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The Championship: Q and A with Challenge Family CEO Zibi Szlufcik

Last week Challenge-Family announced its championship event, which will take place in Samorin, Slovakia on June 3, 2017. We caught up with Challenge CEO Zibi Szlufcik shortly after the press conference to get his perspective on the new event.

Challenge Family CEO announces The Championship
Challenge Family CEO announces The Championship

TMC: You referred to this as the biggest announcement in Challenge Family history.

Zibi Szlufcik: We’ve been asked for the last three or four years by athletes, by the media, by people in the industry: “When are you making the next step? You have 46 races around the globe – are you having a final, a championship?”

Today we announced the result of three years of work. The thoughts and ideas of the whole global team have been accumulated and implemented into the Championship announcement today.

The x-bionic sphere here in Samorin is an incredible venue for this race. You wanted a spot like this before you were going to be happy with a championship venue, didn’t you?

I always said that if we were going to have a final for the series we needed something special. Something that would make an extraordinary contribution to the world of triathlon. I think we found a partner, venue and location that is in the heart of Europe. It’s easy to get here. Vienna airport, Budapest airport, the airport in Bratislava are all just minutes away. Once you are here you can park your car and stay for a week with your family or training team and exercise in 27 Olympic sports and run and bike along the Danube River. You have a wonderful facility in terms of quality.

We will come back to Samorin in 2019. We have almost finalized the site for 2018 and 2020 … and we will announce those details soon. It’s a different continent, which is very interesting and we are very excited about getting all the small, moving pieces together.

This is a half-distance championship. At some point you will no-doubt announce a long-distance championship. How hard is that to get figured out when you have a huge event like Roth as part of your series?

Roth is a benchmark, a reference for races across the globe. It’s also a benchmark and reference for Challenge Family. Its simply the greatest triathlon event in the world with 6,000 athletes, 6,000 volunteers, 270,000 spectators. The contribution of the local community is out of this world. The natural evolvement would be to say that those are the championships, but why should we have a championship at the venue that’s successful without a championship? When you talk about contribution to the triathlon world, Challenge Family delivers excellent venues and locations, and we want to deliver another venue and location that could host a championship.

For us in Canada, we’re already looking forward to a big championship event in Penticton in 2017 – the multisport festival. How does that fit in to the overall picture for the Challenge Family series?

We see this as a great contribution. I think the ITU Multisport Championships taking place in Penticton is a completely different approach [to the Championship]– it is a week of different events. Duathlons, cross triathlons, long distance triathlons. The Championship is focused on half-distance. Don’t forget, Penticton 2016 will be a qualifier for the Championship in 2017, as well as a qualifier for the world championships in 2017. You are getting quite something in Canada this year.

One of the things that you announced today was the various ways athletes can qualify for the Championship next year – through many championship events. Why was that important to you?

It’s basic respect. We respect the sport, the roots of the sport and we respect all of the championship events that are happening already. You have the ITU World Triathlon Series, you have the Olympics this year, you have the ITU long distance, you have the WTC 70.3 and Ironman championships, so I think it’s a matter of respect to those athletes. Those athletes, who are winning those events, should be part of the Championship and we’re inviting them to join us. Challenge Family is inclusive, so why should we be exclusive in the qualifying process? I think it’s walking the talk and expressing what we preach.

What will this championship mean to the athletes who compete in the Challenge Family series?

I just looked at my mobile phone and saw all the messages that are coming from the race directors all over the world. They are absolutely amazed because this is an additional binding element that pulls together all our races. We have 38 venues and 46 races across the globe and this is a bonding element where we bring all the races together where people can qualify at any of the venues with a straightforward qualification system, providing athletes with the next opportunity. This has been requested for years by athletes, race directors, the media, the industry and we are fulfilling the expectation by announcing the Championship.