While I don’t think triathletes will ever get to the level of major stars, I do believe the spectator landscape of sports is changing. I have all but lost interest in the NFL, MLB, and NBA, and think the type of person who does endurance sport is ripe for the same pattern.
The Long-Tail is a marketing buzzword that essentially means there is unique commerce space for the “little guy.” With relation to sports it means there will be fewer mega stars and more opportunity for lesser-known athletes (and sports) to “sell” their niche. The internet allows people to find what they want, rather than have LeBron James jammed down their throat all hours of the day. (I’ve touched on this opportunity before).
I’ve always enjoyed tracking pros at races, but sometime around 2:00 on Sunday at Ironman Chattanooga, it dawned on me . . . I really like pros at races. It’s one of those things that never ceases to inspire, and as an age group triathlete (and fan of the sport), that is a tangible phenomenon.
Earlier that morning, I stood at the swim exit waiting for the first pros to get out of the water. There’s been a ton of criticism about the ease of Chattanooga’s swim but that takes nothing away from the fact that the first two swimmers I saw, Brandon Barrett and Eric Limkemann, were absolutely hammering down!
Later, I eagerly watched (from my lunch table) the bike splits for an indication of the course and knew (despite four extra miles) we had a fast one brewing. When the pros get over halfway through the bike, you’d better be plotting your next move because they come in quick.
By the time we got to the Run Out, we missed the first pro, but watched the others mount their chase. The level of intensity blows my mind. Here are these guys and girls who just crushed a swim and 116 mile bike settling in for a 26.2 mile chase on foot.
In all of my races, I have only had one situation where it turned into a battle at the end. I was on the verge of third place at Rev3 in an Olympic this year and had to find a completely new gear. Let me tell you, it hurts, and I can’t imagine how it feels to be way out in front with a pack of great runners working to knock you down.
As a spectator, this is great drama. It’s the race within the race. We have our friends racing, but there is something more intense brewing between the seams. And frankly, watching a bunch of guys like me slog by in an Ironman gets a little old after a while.
We stood just under a mile from the finish and got to witness the first three women come through within minutes of each other. Their faces, their body language, their focus, all captivating.
Ironman has proclaimed they intend to get serious about pros next year, but that also seems to mean they won’t be at as many races. That is unfortunate but bigger pay days and intense competition are a good thing.
I’ve decided to do my part and give these athletes a little extra publicity when I can. The more I get to know the names, the more I am drawn to the sport. It would be awesome if more of these pro triathletes became household names, and knowing that we can actually compete in the same races with them makes it even sweeter.