Inside Triathlon’s 10 Most Influential People For 2012: #5 Peter Henning

Peter Henning, the man in charge of NBC's annual coverage of the Ironman World Championship, earns the fifth spot on our list.

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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 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 here, find out who #5 is below and check back throughout the next week to find out our complete list. Don’t want to wait? The complete list is in the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon, on newsstands now.

#5: Peter Henning
“Eye to the Ironman”

In May 2012, the NBC coverage of the Ironman World Championship won an Emmy for “Outstanding Camerawork.” For Peter Henning, the senior vice president of television for WTC and the man in charge of the production, it was his 19th Emmy in a career during which he has consistently dealt with the challenges that extreme sports can bring, including the Iditarod and the Eco-Challenge. But what’s allowed Henning to make his mark is his adroitness in capturing the human element of the sport in a way that has routinely connected with a mainstream audience, ultimately opening doors to the sport for newcomers.

“The first time I covered the Ironman I thought, Oh my god, this is outrageous,” Henning says. “I became really inspired by these people.” Henning’s eye has been drawn to exploits of age groupers confronting obstacles like cancer or the loss of limbs, narratives that draw out powerful emotional responses, like Dick and Richard Hoyt (a father and his paraplegic son), or Sarah Reinertsen (an amputee). “When they finish there’s not a dry eye in the house,” Henning says, speaking of the finish line area. While Henning has been criticized for not showing more of the professional races, he knows that what he’s doing connects with a national audience. According to Henning, the Nielsen ratings show that although numbers of Americans tuning in at the beginning of an Ironman broadcast might be low, the programs pick up channel surfers and a steady stream of viewers, keeping them along the way.

“The Ironman is one of the hardest things to cover,” Henning says, describing the complexity and pressure of trying to capture everything you need in a matter of hours as opposed to, for example, a 14-day adventure race. “We have 18 cameras, a crew, and more than 2,000 athletes spread out over the course. Even if you know beforehand you want to follow an athlete with the number 1251, I defy anyone to go out there and find that number easily.”

Which leads to what Henning calls the “proudest thing in my career: It’s when I hear that someone is racing the Ironman because they first saw it on NBC.”

Path to Influence:

1981 | Ironman is first broadcast on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”

1990 | Ironman moves from ABC to NBC.

1992 | Henning’s first year working as a cameraman on the NBC production.

2000 | Takes charge of producing the show for NBC.

2003 | Henning’s production of the Ironman show for NBC wins three Emmys.

2012 | Henning leads the Ironman productions crew to win its 16th Emmy award for “Outstanding Camerawork.”

Guess who’s #4 on our list based on his Path to Influence:

1997 | Wins the ITU World Championship.

2002 | Wins Ironman Australia.

2007 | Wins Ironman World Championship.

2010 | Wins second Ironman World Championship.

2011 | Details the strategies and mind games used throughout his career in his autobiography, I’m Here to Win.

2012 | Returns to ITU racing to attempt to make Olympics. Fails to make team but wins ITU Long Course World Championships. Returns to Kona and DNFs.

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.