TMC contributor and pro triathlete Matt Sharpe weighs in.
Over the weekend, 40 of the fastest male and female triathletes battled against each other in different swim, bike, run formats in one of the world’s most beautiful destinations for the 2016 edition of the Island House Triathlon. If you’re not familiar with the race it is an invitation-only event contested in the Bahamas and only the best of the best get invited to compete each year. It’s diverse mix of ITU and long course athletes who will usually never compete with each other in a season, but get the opportunity to smash each other in one of the final races of the year. Another unique factor of this race is that the athletes do not compete in the traditional triathlon distances, but race different events on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A long weekend of effort, but very worth it with a 500k prize purse split between the men’s and women’s fields. But, what is also unique about the race is that it is a pros-only event, with no age-group field.
This is similar to the newly announced Collins Cup. A Ryder Cup-style showcase of the best professional triathletes from the US, Europe and the rest of the world to be contested in June, 2018. Which does seem quite a ways away, but I guess we’re all pretty busy. This event is meant to honor Judy and John Collins who were early pioneers of the sport. Similar to the Island House, the Collins Cup is contested in a unique format made up of professional triathletes.
So, what should we think about these type of races?
I mean, as a pro triathlete if I got invited I’d probably be cool with it. Well, ok… If you were watching the coverage from the Island House like I was, then there was certainly some FOMO (fear of missing out) going on. But that’s beside the point, because it does raise the question.
Are these pro-only races good for the sport of triathlon?
Well, for starters the races are exciting to watch. Whenever you have the best athletes coming together for a competition it always brings out the best in them. In triathlon if the coverage is good, the fans can be engaged in the races and that will bring hype to the event and sport overall. But has it really helped anyone other than the athletes and the advertisers? Could there be more of an impact? A stronger legacy?
In this regard the Island House has done a fantastic job. They do have a charitable initiative associated with the event, MORE Than Sport, which provides fundraising to “support clean water, food, medical care, education, and housing for those in need.” Pretty broad, but it’s still a worthwhile organization. The money raised through the 2016 edition of the Island House Triathlon purchased bikes and helmets for an orphanage in the Bahamas. “Studies show that children who ride bikes have the ability to concentrate better and perform better in school,” says the quote from the Island House press release. I’m fairly sure that is true as I tend to be a lot more focused at University when I’ve done a run or even commuted by bike. So good on them for leveraging the excitement of the race to do some good in the local community.
The Collins Cup does not seem to have an association with a charitable initiative. Although to be fair the race is most definitely in the planning stage, (again, scheduled for 2018). However, it does differ slightly from the Island House as it has an age group component to it. “On the Saturday there will be a number of traditional triathlon events of varying lengths in which fans, amateur athletes and professionals not otherwise on a Collins Cup team will race.” Sounds like fun! But maybe they could also have a charity or other community-based initiative that could benefit from the event. Maybe just have a limited entry age group race for first-time triathletes?
I’m just throwing ideas out there.
Overall I’m definitely in favor of these types of unique races featuring some of the best triathletes in the world. It is a very compelling competition and people love watching the best athletes at the top of their game, which means the sport is getting the attention it deserves. However, if they don’t provide lasting value to their community then I believe it is a wasted opportunity. I believe these pros-only competitions should also have a charitable or community-based initiative, and I call upon those who organize these events to implement this going forward.