Events

Last Weekend Now: Everything Is On Hiatus, Including This Column

What will happen with Kona qualification? Some wild speculation.

Last Weekend Now is your weekly 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.) It’ll be going on hiatus now until pro racing returns.

Your race is canceled.

I don’t mean your race next week or next month. I mean it could be more than a couple of months until we’re racing again. But triathlon is about a lifestyle, not a race. And the races will be back eventually, probably faster than your fitness. So like Tupac said, “keep ‘ya head up.”

Until we’re back on the race course, we’ll be putting this column on hiatus—unless Ironman or PTO does something ridiculous that I can make fun of, which might not take long.

Speaking of PTO, sending out $2.5 million worth of checks to pro triathletes is a genuinely commendable move that I did not see coming. They’ve had a hard enough time getting both their organization and the Collins Cup up and running, and they could’ve easily held onto that cash for the uncertain times that lay ahead. But they didn’t. I would’ve preferred to see a more even payout to all PTO members (I doubt Daniela Ryf needs another 100 grand right now) but they’re the only race organizer in the world paying athletes right now and they haven’t even put on a race yet. 

Now some Kona speculation. And I mean speculation. Every conversation I’ve had with athletes, coaches, or industry folks has started with whether or not I think Kona will happen. Obviously, I have no idea. I think a realistic best-case scenario is that we’re racing again in August. With some major tweaks to the qualification system, that would allow Kona to take place on the second Saturday in October, as scheduled. The worst-case scenario is that our dear leader and Dr. Tony will only just be gaining some control over this virus by August, in which case mass participation sports may be on hold for the remainder of the year. I know that’s not what anyone wants to hear, but none of us know where we’ll be in a few weeks, much less months, so it’s certainly within the range of outcomes. 

Bear in mind that the decision to race or not will come down to the state of Hawaii and not Ironman. As you may have heard, the Big Island of Hawaii is an island, and islands have very fragile ecosystems. That goes for everything from the coral to the birds to the people. As of yesterday, the Big Island only registered 12 known cases of COVID-19 (versus 116 on Oahu). With the right measures in place, it has a chance to remain one of the few places on earth that’s largely unaffected. Bringing in thousands of people from all corners of the globe is probably not the best way to keep things that way. 

The state of Hawaii and the local government in Kona will likely do everything possible to make sure Kona 2020 is a thing. Cruise ships are the backbone of Kona’s economy, and I don’t expect reasonable people to book a cruise anytime soon. Of course, I’m not sure that reasonable people book cruises ever. I’ll never understand the appeal. I think you should know people before you get on a boat with them, and a vacation where you can’t ride a bike doesn’t sound like a vacation to me. But the point is, without cruises bringing in non-triathletes, Kona needs this race as much as the triathlon world needs Kona. 

If there is indeed an Ironman World Championship this fall, there will obviously need to be significant changes to the qualification system for both pros and age-groupers. I’m sure this is something that Ironman has been working on over the past few weeks, since they have nothing else going on. There’s no right way to do it, but there are a lot of potential ways. If a number of the postponed and previously scheduled races take place in August and September, then obviously those events could still hand out a large number of slots. Personally, I think a good way to compose the professional field would be to give the top 20 men and women from last year automatic entries, and then to fill up the rest of the race with those who have already qualified at Arizona, Florida, Cozumel, Western Australia, and New Zealand. 

For the age-groupers: How about an expansion of the legacy program just this once and then we can do away with it forever? Let everyone apply and then start filling in with those who have finished the most races without having done Kona. It would do wonders to end the drafting crisis by putting more back-of-the-packers in the mix. 

And then maybe this would be the year that you’ll finally have a chance to race in Kona. Maybe you’ll finally be able to say, “Yes” when someone who knows nothing about triathlon asks, “Have you done that one in Hawaii?” Or maybe no one will be racing in Hawaii this October. Anyone who claims to have a good read on whether or not Kona will happen is just speculating, including me—and at least I’m getting paid for my speculation.

Regardless of what happens in Kona, or at any of the other races you had planned for 2020, you aren’t any less of a triathlete. Use this time to remind yourself why you love biking and running, and why you never liked swimming anyway. A few of you lucky ones may even still be able to get in the water. (If you have a pool anywhere in the greater Chicagoland, please let me know when I can come over. I promise to maintain six feet.)

We’ll be racing again sooner or later. And I’ll be back here to write about it whenever we are.