Drafting still sucks

December 8, 2000 (www.slowtwitch.com)

I've been reading all of the correspondence on Triathlon Digest last month regarding the different formats that triathlons might use. Its a topic that's close to my heart as I feel personally responsible in many ways for the future of my sport.

Yeah! You read that correctly. I think it's my sport too and it pisses me off no end that some fuckwits have messed with it for their own personal benefit. In my mind the choice to go with this format boils down to two arguments:

  1. that "TV" and the general public like the closer action of drafting races; and
  2. the no-drafting rule is too hard to officiate.

We were all told by the marketing gurus at ITU that TV needed the drafting format to make our sport more exciting and to get it into the Olympics. Now that the Sydney races have come and gone it's time to tally up the ratings. How are they? Obviously the Olympics were an amazing success and the racing was fantastic. I enjoyed it immensely.

But that's because it was the Olympics! Are the world cup ratings soaring? Are they doing better than Ironman? Is the ITU pulling in the big bucks for sponsorship because it has forced the top short-course athletes to participate in the world cup series to get to the Olympics? Are the race directors of other, non-world cup, events following its lead in order to make their races more exciting and attractive to TV? To sponsors? The answer is an emphatic NO to all of the above.

What's growing is Ironmans, XTerra and Adventure racing. Why? Because people want to see or be a part of a challenge. Drafting detracts from the challenge that is inherent and unique to our triathlon heritage in its original form. Even the Tour de France would never change to a short, flat little criterium and call itself the greatest bike race on earth. Its absurd! The Tour is great because of the time trials and the mountains and the grueling 3-week format. The man-versus-the-course battle is as much a part of it as the challenge the competitors bring to each other.

This doesn't mean that there isn't a place in our sport for drafting races. I think there is a place for it along with the sprints and the enduros and every other variation. I like them all and they all have a place, but they shouldn't represent the pinnacle of our sport. Our champions shouldn't be chosen via such formats and our sport shouldn't try and be defined by it. To continue to use cycling as an example, look at how it took the 100km team time trial out of the Olympics and put the individual TT in. All of the different events in track cycling including the keirin have a place in the sport. Cyclocross is great and now mountain biking is incredible and there are many great athletes in all of them. But look at how the world championship road race still plays second fiddle to the Tour in determining the world's best cyclist. TV producers don't decide what makes a sport compelling.

The other argument against having a non-drafting format as our choice for our top races is that it's too hard to enforce the no-draft rule. This whining cop out from weak athletes and officials who don't have the guts or the training to make the call doesn't stand up to scrutiny if you compare it to officiating in other sports. Baseball, for instance, has remained virtually unchanged for over 100 years based on an umpire deciding wether the pitcher has delivered a strike or a ball. Don't you think that's just a little tougher than determining wether someone is drafting or not!? How about trying to decide wether a person has committed a charging foul or has "traveled" in basketball? How about trying to determine whether a tackle or guard has committed a "holding" penalty in football? How about offside in soccer?

These sports and others have relied on officials to make these choices as a foundation of the game. They haven't changed the very nature of the sport because of some wimpy officials. Baseball umpires have to stand there and call a mega-millionare player out on strikes in the World Series. And they aren't even the hardest sports to officiate! How hard is it for a judge to decide whether a dive is worth 9.25 or 9.30? How about a gymnastics judge deciding what score to give to an athlete performing the floor exercise? If I haven't given you enough reasons to throw this "too hard to officiate" argument out the window then I think you're too dumb to be reading my column and should be taking up another sport instead of stinking up mine.

I encourage all of you staunch defenders of pride and integrity who agree with me to speak up just for a moment and let your voice be heard here at Slowtwitch.com. Write in and let me know what the hell our next step is going to be. Time for this BS to stop.