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Last Weekend Now: Kona Edition (Plus There Was a WTS Last Weekend!)

What the heck is a “Maurten move” anyway? And more…

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

After a three-year hiatus, Kona returned in spectacular fashion, complete with the best live coverage in the event’s 45-year history. And because you probably missed it, the penultimate round of the World Triathlon Championship Series races took place in Cagliari, on the Italian island of Sardinia.

Two-Day Format a Hit for [Almost] Everyone

It turns out having men and women race separately is a better way to showcase each race. Who would’ve thought? Regardless of the logistical and local stresses of doing so, it’s probably a better way to have the event going forward, at least for the professional races. I imagine Ironman will push hard to keep Kona a two-day event past 2023, and I imagine there will be a strong push from some locals to keep that from happening.

I’ll spare you my thoughts on what happened in each race, because you’ve hopefully read or seen enough of that by now. Gustav Iden’s winning time of 7:40 is far beyond anything I thought was possible, and Chelsea Sodaro’s win is far beyond anything I thought was probable.

The make-up of the podiums shows us that we’re in very new and very fast times, and the sport is far deeper than ever before at the professional level. If ever there were a ringing endorsement of the Professional Triathletes Organization, it would be that their paid maternity leave is in part what made it possible for Sodaro to become the sport’s most unlikely world champion just 18 months after becoming a mom.

Instead I’ll comment on the live coverage, which I watched from pumpkin patches and petting zoos, instead of trying to follow the race up close in Kona. Having not watched a ton of the live coverage over the past 15 years, I have mostly second-hand knowledge about what was wrong with it, and it looks like Ironman has fixed at least a few things.

The portal was pretty neat, allowing for multiple camera views at once. It wasn’t super useful on a smaller device, but if you bothered broadcasting it onto a TV or computer screen, it allowed you to see the leaders, chasers, broadcasters and leaderboard all at once. That’s some next-level broadcasting for triathlon, and it wouldn’t be possible if they were trying to cover two races at once. There was even an annoying little chat in the corner, and fan-reaction feeds on the bottom, which you could and probably didn’t take part in.

The commentary was OK, keeping in mind that people on the internet are going to get sick of hearing from anyone for nine hours straight. It’s not like they’re doing hockey play-by-play where there is something new to talk about every second. I enjoyed Matt Lieto’s reporting from the course, which they invested a bit more time into this year. Mirinda Carfrae was also an excellent addition to the women’s coverage, although I couldn’t quite understand why they had her covering the age-group race instead of the pro race for much of the day.

I still think World Triathlon and PTO have done a better and more professional job in recent years from a commentary perspective, but Ironman is certainly improving in that regard. I wouldn’t mind seeing Michael Lovato and Dede Griesbauer as part of a larger team, and it’d be great if that larger team weren’t lifelong Ironman employees toeing the endless company lines.

The one thing Ironman does worse than any other sports broadcast on earth is sponsorship integration. As one [real] TV producer pointed out to me on Twitter, the term “integration” is being applied loosely. Even the sponsors themselves had to be annoyed with what was being forced into our ear canals, with the mute button as the only reprieve from the constant barrage of “Maurten moves” on the “Hoka One One run course” covered in Vinfast cars. (At least we all got to learn together that Vinfast was a car brand.)

At one point on Saturday, as the men’s race was whizzing toward a thrilling climax, the coverage cut away to an interview with a shoe marketer. Consider that happening at the cycling or marathon world championships. Those are the sports triathlon should be trying to emulate when it comes to broadcasting a professional race. There will never be real numbers with bulls*** like that. It’s simply too annoying for anyone but a core audience to endure.

One other thing I’d like to see is a running list of penalties as they’re given out. Even Lieto on the ground didn’t know who had been given what penalty. There seems to be zero communication between the referees and broadcasters, which is something that is essential in “real” sports broadcasts. If penalties are going to affect the race in a huge way (like they did), they need to be clearly communicated. (And it’d be great if we could even get some of the infractions on camera!)

All in all, it was two pretty good broadcasts of two incredible professional races. Well done to all involved.

Taylor-Brown and Yee Get Back into WTS Hunt in Cagliari

Taken during 2022 World Triathlon Championship Series Cagliari, Italy. (Photo: Ben Lumley/ World Triathlon)

I imagine WTS Cagliari had a more-than-pretty-good broadcast, but I didn’t tune in because it was taking place at basically the same time as Kona. I know that World Triathlon is ultimately at the whims of the cities in which their races take place, but putting one of your top triathlons on the same weekend as the world’s top triathlon is a great way to ensure that it only gets covered by me.

Britain’s Georgia Taylor-Brown and Alex Yee got themselves back into the mix for a 2022 world title, taking advantage of a few of their biggest rivals sitting this round out. Bear in mind that this is the longest championship season of all time, having started last summer and running through this November.

Fresh off her Super League victory in Toulouse last weekend, Taylor-Brown ran away from rising French star Emma Lombardi, and now the Brit sits atop the series rankings with two races to go. One of those races will take place in Bermuda, where current number-two-ranked Flora Duffy will be eager to defend her home turf and set up an epic showdown at the Grand Final in Abu Dhabi between the Olympic gold and silver medalists.

The runner-up finish was the best result ever for Lombardi, who is just 21 and is the most recent world-class talent to come down the French triathlon pipeline. She won the U23 world title last year in Edmonton and will try to make her way onto a very competitive French squad for their home Olympics in less than two years.

Americans Taylor Knibb and Taylor Spivey finished third and fourth, with the former Taylor just six seconds behind Taylor-Brown. Speaking of Taylors, who else can’t wait for the new album in less than two weeks? America’s second-favorite Taylor (Spivey) heads into the final two races of the series ranked fifth in the world, but she’s well within reach of climbing into the top three.

As is typically the case when he’s racing, Alex Yee won the men’s race by running faster than the other men. His very impressive 29:18 10K was 43 seconds than runner-up Johnny Brownlee, but considering nearly half the field ran under 30 minutes, the Italians might’ve been eyeballing things when it came to measuring the course.

Kiwi Hayden Wilde sat out this race but is still firmly in control of winning his first world title. But, with big performances in both Bermuda and Abu Dhabi, both Leo Bergere and Lee are well within striking distance.

Get ready for another lengthy break in the never-ending 2022 World Triathlon season, with the penultimate round taking place November 5-6 in Bermuda.