Super League Triathlon – Here to Stay?

As Superleague Triathlon hits the shores of the British Isles in Jersey, with its new format and glamorous presentation bringing an almost 'Rock'n Roll' atmosphere to the format of a classic triathlon, we explore if this new kid on the block is here to stay and what it means for the sport.

Photo Credit – New Pixels Photography

Is This Just the Natural Progression for our sport?

When people first had the concept of a triathlon, it was certainly frowned upon, and in many ways, no one could have dreamed of the success it has had in less than half a century. However, when you think of the athletes that have taken to it, you understand that this really is a sport for the people who never were the pure, all-out single-discipline athletes, either by their ability, or by their sense of adventure and the fact that they were always looking for the next challenge.

In training dosages, there are only three variables – duration, intensity and frequency. If we look at how the sport has progressed recently: we found the format that worked (swim, bike and run) and just made everything longer. To advance in the sport, you either went faster (increase in intensity) or you went further (increase in duration). When you look at the faster path, for the common athlete (ie those not in performance squads or talent ID groups, there was always that glass ceiling. "Going Long" though was very accessible. Hence the desire for more and more people to challenge themselves, not by going faster, but by going longer. 

The Standard distance – An old time classic?

Superleague triathlon has changed this and said "what about if we change the frequency of the disciplines". So in many ways, this is the final frontier in triathlon's development to become more main stream. In some ways it is a look back to the Grand Prix Series in Australia from where Superleague takes its inspiration and triathlon as a sport is now ready for it, so here we are in full circle, picking up the final training variable and throwing it firmly into the limelight!

The novelty of the sport has meant that there is no 'Superleague Triathlete Expert', the format maybe suits those who aren't specialised in either intensity or duration and so have a hint of all three skills in them and, over time, like with the other styles of racing (where people used to be runners, cyclists or swimmers who did triathlon not "triathletes") we will see people grow into this part of our sport.

IRONMAN are well known as one of the big players in comercialsiing the sport

Is the Commercialisation a Positive Thing?

There is a lot of sponsorship and excitement in this series. Publicity, of any sort can only be a good thing for the sport. IRONMAN was fortunate to have a reporter talk about what he saw which then catapulted the race and fundamentally brand towards where it is now, the Olympic's success and format has allowed the sport to grow as more people try the 'standard' distance. The unprecedented display of brotherly support where Alistair carried his brother Jonny over the line in Mexico are all examples of how publicity has been so positive for the sport (and there are many others!). However, where the sport could fragment is if sponsors go to Superleague triathlon and leave the older styles of race (Olympic distance for example) for a commercial gain. This leaves the athletes in a position where either they are in the Superleague Club, or they are out.

Government spending is based on the national governing body's ability to produce medals, if sponsorship money is drawing the athletes to the Superleague format, we could end up with specialists in that format, not the classic style of racing and that can only be a negative result for the governing bodies and therefore the grass roots of the sport which require Olympic Medals amongst their KPIs for their budget. That said, there is nothing stopping the IOC changing the format of the triathlon if that is indeed where the athletes are being drawn to! Overall though, if commercialisation leads to publicity and the athletes at all levels (grass roots to developing athletes to the top level) are being treated fairly, then what is not to enjoy?

Does this changed, more complicated format limit entry-level athletes?

Photo Credit: New Pixels Photography

Does This Favour the Old Hands of the Sport?

There is no doubt that this event series has sparked the interest of all sorts of people but most of all those of us who have "done it all". Those who have gone long, been fast and are looking for a new challenge, be that other varieties of multi sports (duathlons, swim-runs, etc) or moving on to the 'next challenge' – the ultra distances or multi day events etc. It certainly brings a level of excitement but is it only for those who have been around the block? Can it make itself accessible? If the commercialisation has a risk of dragging the money and therefore the sport in that direction, then how can we make it an open sport for everyone? The new version of triathlon is tough, there is no doubt about that and it works because people all finish in roughly the same times so the turnaround is quick and short. It brings new training stresses, it brings about new training challenges as a coach, especially in colder climates where swim, bike, run –  run, bike, swim training sessions will have to factor in the weather and due to the intensity, style of session and turnaround times mean that newer athletes could see this as a greater barrier to entry, but maybe that is what we are looking for?

Maybe this really is the crème de la crème of multi sport racing and we should be embracing this completely and maybe bringing all this together as the final piece of the jigsaw for the truly superb athletes. However, as other athletes see the fun, they are certainly going to want to play too so maybe it is a matter of time before we all start signing up for this next new challenge and the greatest difficulty will be to bring the sport with it instead of leaving the race just for the 'pros'.