Monday, April 2, 2012

Lance the Triathlete

(video from

While the big news in triathlon these days is the final stages of Olympic qualifying, I find the resurgence of Lance Armstrong in the triathlon world to be an equally intriguing story that will continue to develop throughout the year in his attempt to qualify for Kona as a pro.

A lot of people still don't realize that Lance started his athletic career in triathlon about 25 years ago, beating guys like Mark Allen and Mike Pigg as a teenager...

He is getting a ton of publicity at the races he has entered - some of which for his undeniably fantastic performances at age 40 in his first triathlons in 20+ years...some negative, for being the cocky jerk that he is. Don't get me wrong, I'm not jumping on the Lance hating train, he was and always will be one of my sporting heros and I credit him fully with sparking my love for cycling. But the guy is an asshole in real life (see first video).

But I think his presence in triathlon is great, even with the controversy around his apparent lack of respect for other athletes at the finish line. Triathlon used to be cool and badass. But people are realizing it really isn't that hard to train for an Ironman and it's becoming the popular thing to do. And with race directors and organizations getting cheaper and greedier, big prize money is still on the decline and along with that is a diminishing professional presence and media coverage.

While no one will admit to it, I think the majority of triathletes are just fine with triathlon being a backwater sport; a weird and "extreme" event that the average person doesn't really know much about and doesn't care to find out. It adds to the mystique and thus the percieved exclusivity and epicness that pervades the popular culture of the sport. Triathletes want to feel unique and something special for participating in their sport of choice.

It's called healthism (a term I learned from my girlfriend!) - a feeling of superiority over others for being fit and healthy. You see it everywhere in our sport - and many other sports for that matter, but I see it particularly in triathlon for the whole "we do three sports in one day" thing. And the image of the triathlete is slowly but surely transforming from geeks that aren't accepted by roadies and clearly spotted in a crowd of runners, to arrogant single-minded folks who place triathlon above all else.

The fact that Armstrong is showing up and throwing down some pretty amazing performances (though noteably NOT riding away from the upper echelon of pro men), boasting his seemingly careless and arguably disrespectful attitude towards the sport, pisses people off. It's supposed to be harder than that...he's supposed to care more.

The bottom line is he is bringing some desperately needed edge, and even more importantly media coverage, to triathlon's pro racing. He is bringing both accessibility to triathlon, as well as demonstrating that one of the best athletes in the history of sport, can't just show up and blow everyone away. Not even on the bike. Pro triathletes really are that strong.

So go ahead Lance, show up to the races and throw down with the big boys. Take the spotlight even when someone beats you. At least there is a spotlight, and people are paying attention to our sport.

And hopefully you'll sign up for St Croix and I'll get to say I Wiltshire'd my sporting hero in the pro wave swim start.

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