Last month Kristian Blummenfelt blasted to an incredible 7:21:12 Ironman debut in Cozumel, seemingly setting a new world best for the distance, despite the down-current swim that enabled the Norwegian Olympic gold medalist to finish the first leg of the race in just 39 minutes.
Despite Ironman acknowledging Blummenfelt’s performance as a world best, and the Professional Triathletes Organization posting on Instagram about the new “world record,” the result has been removed from the PTO statistics page for the fastest full-distance performances.
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We’re not surprised to see the times from the Cozumel race removed from the list. Earlier this year we learned that Tamara Jewett’s 1:13:09 half-marathon run at Ironman 70.3 Augusta, where she ran herself to a runner-up finish behind eventual winner Ellie Salthouse (AUS), wouldn’t be listed on the PTO site as the fastest ever run for a half-distance triathlon. According to PTO statistician Thorsten Radde, the man behind trirating.com, the down-current swim at Augusta would make it ineligible for “fastest times.” Even though the Cozumel results initially appeared on the PTO site, they have since been removed. The site now lists Jan Frodeno’s 7:27:53 from the Tri-Battle Royale as the fastest full-distance men’s time.
Having Frodeno’s time at the top of the list only highlights the challenges of figuring out world best times on courses that aren’t certified. The Tri-Battle Royale was a special event that featured a grand total of two athletes – Frodeno and Canada’s Lionel Sanders – and was designed with speed in mind. While the distances appear to be quite accurate and drafting wasn’t allowed, Frodeno and Sanders were able to get their nutrition on the fly – supporters were able to give them bottles and food from moving vehicles, something that wouldn’t be allowed in “regular” races.
No less an expert than Brett Sutton, one of the sport’s premier coaches, weighed in on the Cozumel race in a post on his website. While acknowledging that Blummenfelt’s performance was incredible and that the Norwegian looks to be ready to rewrite the record books and move to the forefront of the sport, Sutton pointed out just how good the conditions likely were in Cozumel to set up the quick time. “On a bad day the current runs at about 1 meter per second, so with it’s now point-to-point current assisted swim, athletes proceed to get floated down with the tide,” Sutton wrote. “Basically, there is no swim, you get wet.” Sutton, who has spent a lot of time in Cozumel for training camps, also pointed out that on windless days the “big loop is a giant 60km velodrome.”
Adding to all the confusion is the PTO’s continued promotion of Blummenfelt’s Cozumel race as a world record – today the organization posted a video from Pho3nix, the sponsor of next year’s Sub7Sub8 project that will feature Blummenfelt, Alistair Brownlee, Lucy Charles-Barclay and Nicola Spirig attempt to go under seven hours (men) and eight hours (women) for a full-distance triathlon. That project, though, will allow the athletes to have pacers, making it similar to Nike’s Sub-2 project from a few years ago.
At the heart of the “world best” issue is the fact that most triathlon courses aren’t certified. World Athletics has a strict set of criteria that a course must meet before a performance can be “considered eligible for top lists, entry standards, world rankings and world records.” The courses need to hold a valid International Course Measurement Certificate, can’t be too far apart if they are a point-to-point course (can’t be further apart than 50% of the race distance) or have an elevation drop of more than 1 m per km. It seems doubtful that triathlon’s organizing bodies have much interest in trying to enforce any similar types of criteria at triathlon races, though, so we’re likely to be living with the debates on what are the fastest triathlon times for a long time to come.