I just happened to be in London on the opening day of the Super League Triathlon championship series 2022.
Just to clarify, that's London, England. Not London Ontario.
Of course, I had to go watch a bit of that. It's not your traditional kind of multisport race.
Super League is a series of very short course races for top level elite athletes to compete in a team format. Much like the races of the Professional Triathlete's Association, Super League races are designed to build a devoted fan base with spectator friendly races. The only way to participate that I can see is to either be an elite short distance athlete or be under 14 years old. I don't know about all the races in this series, but the London event started the day with the Tri Stars races which is British Triathlon's youth development program . It was nice to see a good sized field of kids out there.
Let's be clear. This is a totally different model than that of Ironman. The focus here is 90% on top level athletes and 10% on getting/keeping youth in the sport. Today there was no opportunity for us old age groupers to race the course. Their business model must be built on sponsorship because there was no fee to watch the race. I did see a VIP area, so some people may have paid for a premium viewing location.
I found the following to be a very interesting quote from Chris McCormack, one of the Super League founders:
Speed is youth, long-distance racing is for retired people with time on their hands – if you want excitement, if you want the best athletes in the world pushing themselves beyond what any of us think possible, then you have to move away from long distance and think differently. (https://superleaguetriathlon.com/about/)
"...if you want excitement..." Yep. I agree with that. And that's about all I agree with in that quote. If you want spectators to be excited, you'd better put the action in their faces. That's exactly what this race did. And to back up the action, there was more hype than a late night infomercial. I don't know the announcers' names, but their talk was loud and constant. Some of the talk kept the crowd informed. Most of the talk was filling dead air. I admire them for their gift of gab. I kept imaging how quiet the air would have been had I been the one with the microphone.
I also find that quote rather interesting considering that Chris McCormack is a two time Ironman World Champion. I guess he doesn't consider himself as being one of the world's great athletes. I do.
Don't get me wrong. I liked the experience, but I was not "excited." For me, it was an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. Maybe I just don't buy in to all the hype. And maybe I'm just an outlier.
Along 100 plus meters of barricaded race course, spectators lined the path three people deep in some places. Maybe there were many veteran triathletes watching, but that's hard to say. I did see three or four people with Ironman backpacks. It makes me wonder if the race is just "preaching to the choir" or if it is actually generating public awareness and a fan base.
To all those spectators out there today who have never done a triathlon, let me ask you this:
Do you want excitement from a sport?
If you think what you saw today was exciting, then find a local triathlon and sign up for it. The most exciting aspect of triathlon is doing it. During the race you'll cuss up a storm and you'll hate life, but moments before the starting gun and moments after you cross the finish line you will know pure excitement. You'll likely sign up for another.
If I'm wrong, Super League will be there to show you what others can do. I'd rather see what you and I can do.
Until next time...