Monday, October 5, 2015

Part 2 - Some Options For Better Ways To Define Pros

In continuation to Part 1 where I identified some problems in defining what a professional triathlete is I offer 3 options that would help better define professional triathletes, and could be used as a starting point to rebrand and grow professional triathlon.

Option 1 – Open Racing

In this scenario I would say there are similarities to running. Everyone lines up and starts at the same time or corrals based on projected finishing time and the first one across the line wins the prize. 

The cream rises to the top. No one really called a pro because a professional category doesn’t exist. How do I see this working at a world championship like Kona? They already award points to the pros at their races. If they extended these points to say the top 200 overall at a race then the top 100 throughout the year get to race in the prestigious first wave at the championship and everyone else can race in age group waves the way it currently is.

Option 2 – Category System

The second option to defining professionals is a category system similar to what you see in cycling. When you first enter the sport you race in the open category and you get to start in the last wave. If you come into the sport through being a top level swimmer, cyclist, or runner you can petition your national federation to allow you to enter the next category race. After placing near the front of your category in a few races you get bumped up to the next division, and similarly if you perform poorly you get downgraded at the end of the season. 

In this format once again there would be a points system that awards points based on finishing position in your category and the top people in their category qualify for world championships. Race directors would no longer have to give out awards to every age group so they could give out smaller participation awards to everyone, and the ultra competitive among us will rally to move up categories. At the smaller local races you would have waves with combined categories.

Option 3 – The Team

The third option I propose, and my personal favorite, is the team system. This system would be similar to most of the North American sports where people are part of a team. 

The team would pay each athlete a base salary, and then bonuses and prize money would be for the individual or a percentage goes back to the team. Therefore each athlete is making money and meets the dictionary definition of professional.

Then to race in the pro wave of a race you must be a registered member of a professional team. With the team system there would be different levels of teams similar to other sports where they have either feeder teams and major team (similar to the minor leagues and major leagues of most team sports) or you have regional, continental, and world teams like in cycling. 

The framework for the team model is in place with a few teams such as Bahrain 13 and the Uplace-BMC team, but more large-scale sponsors would need to be brought into the sport to support this model. In short course racing there are a few teams that race in the French GP Series and I think a Belgian series as well, but it was difficult to find much information on how these teams and leagues function. There are many small training squads in triathlon currently, but I don’t know of very many of them that market themselves as a package to sponsors. It seems like it is still on the individual athletes to find their own sponsors. 

The framework is there for the racing as well ITU has three different levels of racing and WTC has races designated as P-500 up to P-8000. This could easily be changed so only World Cup teams (could be a mixture of ITU and long course athletes) are only allowed to race in the higher ranked races and the continental and regional teams get to race in the lower ranked races and the top tier races in their area (similar to the Giro allowing continental Italian teams or the Tour allowing more French teams in).

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Do Pros Matter?

Do Pro Triathletes Really Matter? (Part 1)

With many races cutting their prize purses, of late, and others becoming ‘age-group only’, the debate around ‘Do pros really matter?’ has blossomed. 

It’s a valid conversation, for sure, and an important one, but before the true value of a professional triathlete can be measured, the term itself ‘professional triathlete’, must first be defined. Currently there is no true definition of what a pro is as each national federation has their own standards for obtaining a pro license.

On Friday morning, published an engaging piece by Kelly O’Mara. (You can read it at O’Mara’s piece basically asked the question: should the top age group competitors be forced to turn pro? 

The question gained a lot of traction on social media. It got me thinking, too, and after lots of back and forth with Triathlon Squad coach Paulo Sousa, I felt I should add my opinion to the debate and what’s more, I’d need more than 140 characters to do so!

So what follows is one pros opinion on the problem that currently exists with simply defining a ‘professional triathlete’ (and later on, my solution to this problem). 

What is a pro triathlete?

A clear definition of a ‘professional triathlete’ can only help bring added value to the sport, for professionals, elites, and age groupers alike. Because right now, there’s just too much ambiguity around this term.

Is a pro triathlete somebody who makes money racing? Is it an athlete that has completed a set distance in a set time? Or is it simply somebody who owns a piece of paper that says ‘Pro Licence’ on it?

I even went and checked the dictionary, and according to Webster’s, a professional is an individual who earns their living from a specified activity.

Anyway, for the purposes of this piece, I want to use my experience with becoming a professional to show some of the flaws that exist when it comes to making this definition.

How I Became a Pro Triathlete - Take 1: 

About five years ago I decided I wanted to become a pro. I’d won my age group at the national championships, I’d won some local races, and I’d found myself on the podium at some larger races. At the end of the season I decided to apply for my elite license (which confusingly is used interchangeably with a pro license). 

So I submitted my resume with all my race results, and just like that, I was granted my elite license. Bingo! Did that make me a professional? At the time I thought so, but turns out it didn’t. 

To be totally honest, I’m not really sure what this card does (maybe someone from Triathlon Ontario will read this and clarify?) because I’ve known athletes who have this card to race one weekend as a “pro” and the next as an “age grouper”. So it doesn’t really make sense. In fact, it’s pretty confusing. 

How I Became a Pro Triathlete - Take 2:

At this point I had my elite license. I was happy. I was good to go. I signed up for my first pro race, Rev3 Knoxville. 

A few weeks leading into the race I’m looking around online and I come across the Triathlon Canada International Competition Card (ICC). Hmmm, I say. I wonder what’s this? 

I dig around some more and suddenly discover that THIS is actually what you need to race as a professional (I’m still not sure if this discovery was 100 per cent correct. Nobody has ever clearly defined this to me.) 

So, in a panic, I quickly apply for this newly uncovered card. Now, there are a few different ways to qualify for an ICC. You can send in a resume (this is what I did). You can go under a certain time for a Half Ironman (4:20 for men and 4:45 for women) or a Full Ironman (10:00 for men and 10:45 for women). Or, you can place in a certain position at world championships. 

Luckily I was granted my ICC card based on my resume, and I was good to go. Again. Was I professional triathlete at this point? I’m not sure.

The problem is, some athletes with an ICC card will still race age group at bigger races and to me, this is where the flaw in defining ‘What is a professional triathlete’ really begins. It’s the source of a problem that flows for quite some distance.

Before Knoxville, I thought some more about my own status. According to Triathlon Canada and Triathlon Ontario I was a professional triathlete. According to the dictionary I was not. 

Pro or not, I got destroyed in that first race. I finished behind some age groupers and behind some of the pro women. That trend continued for a few years, until 2014, when I began to mix things up in the pro field. 

Should I have been granted a professional license when I first applied? Probably not. At the time, I'd have preferred to race at the back of the pro field, gaining some experience, rather than race towards the front of the age group race, but looking at it now, in the cold light of day and with a few years of racing as a pro under my belt, I feel I decreased the value of other pros in those races.

Racing at the back of the pro field, I was one of those guys that others, sponsors included, looked at and asked: is the pro triathlete valuable? 

Stay tuned for Part 2: My suggestion for a solution - the category system or open racing.