Salty Triathlete: The Trouble with Being a Tri Superfan

"Triathlon, I must say this: I love you, but you’re making it hard to stay in this relationship."

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Triathlon, why do you gotta make it so dang hard to be a superfan?

I had the date circled on my calendar: Olympic gold-medalist Alistair Brownlee was making his 70.3 debut at the North American Championships against a studly field—Lionel Sanders, Sebastian Kienle, Tim Don, and Ben Ho man. It was like a primetime match with a dozen heavyweights, and I was totally ready to snack on popcorn and yell things at the TV while they duked it out. Except, of course, it wasn’t on TV. Unlike a primetime boxing match, it wasn’t playing anywhere.

It shouldn’t be this hard to be a fan of the sport. Triathlon’s one of the rare sports where we can really get to know the superstars, race on the same courses with them, and see what they’re going through up close. No one in the stands during the Super Bowl gets down on the field to try throwing their own passes.

Yet, instead, long-course triathlon spectating is relegated to patchy Twitter summaries and online tracking that spits out only a handful of splits (as if a few numbers give you any real understanding of how a race went down). And those of us who are fans know the tracking is notoriously unreliable anyway. On the sidelines at Ironman Louisville last year, I found myself explaining to a few first-time Ironman spectators that their athlete probably hadn’t vanished from the race course. Instead, it was just sucky online tracking.

It could be great. Races could produce their own coverage, encourage age-groupers at home to follow along, promote the athletes, and provide expert commentary. Other equally obscure sports do it— biathlon, Spartan Races. The ITU gets it mostly right, but you gotta pay to play. Who knows if the new Super League will be successful, but at least it was fun to watch. I didn’t need to buy a streaming subscription or scroll through course updates. It’s like I finally saw what we’ve been missing all along.

And so, Triathlon, I must say this: I love you, but you’re making it hard to stay in this relationship. I’m your fan, yet you ignore me. How many hours have you forced me to sit hunched over my phone, refreshing Twitter hashtags to find out what’s happening in your biggest races? You promise better tracking, live feeds, TV coverage. You keep promising this year you’ll figure out how to use Facebook Live, at the very least, and then you leave me disappointed. Again. Facebook Live isn’t that difficult, I promise.

Triathlon, I don’t believe what the pundits say about how no one wants to watch you. I’d watch you. I don’t believe you’re boring. And, anyway, being boring has never stopped people from watching golf.

(Editor’s Note: Since this article was originally published in the Aug. 2018 issue of Triathlete, Ironman has announced a partnership with Facebook for live coverage at several races as well as a recap show. A good step in the right direction for the superfan!) 

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