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This past weekend, pros raced for a $50,000 prize purse at Clash Miami in one of the first big races of the 2022 season. But even for those who weren’t “in the money” at the finish, there was still cash to be earned along the way.
In an amazingly titled Dash for Cash with Clash program, the race offered $1,000 prizes for fastest transition, fastest first bike lap (there were 17 bike laps), and fastest run lap. A savvy racer could easily make the most of this. Lisa Becharas, for instance, took home $1,000 for fastest T2 and another $1,000 for the fastest first bike lap, which meant that—in addition to the $1,500 she banked for 6th place overall—she earned almost as much as the third-place finisher.
That’s good for her, of course. And it’s good for us at home, who got to watch hilariously amazing TV as Becharas sprinted through transition with her shoes half on to only then cross the line and have to stop to pull them the rest of the way onto her feet. (A rule was made, for obvious reasons, requiring athletes to wear shoes when exiting T2—in much the same way that races will often require you to finish in order to be eligible for the primes you earned along the way. DNF and it doesn’t count.) We got to argue and laugh about it. We got to wince when Olympian Ben Kanute’s brakes squealed as he flew into T2—making it in and out in 18 seconds. 18 seconds! We got to track the varying runners in the wilting heat as athletes farther back tried to make the most of it with one, just one, great lap. It created battles within battles, when the wins were already so in the bag. It created incentives for athletes to try something new. It created good TV and entertainment and a little extra spending money for athletes who could often use a little extra spending money.
Of course, not all triathletes love primes—prizes for segments within the race, money awarded for races inside the bigger race. While primes are standard in cycling, they have come and gone in triathlon. First-out-of-the-water prizes are still common, especially at local triathlons, and some races will reward fastest run or fastest bike, but the idea of fastest transition and fastest lap is less widespread—something Clash has spearheaded in their unique racetrack and broadcast-friendly format.
The complaint for many is simple: When does going for a prime sacrifice the greater race? When does not wearing shoes make a joke of the point of the whole thing?
When it became clear that Kanute’s blistering T2 wasn’t in the name of closing the gap to first place (he was in second at the time), but was simply a move to secure the prime, Tim O’Donnell in the commentators booth noted that he didn’t think it was appropriate to risk your overall race, when you were still in it for the win, just to go after a short-term gain.
I would never argue with TO; he knows more about how to win races than I will ever learn. And maybe it did burn too many matches for Kanute, who eventually fell to third, two-and-a-half minutes back from the win. I don’t know. But wasn’t it fun to watch, too? Wasn’t it exciting for that 18 seconds, and nail-biting for the minute or so after when you didn’t know yet how long he was going to hold that speed?
Yes, primes can be a little bit bizarre and ridiculous. But triathlon can be a little bit bizarre and ridiculous. We’re running around in wet spandex for hours, so let’s at least have some fun with it.
There are many reasons triathlon hasn’t broken through as a mainstream spectator sport yet, but one of them is that it just simply needs to be more fun to watch. This is what Super League has nailed in short-course broadcasts: that fun, that sense of constant jeopardy, of anyone could go home with money, who knows what will happen. And I, for one, am excited to see these elements expanding into long-course triathlon.
Primes: Good for pros, good for spectators, good for triathlon.
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