the run was largely thanks to Blummenfelt having his first bad long-course race. Here are the champ’s own words on his tenth-place finish in Dubai:

“Just did lots of mistakes on the swim and came out far back. Rode quite hard and solid power [for the] first 45K on the bike, but still lost another two-plus minutes, so the win was out of the window at that stage. Then I got a flat tire at about 60K and had to stop and change.”

Blummenfelt’s next race will be the Ironman World Championship in St. George. We may have to wait until the fall before we get another showdown of Blummenfelt vs. Van Riel at any distance.

On paper, the women’s result also appears to be an upset, but in reality, Laura Philipp is just better than Daniela Ryf right now—and it’s not particularly close. After not losing a race since December of 2020 (the PTO Championship), the German should leap to #1 in the PTO World Rankings, according to the team of a dozen researchers I’ve hired to figure out how the rankings actually work. (Some of you don’t appreciate what goes into this column.)

RELATED: How Pro Triathletes Are Now Being Ranked – And Not Everyone’s Happy About It

Philipp ran nearly three minutes faster than Ryf to beat her by a little more than three minutes, and then both did something very cool and donated that money to causes in Ukraine. It only amounted to $4,500, which is crazy low given where this race took place. When triathlons first started taking place in that part of the world, winners were going home with six-figure checks. Hopefully there was some appearance money for athletes of Philipp and Ryf’s caliber.

The Couples Championship: Fun or flop?

(Photo: Eric Wynn)

I can’t believe I had to write that subhead. I don’t get paid enough. Is there another sport that has hosted a professional couples championship? I’m not going to research it (see second sentence of this paragraph), but I have to believe we’re a unicorn here.

If you’re fortunate enough not to have heard of the Couples Championship, here are the Cliffs Notes: 10 couples were invited to Florida and given 10 grand for showing up (two couples didn’t make it). Everyone did basically a sprint triathlon, and the couple with the best combined time got 100 grand. It was broadcast via a pay-per-view livestream for something like $10, and the internet seemed less than happy with the broadcast (more on that below).

It’s not that I’m not grateful that Ben Atkins, a banker from Florida, has taken a keen interest in pro triathlon. Clearly we have that in common, in addition to our significant personal wealth. But it shouldn’t be this easy to make fun of a race. From concept to reality, this thing was, umm—curious, to be kind. It seemed a little too insider and exclusive. And triathlon has had too much of that for too long. There’s nothing wrong with invite-only, big-money races. Not everyone gets to race Super League. But this ain’t it.

Let me get back to being kind. It’s great to see someone other than a Welsh billionaire, Russian oligarch, or torturous prince pump a ton of money into the professional side of the sport. But every time one of these rich guys do it, it’s as if they try to do it in the most nonsensical way possible. Surely there are better ways to donate to professional triathletes, who Mr. Atkins likened to living in “poverty” last week. I get so sad when I see so many impoverished triathletes in Hawaii year after year.

OK, so this is the kind paragraph: The event also raised $30,000 for No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit working to end child hunger in the U.S. And by “raised,” I mean Atkins wrote a big, fat check to the charity. The man loves giving money away to good causes. Perhaps next time he can dump a little more into the live production if he’d like people to pay for it.

Before you say, “Brad, you obviously didn’t watch it, how can you say it was terrible?” Because I found exactly one positive comment on Twitter about the coverage. Now, this isn’t Barstool Sports, so I’m not going to make an article a list of tweets, but here was the positive:

“We had low expectations and were decidedly unbothered by the production issues b/c it’s a tough sport to capture live, and budget was limited. We’ll give it another shot next year!” – @thesmallwristed

Here were some other viewers’ thoughts:

“I don’t expect much from triathlon coverage and I was still let down. It’s a disservice to the sport.” – @ChrisBorgerding

“The feed was abysmal. No timing/splits, announcers had no idea what was going on, cameras spent half the time broadcasting trees. Embarassed to admit that I paid to watch it.” – @christianflee

“I’m beginning to think this whole thing was done as an intentional troll and/or weird money laundering scheme by Waterfall, and therefore I respect it.” – @djmacandcheeze

And this:

I don’t expect this is the last we’ll see of the Couples Championship, and that’s a good thing. After she and fiancé Aaron Royle won the event, British star Non Stanford said she’d likely use the money to pay off her mortgage. She won a world title in 2013. She deserves to be able to do things like pay off her mortgage. Hopefully the next iteration of the Couples Championship can be a bit more inclusive, or at the very least, have better coverage.

Culp puts his money where his mouth is

After she announced that she was donating her prize money to Ukraine, I suggested to Laura Philipp on Twitter that she consider donating to humanitarian aid for Yemen instead, given that the UAE (where she was competing) is complicit in the ongoing famine. I certainly did not mean to take away from Philipp’s remarkable gesture. I just wanted to take a moment to recognize the single worst thing that is happening on this planet right now, which is what I’m also doing here.

It’s incredible to see the way the rational world has rallied behind Ukraine. If people cared 10% as much about Yemen, it might be possible to end an eight-year-long proxy war that has left close to 400,000 dead, most from starvation. If you need a reason to care, you should know that Yemen invented coffee. The place that gave the world coffee is experiencing the worst genocide of the 21st century.

Save the Children is leading the way in humanitarian aid to Yemen. You can donate or learn more here. I’ll donate what I make for writing this column this week, and challenge anyone to donate two hours worth of their pay.