WTC sets 2010 Professional Membership program

Billing it as a “complement to its recent Anti-Doping initiative,” the World Triathlon Corporation announced the Ironman Pro Membership Program which will be required for professionals competing in all Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events starting February 1, 2010.

The Pro Membership Program will require an annual membership fee of $750 which will include complimentary entry for all members in non World championship events. That means that Pro Members will not have to pay the standard $550 entry fee for Ironman events or $300 entry fee for Ironman 70.3 events. But Ironman Pro Membership Program members will have to pay those fees for the 2010 Ironman and Ironman 70.3 World Championships.

By these new standards, athletes such as Hillary Biscay, Bella Bayliss and Petr Vabrousek who compete in half a dozen or more WTC events a year, would save considerable money. By contrast, professional athletes who want to compete in one Ironman or up to two Ironman 70.3 events – and did not get a waiver of the fee from promoters -- would face an effective increase in costs.

Five-time Ironman winner Heather Gollnick of Bradenton, Florida enthusiastically supported the WTC's effort to increased drug testing, but disagreed about the fees.

"I think increasing drug testing at Ironman events is very good," said Gollnick. "In my last 15 Ironman races I have not been tested at events. I have been tested out of competition regularly where I live in Bradenton, Florida. That's because I live near the IMG sports academies where they have many pros golfers and tennis players. I think that's because they have a fairly substantial quota in this area for testing. By contrast, I know several professional triathletes who are not tested all year long."

Gollnick said that she was among some more successful Ironman athletes who are given free entries by promoters of Ironman events. "It is quite common in the USA that promoters want prominent US triathletes to come to their races because it is a good thing to grow the sport. It's my belief that pro athletes should not be required to pay an entry fee."

Gollnick said that she thought there might be slightly better reason for pros to pay the $750 if it went to the cost of increased drug testing.

However, she believes that the cost should be paid by the sanctioning bodies.

"I also think it is a little ridiculous that the athletes are made to pay for it. I think that the corporations that run the sport make millions of dollars and could afford to do that."

In addition, the WTC’s Pro Membership Program is designed to address “many of the issues facing pro athletes, such as prize money, qualifying slots and size and quality of the field,” according to a WTC release.

Regarding World Championship Qualifying Standards, the WTC declared that athletes must finish within 5% of the winner’s qualifying time to obtain a qualifying slot at Kona or Clearwater. Citing “an effort to maintain a quality professional field at the World Championship events,” the WTC offered several examples. If the winner at an Ironman event finished in 8 hour 30 minutes, the cutoff for a Kona qualifying time would be 8:55:30. If the winner of an Ironman 70.3 event finished in 4 hours flat, the cutoff for a Clearwater qualifying time would be 4:12:00.

In terms of 2010 Prize Money Qualification, an athlete must finish within 8% of the winner’s time at WTC Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events. So, if the winner of a WTC
Ironman event finishes in 8 hours 30 minutes, subsequent competitors must finish at or before 9:10:48 to be eligible for posted prize money. If the winner of an Ironman 70.3 event finishes in 4 hours flat, subsequent competitors must finish at or before 4:19:20 to be eligible for posted prize money.

By those standards, any woman who took longer than 9:36:45 – 8 percent behind Chrissie Wellington’s 2009 Kona winning time of 8:54:02, would be out of the money. Therefore, under 2010 rules, Sandra Wallenhorst would not have been be eligible to receive the $7,500 9th place prize money she received for her 2009 finish in 9:38:28 and Dede Griesbauer would not have been eligible for the $6,000 prize money she received in 2009 for her 10th place finish in 9:40:59.

According to the WTC announcement, there would be no redistribution of unearned prize money.

In return for the membership fees, the Pro Membership Program will make all of its athletes eligible for a new, more comprehensive Anti-Doping program with increased frequency of out-of-competition drug testing to be conducted by the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA’s) newly formed Association of National Anti-Doping Organizations – Anti-Doping Services (ANADO-ADS). Professionals enlisted in the new WTC Pro Membership Program will be responsible for providing their whereabouts and racing schedules and agree to be available for random testing throughout the year.

As of this announcement, the WTC had no clarification if there would be any synchronization of testing frequency between the WTC testing program and that of other out-of-competition testing done by aggressive national governing bodies.

The WTC Pro Membership Program said that it would not set a deadline for 2010 entry to its program. However, the WTC further specified that their Pro Membership Program registration process “must be completed before an athlete can request general registration to an event.” This means that professionals must have completed the PMP process before individual event cutoff dates for registration. If the pros want to get into Ironman New Zealand, for example, they will have to complete the PMP process before the Ironman New Zealand registration deadline of January 17.