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They’re inspirational, powerful and changing the sport of triathlon from the inside out.
The staff at Inside Triathlon asked: Which 10 people had the most influence on triathlon in the United States in 2012?
Our list, ranked in order of impact, was chosen based on 2012 happenings—not based on influence since the creation of triathlon. It reflects the group of people who are directing the future of the sport, are changing the general perception of the sport—positively or negatively—or are molding the minds within the sport. Read about 3-10 here, find out who #2 is below and check back tomorrow to find out who #1 is. Don’t want to wait? The complete list is in the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon, on newsstands now.
#2: Lance Armstrong
The Department of Justice dropped its investigation of Lance Armstrong on Feb. 3, 2012, and nine days later he finished second to Bevan Docherty at Ironman 70.3 Panama, beating some of the sport’s best athletes. Armstrong’s continuing ability to generate unparalleled attention for the sport showed when Ironman.com began tallying online coverage numbers. Readership of the live text coverage of Panama was 27 times higher than for a regular Ironman 70.3 event. In fact, all sorts of pinball machines were being lit up: Photos, text updates, page views and requests for media coverage spiked in Panama, and again when Armstrong raced Ironman 70.3 Texas and 70.3 Hawaii.
With the threat of indictment behind him, Armstrong—at the time still officially recognized as the seven-time Tour de France champion and perhaps the greatest road cyclist of all time—had incredible success during his much anticipated return to road triathlon, culminating at 70.3 Hawaii. Armstrong not only won the race but smashed Chris McCormack’s 2007 course record. The message to the triathlon world came through like a thunderbolt: Armstrong meant to take back the sport he had left to become a cycling god 20 years ago.
The sport’s current champions took notice. “I wasn’t surprised he came out the way he did,” says three-time Ironman world champion Craig Alexander. “I thought Lance would be the guy to beat this year in Kona. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I decided to come back.” Chris McCormack mirrored Alexander’s sentiment and committed to racing Ironman Hawaii because of Armstrong’s presence.
In addition to attention from triathlon’s most prominent athletes, the idea of Armstrong as a favorite in Kona was sure to bring mainstream press coverage like never before. Live TV coverage of the Hawaii Ironman was discussed openly for the first time.
As he was blowing away all expectations on the race course, Armstrong received a nearly universal welcome from age groupers despite rumors of drug use and conspiracy during his days as a professional cyclist. Although prison was off the table, the DOJ’s evidence against Armstrong was in the hands of USADA’s CEO Travis Tygart, and sanctions within sport were still a real possibility.
Then in June the cards started to fall. First USADA announced Armstrong was under investigation. No. 1 on our list, WTC’s CEO Andrew Messick, banned him from Ironman before charges were filed, upholding the company’s controversial rule stating all athletes under investigation were ineligible. USADA then charged Armstrong, who elected to accept a lifetime ban. Age grouper support for the Texan still didn’t wane.
Two races threw out the welcome mat for Armstrong and the Livestrong Foundation—one even forfeited its USAT certification to allow Armstrong in the race. Continued support for Armstrong among triathletes despite his lifetime ban by USADA left the possibility that the “Lance Effect” would carry on despite his exclusion from top-level events. Then the facts came out.
USADA released more than 1,000 pages of testimony incriminating Armstrong in October, leading to his resignation from the Livestrong Foundation and every one of his longtime sponsors dropping him. Public sentiment finally turned against the disgraced champion.
With his platform for influence almost completely undermined by USADA’s mountain of evidence, Armstrong will probably not be a driving force behind the sport’s future growth. But for better or worse, his mega-celebrity status (and all his baggage) brought more eyeballs to triathlon in 2012 than ever before.
Path to Influence
1990 | National sprint triathlon champion at the age of 16.
1996 | Diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer.
1999 | Wins first Tour de France.
2005 | Wins seventh Tour de France and announces retirement.
2009 | Returns to the Tour de France.
2011 | Announces retirement from competitive cycling “for good.”
2012 | Announces quest to race at the Ironman World Championship and races several Ironman 70.3’s. On Aug. 12, declines to fight USADA doping charges, accepts lifetime ban and is stripped of his seven Tour de France wins. In September, wins the SuperFrog Triathlon in San Diego 10 days before USADA releases its evidence against Armstrong, tipping public sentiment against him.
Guess who’s #1 on our list based on his Path to Influence:
1989 | Dr. James Gills purchases the Hawaii Ironman and establishes World Triathlon Corporation.
2007 | He is appointed President of AEG Sports, where he oversees the Amgen Tour of California cycling race.
2008 | WTC is purchased by Providence Equity Securities, a private equity firm.
2011 | WTC announces that he will replace Ben Fertic as company CEO.
2012 | In May, he and WTC announce the acquisition of USM Events, the Australian multisport event company. In June, he upheld the ban that kept Lance Armstrong from participating in WTC events while he was under investigation.