Ironman CEO Andrew Messick is categorical: “The race course has to be safe for everybody, not just people who are young and strong.” Ironman has its critics on many issues, but Messick knows this stance cannot easily be challenged. Whether it’s rough seas, blue-green algae, cold water, hot weather, flooding, landslides, bush fires or sharks, you name it, we’ve had it in triathlon in the past few years.
Nobody wants to see a sporting event end in tragedy, but neither do triathletes want to spend hundreds of pounds on a race and have part or all of it cancelled, as has been happening with increasing frequency. It can’t all be blamed on Mother Nature either. The climate might be changing, but so are attitudes to risk – predicated on an increasing blame culture – that means erring on the side of caution like never before. Competitors often sacrifice their entry fees due to hardline ‘no refund’ policies because organisers’ costs are already sunk, and everyone is left feeling compromised and underwhelmed.
There is a paradox here, though. Ironman is billed as the hardest one-day event on the planet, yet its owners preside over a finance-driven model which demands as many bodies on the start-line as possible, regardless of athletic competence.
The aspirational marketing that claims ‘Anything Is Possible’ for anyone has a flipside – it downplays the challenge. Not in the surface level hype or in the small print of the disclaimers, but in decisions on race day, where the novice who might rarely leave the pool, now encounters the swell of a sea swim, and the race director isn’t confident to proceed.