When Harry Met Javi

For nearly 20 years—since the ITU changed its format to draft-legal—it's been asking the rest of the world to please pay attention.

The ITU has delivered on everything it's promised. The racing is compelling. The athletes are superb. In response to the ITU's good work, Slowtwitch.com is privileged to cover ITU racing and its athletes more comprehensively than any title worldwide.

Still, there has just been that something missing. It's just not Dave and Mark in '89. It's not Julie Moss in '82. ITU-style racing is good, hard, clinical, scrubbed, white bread, racing.

Until this past weekend, that is, when Olympic-style developed an edge. An Englishman named Harry Wiltshire just made ITU racing the hottest endurance sports ticket in town. Move over David Beckham, to make room in the Sun for Harry. Hey Pippa, forget the Prince. We've got a far more textural Harry for you.

In case you've been living under a swim buoy, team tactics in ITU racing just did a mobius flip. It's all on our Reader Forum, with a link to triathlon's Spanish language Zapruder Film. You can get into the tall weeds there.

What's worth writing about, now, is where Oly Tri goes from here.

This is what the ITU has said so far, and this is all it's pledged to say, until it comes up with its solution to Harry:

The ITU is aware of incidents at the European Championships involving Harry Wiltshire (GBR) and Javier Gomez (ESP) during the swim portion of the elite men’s race.  The chief swim official reported Wiltshire was in violation of the following rules: 2.1 a.) (i), 3.3 a.) (i), Appendix L 6. and Appendix L 7.  As a result, Wiltshire was disqualified.  The Spanish Triathlon Federation has appealed the incident and the ITU Executive Board will review the possibility of further action.

The ITU's statement tells us just the other side of nothing. We already knew Harry Wiltshire was disqualified. We already knew the Spanish are upset. What the statement doesn't say is whether the ITU thinks the chief swim official's reading of the rule was correct. Nor whether it has decided, yet, whether Harry Wiltshire's behavior was in accordance with the rules. Nor whether Harry Wiltshire did anything wrong at all. It doesn't suggest that new rules are forthcoming, or whether an interpretation of the rules is anticipated.

My sources inside the ITU and the British Triathlon Federation, speaking on background, say that Harry Wiltshire—a very good swimmer/cyclist and very able and enthusiastic Brownlee lieutenant—exhibited an exuberance in protecting the Brownlee brothers that the ITU deems unacceptable. The ITU "at the highest levels" is huddled up, for as long as two weeks so say my sources, determining what is to be done.

Race commissioners took all of several hours to decide what to do about Mark Renshaw's head butt in stage-11 of last year's Tour de France. Against that backdrop, you might ask why this process takes two weeks—two silent weeks. Be happy there's another WCS race in two weeks. If not, it's by no means clear whether the ITU would feel any urgency to get it done that fast. This, because there's nothing in the ITU's communiqué to suggest a timeline for its process, or whether it feels time is of the essence.

We're left with the specter of unnamed fellows with whistles, stop watches and blue blazers huddling together, unengaged with the world outside of the room they're in, even as a swashbuckling mercenary hands the ITU a firecracker plotline. Love him or hate him, Les McDonald would, in the case of Dirty Harry (the Sun's headline, not ours), be more communicative, and less secretive.

Harry Wiltshire is probably guilty of some bad judgment and behavior. Still, and irrespective of the proximate cause, Olympic-style triathlon is not just good clean lads with hair above their ears engaged in wholesome sport. Now—this week at least—it's layered with intrigue and tactics and ethics and a clash of world views and people on forum boards on every continent between the 65th parallels talking about it: just the sort of stuff that causes a sport to blow sky high and catch fire.

But now spectators are focused on the ITU's performance in its decisive moment, rather than Harry's, like the 80,000 fans in the stadium sitting on their hands while those in the zebra suits huddle for minutes-on-end under an instant replay tent.

To those busy adjudicating and ruminating in that room lit by an absconce: Worry not about the appearance of appropriateness, rather focus just on appropriateness. Activate the virtues needed for the job at hand: in this case, transparency; decisiveness; judgment; competence, leadership.

Highlight in particular, between now and the announcement of your resolution: transparency, decisiveness, and leadership.