Looking back at 2021, it was amazing to see how much triathlon racing actually took place despite the COVID-19 pandemic – well, outside of Canada, that is. While there were a few age group races that took place in various provinces across the country, Canada’s biggest elite events were the World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) Final in Edmonton, and WTCS Montreal, which took place the week before. Elsewhere in the world there was a flurry of racing going on, including the Olympics and other World Triathlon events, the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in St. George, Utah, the Collins Cup, Super League Triathlon and the new Clash event in Daytona.
All of which leaves us with some exciting prospects for 2022. In the first of this year’s “The Life of Tri” podcasts, host Phil Wrochna and Triathlon Magazine Canada editor Kevin Mackinnon chatted about some of the story lines they’re interested to see develop in 2022:
Are the Norwegians unstoppable?
“They are on another level,” Wrochna says of Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden. “I think we will see them do things we have never seen before. Blummenfelt will destroy the Sub7 race, and a Norwegian will dominate the 70.3 worlds as well. We will get tired of talking about them this year.”
Will Lucy Charles-Barclay continue her rise to the top?
After three runner-up finishes in Kona, along with a runner-up finish at the 70.3 worlds in 2018, Lucy Charles-Barclay took the world title we’ve all known she was destined to win last year in St. George. The only question in 2022 is whether or not she’ll continue her Olympic quest and try to balance her long-distance racing with more WTCS events with a spot on the Olympic team in Paris in mind.
“Then there’s the raft of British women who are dominating the World Triathlon circuit right now,” Wrochna says. Charles-Barclay finished 12th at WTCS Abu Dhabi last November and was the seventh woman from Great Britain. With the likes of Georgia Taylor-Brown, Sophie Coldwell, Jess Learmonth, Beth Potter, Non Stanford and Vicky Holland in the mix, Great Britain is dominating women’s draft-legal racing right now. How is all that going to get figured out in the next three years – only three of them can go to the Paris Games!
Will Flora Duffy move to long-distance racing?
After taking Olympic gold and a third world title last year, Flora Duffy certainly appears to have figured out how to win draft-legal races. She also continued her domination of the Xterra World Championship, too, taking her sixth-straight title in Maui.
So does she continue on with short-course racing? In early 2020 she won her first 70.3 race in South Africa, setting herself up to race at the 70.3 worlds if she wanted. She hasn’t done that yet, and, based on her race in Abu Dhabi last November, appears to be on track to go after another World Triathlon title this year. And why not? But wouldn’t it be fun to see just how well the Bermudan could do at the half? Will we see her in St. George later this year?
Can Jan Frodeno take another world championship?
While many in the sport anticipated Jan Frodeno would retire from racing after his third Kona win in 2019 (where he set a new course record), Frodeno was determined to continue in the sport. And he’s continued to dominate, too. He went 7:27 to win the Zwift Tri-Battle Royale last year, and had the day’s fastest time at the Collins Cup.
Quoting Payton Manning, Wrochna’s take on Frodeno’s approach was simple: “Play until you suck.”
“It’s not like he’s a punch-drunk fighter,” Wrochna continued.
Frodeno turned 40 last August, but doesn’t appear to have slowed down at all. Does he have what it takes to win in St. George or Kona (where he’ll be 41)?
What does an Ironman world championship outside of Kona look like?
For Wrochna, the event in St. George just won’t be able to match the mystique of the annual world championship in Kona, but for Kevin Lewis, the director of tourism for the Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office, that’s not the goal at all.
“We have the greatest honour and respect for the mystique and magic of the race in Kona,” Lewis says. “We don’t feel like we’re trying to replace Kona at all – we see this as an opportunity to help out and do something unique. The Greater Zion area will have its own brand of endurance.”
So how will athletes and fans react to an Ironman World Championship outside of Kona?
Can Lionel Sanders win another world title?
Speaking of St. George, does anyone else think the worlds there offer Canada’s own Lionel Sanders his best chance to take an Ironman world title? He’s raced well in St. George in years past and, other than his runner-up finish in Kona in 2017, has struggled on the Big Island in years past. Without Kona’s extreme heat and humidity, will the race in May suit Sanders?
The same question can be asked about Alistair Brownlee, who, despite winning in Rio, hasn’t always excelled in hot and humid events. Will the race in St. George offer him a better chance to capture a world title?
How will the new kids on the block (PTO, Super League, Clash) fare?
It’s been a long haul for the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) to get its flagship event, the Collins Cup, off and running. This year the PTO will launch its PTO Tour, with new events in Edmonton (the PTO Canadian Open) and Dallas (the PTO US Open).
Super League has been going of a few years now and really dialled in its series in 2021 with a month-long, four-city tour that provided some outstanding and exciting racing. A new deal with World Triathlon sees the Super League Arena Games dubbed a world championship series, too.
Formerly Challenge USA, Clash is a new series hitting the US. Partnered with NASCAR venues, the new series starts with Clash Miami in March, then heads to Watkins Glen in the summer, hits Atlanta in the fall before rounding out the four-race 2022 series with Clash Daytona. Featuring some heavy-duty live coverage courtesy of NASCAR productions, Clash is spending a lot of money to build its brand.
Will these new players in the triathlon world continue to grow and develop both a fan and participant base?