Ironman New Zealand showcased a new New Zealand powerhouse and an improved (though still to be improved) Ironman Facebook Watch show.
Last Weekend Now is your Monday morning rundown of what’s happening in pro triathlon, brought to you with commentary by Brad Culp. (Ed note: So yell at him if you don’t like the comments.)
The 2020 season kicked off in earnest this weekend—as did Ironman’s new-and-somewhat-improved live coverage on Facebook Watch. The big takeaways from Ironman New Zealand were that Teresa Adam and Joe Skipper are rolling into the season with exceptional form, and that no more than a few thousand people are ever going to watch a non-Hawaii Ironman under the current broadcast model.
The new überbiker
Let’s start by getting to know Teresa Adam a little better since it’s a name you’ll probably hear a lot this season. She grew up hoping to make it to the Olympics in water polo, but after the New Zealand national team failed to qualify for the Beijing Games in 2008, she made the switch to triathlon and looked like New Zealand’s next prodigy. After racing only a handful of draft-legal tris, she was selected for Triathlon NZ’s high-performance program, which historically has been one of the most successful high-performance squads in the world.
At just 19 years young, she was tagged with training alongside the likes of Andrea Hewitt and Kris Gemmell, which proved to be more of a curse than a blessing. Water polo had given her a massive engine, but her body needed more time to transition to high-intensity running. The next few years included a slipped disc, surgery, a broken foot, and ultimately a diagnosis of compartment syndrome. After finishing 52nd out of 60 finishers at the 2012 ITU WTS in Sydney, she stepped away from the sport for five years.
Her return has been quite the opposite of a high-performance regime. A few years ago, she swam the swim leg of a triathlon relay and met her boyfriend, Dan Furminger, who was doing the run. The two of them began riding together and she signed up for her first 70.3. Without the pressure and high-intensity, she responded well to the training, especially on the bike. It didn’t hurt that Dan was a bike fitter and mechanic and could fine-tune her position.
Adam made her Ironman debut exactly two years ago, in New Zealand, and proved to be every bit the prodigy Triathlon NZ thought she was a decade ago. She finished as the runner-up to Laura Siddall in her debut, and followed it a few months later by shattering the course record at Ironman Cairns. She finished 18th in her first race in Hawaii in 2018—and then shocked a lot of people by turning down her Kona slot after finishing second at Ironman New Zealand last year. Adam said that she didn’t think she was ready to have a good race in Hawaii, and a year away might have been exactly what she needed.
On Saturday at Ironman New Zealand, she took 13 minutes off the course record in Taupo, nearly all of which came on the bike. She rode 16 minutes faster than Meredith Kessler and nearly 20 minutes faster than Rachel McBride. Nobody does that. She also won New Zealand’s national time-trial title just two weeks ago. No triathletes do that. She has the swim speed of Lucy Charles and now, it appears, the bike power of Daniela Ryf. While her run might be a few years away from getting her to the top rung in Kona—she ran 3:05:19 on Saturday—she’ll likely be at the front of the race for a very long time and could prove to be Charles’s best friend on race day.
Now that you know Adam a little better, give her a follow on Twitter (@teresajadam). She only has 836 followers, which is absurd for someone so ridiculously fast. She also turned 30 last week, so say ‘Happy Birthday.’
I don’t mean to take anything away from Joe Skipper, who had a brilliant race in his own right, but Adam’s ascendance to the very tippy-top of the sport was the big story of the day. Skipper has already been there for a few months and should be clawing at the Kona podium this year. He has now set two Ironman course records in the past five months—he won Ironman Florida in November—and has proven himself to be one of the select few men who can pair 4:15 bike speed with a low-2:40s run. He’ll no doubt be spending a lot of time in the pool this summer.
He also rode a 60-tooth chainring on Saturday, which had to intimidate his competition. You can give him a follow on Twitter but it’s all just links to his Instagram, so probably just just go to the source (@notanotheraveragejoe).
Last and certainly least was the live coverage on Facebook Watch. I only say least because so few people tuned in. It peaked around 6,000 viewers and held steady around 5,000 for most of the broadcast. Timing certainly didn’t help, with Saturday morning in New Zealand being Friday night in Europe or afternoon in North America. It was the Friday news-dump of broadcast windows.
Even so, it’s going to be tough to get many more people to watch a non-world championship race on Facebook Watch, and even tougher to monetize the broadcast—although that may not be Ironman’s primary goal. While they don’t have nearly as good of TV product as ITU or SuperLeague, they do have plenty of race entries to sell in some extraordinary places. The biggest benefit of Ironman’s broadcast is really showcasing their venues, driving registration, and allowing athletes or potential athletes to interact—which is the lone upside of Facebook Watch over broadcast.
I thought the coverage on Saturday (Friday for me) was a noticeable upgrade from last season. The commentary from Michael Lovato and Dede Griesbauer was pretty good and free of any major mishaps—aside from a 10-minute discussion of carbon-plated running shoes in the middle of the bike leg. Matt Lieto had to sit this one out because he’s injured himself once again. Whoever has the Matt Lieto voodoo doll, please stop. It was funny for a while but now it’s gotten carried away.
The camerawork, though, could still use some work, but at least they listened to the cries of “WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE WOMEN’S RACE?” from a year ago. I wasn’t keeping track, but I felt the coverage was evenly split between the women and men, with more focus on Adam than anyone else—and rightfully so.
One thing I’d love to see—in addition to way more panoramic heli shots—is Ironman mic’ing up a few of the athletes. The PTO is obviously open to this and will be doing so—allegedly—at the inaugural Collins Cup in May. I don’t see why PTO athletes wouldn’t be willing to be mic’d for an Ironman event. Imagine what that would do for the Kona coverage.
Mic’ing up every athlete for every race is a bit invasive and logistically unreasonable, but a couple of athletes mic’d at each race could at least double the low viewership numbers. Major League Baseball has been mic’ing a few athletes each game during Spring Training, and it’s been praised by fans and media. Getting a sneak peak inside the minds of the athletes during a ludicrously long event makes for much more interesting TV.
Ironman’s next Facebook Watch broadcast is the African Championships in South Africa on March 29, where Skipper is apparently racing again against Sebastian Kienle, Andreas Drietz, Matt Russell, and Nils Frommhold and 20 other pro men. The women’s race features a showdown of defending champion Lucy Charles-Barclay and reigning world champion Anne Haug. How much more inclined would you be to tune in if those two were mic’d up?