Zibi Szlufcik is hardly a well known name in triathlon, but the Challenge Family CEO has been busy over the last few years building the company’s brand around the world. He spoke last week at the Triathlon Business International (TBI) conference, outlining some of the goals and aspirations of the series he’s been building for the last three years.
As an athlete, Szlufcik excelled in winter triathlon, winning the world championship twice. He would go on to a successful career in marketing, serving a variety of clients including PowerBar and the Raelert brothers (Andreas and Micheal).
Formed in 2002, the Challenge brand began when Ironman created a new full-distance race in Germany. On learning about the new race in Frankfurt, the organizers of what had previously been known as “Ironman Europe,” which was held in the small town of Roth, 25 km south of Nuremberg, decided to create their own event. Challenge Roth has since become the largest full-distance race in the world and spawned the creation of the Challenge series.
“We are driven by our passion for athletes,” Szlufcik said. “We respect the legacy of the sport of triathlon. The majority of our races are licensed, where Challenge owns part of the equity.”
Szlufcik says that the series is focussed on “festival” events that include a number of different races – kids running and triathlon races, women’s only runs, along with a variety of different length triathlons.
The Challenge Family series now includes 49 races around the world. The growth of the series has been dramatic – in 2011, 14,000 athletes finished the series, while last year that number had grown to 61,000 finishers.
That growth has come without much success in the US, a topic Szlufcik didn’t shy away from. “It was better to end with pain rather than have pain without end,” he said of the Rev 3 partnership that came to an abrupt halt last year. Challenge will continue to explore options for working their way back to the American market over the next few years, he says.
The German was also quick to point out that while the Rev 3 partnership didn’t succeed, Challenge has enjoyed some success in North America, especially here in Canada thanks to Challenge Penticton and Challenge St. Andrews.
For the last few years Szlufcik has been inundated with questions about when Challenge will put on its own series world championship. Until last week, he’d never been willing to commit to a championship event, but during his speech he was happy to announce that there would be one coming:
“We will secure a world championship over the half-distance in 2017 and the full distance in 2018,” he said. The only details he would provide about these races were that they would not be existing races in the Challenge Family series.