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Andrew Messick Talks Ironman Swim Changes

May 16th, 2013

With a raft of proposed rule changes to the swim start of five Ironman races later this year, CEO of World Triathlon Corporation, Andrew Messick, has been explaining what this will all mean for the future of Ironman.

Named the most influential person of 2012 by Inside Triathlon, Messick has grabbed headlines by barring Lance Armstrong from competing in Ironman tournaments due to the ongoing doping allegations against him. Since assuming the position of CEO in 2011, the former triathlete has been on a mission to turn Ironman into a global sport. On Friday, The WTC made an announcement about a new “SwimSmart” initiative that will drastically change the way some Ironman athletes compete in the 2.3 mile swim section of the event, and before long the idea of a mass start could be extinct all together.

The new Ironman swim changes were conceived as a result of the fear that comes with the Ironman mass starts in the open-water swim. “The primary barrier for triathletes participating is the swim,” Messick said in a phone call on the day of the announcement. “We also know that among triathletes the largest stressor is the swim. It is the area that provokes the most discomfort; it’s the area that athletes worry the most about. It’s also where training is the most dissimilar from racing. The run portion of an Ironman or a triathlon isn’t particularly different from going out for a run. The cycling portion isn’t that different from going out for a ride. Yet the swimming portion is all together different from going to the YMCA and swimming 3,000 meters.”

One of the most controversial announced changes to Ironman in recent years will be the modification or removal of the mass start at certain North American Ironman events. Ironman Coeur d’Alene and Ironman Lake Placid will switch to a “rolling” start, where athletes will cross a timing mat as a continuous stream, similar to how running races begin. Ironman Mont-Tremblant will switch to a wave start based on age groups, which is how many triathlons start. Finally, Ironman Lake Tahoe and Ironman Florida will still feature a mass start, but with athletes self-seeding themselves into corrals before the race. Other Ironman events such as Texas, Louisville and Arizona will stick to their traditional starts for now.

The North American events will be test beds for various approaches in solving the issue of mass starts. “We want to put ourselves in a position where we’re trying different things,” Messick explained. “We haven’t decided what we think the right answer is, or if there is a single right answer. We have some races that are unchanged, we have some races that are very slightly modified mass starts and we’ve got a number of other races where we’ve changed the start point and that really is intentionally designed so that at the end of the year we’ve got the ability to sit down and look at the feedback from our athletes and talk to our operational team and decide what we think is best.”

One of the other controversial changes to Ironman events will be the addition of anchored resting rafts to allow swimmers to take breaks. In another example of going against the grain, Messick took aim at the traditional belief that taking a rest was wrong. “I think it is an important symbolic point that it’s perfectly OK for an athlete during the run to sit down on a curb and spend five minutes at an aid station drinking water,” he says. “It’s perfectly OK for athletes to get off the bike at special needs or at an aid station and rest and yet during the part of the race where there’s the most anxiety, culturally, there is a belief among age-group athletes that they can’t stop. That stopping, holding onto a kayak or holding onto a raft is grounds for a DQ. That is wrong, but it’s a widely held belief. Part of what we want to do is through education and strong symbolic showings is reinforce to our athletes that if you need to stop and rest, stop and rest. Get out of the flow of athletes so you don’t have athletes swimming over you. It’s perfectly acceptable on the bike and the run to do that, yet for reasons we don’t fully understand culturally it doesn’t seem to be on the swim and we don’t understand why that is. We don’t think it’s appropriate.”

A lot of reaction from Ironman athletes will be that the iconic races will be “softened”. Messick countered the sentiment, stating, “The swim is still 2.4 miles, the bike is still 112, the run is still 26.2, and so I don’t know how that softens it,” he remarked. The next few North American Ironman events will no doubt provide interesting viewing, with one eye on the racing itself, and the other on the future of Ironman.

How do you think this will affect future Ironman events? Will these changes see more athletes attempting and finishing their races? Let us know what you think of the latest changes to Ironman events in the comments below.

This post was sourced from an article by Triathlete Europe. The original article can be found here.



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