Sunday, November 9, 2008

Triathlon is a Sport of Losers and Quitters

"Triathlon is a sport of losers and quitters". Those aren't my words. A college buddy of mine -- and one of the only people who reads this blog -- said that to me a while back. Actually, he sent it to me in a Facebook note, but I still got the point.

As someone who makes their living off of multisport, you may think I had a problem with his remark, but I could see what he was getting at. Triathlon is largely a participatory sport. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's one of the great things about this sport. It's not exclusive. We're not elitists (for the most part).

All that being said, triathlon is a bit of a fall-back sport. No one wants to be a great triathlete when they're 11-years old. Go to your local track or pool and you'll see dozens of young kids damn-near killing themselves to be the next Ryan Hall or Michael Phelps. It's only once they realize that winning eight gold medals ain't so easy that they think, "Mmmmm. Maybe I should give triathlon I try. I already know how to do A and B, now I just need to learn how to do C."

It's cool, but it also sucks. The means by which people gravitate toward our sport is somewhat different from others (recreational cycling and marathoning excluded). Kids aren't groomed to be triathletes; they're groomed to be kick ass runners and swimmers (and more rarely, cyclists).

A few months ago I was in Clermont, Fla., working on a travel story. I met with Alec Rukosuev, who is the head swim coach at the National Training Center in Clermont. As the -ev suffix in his last name implies, he originally hails from Russia. He, and many of his cohorts, grew up as triathletes. It's not entirely uncommon for kids in Europe and Oceania to do this, and consequently, it's not entirely uncommon for athletes from Europe and Oceania to smoke Americans at races around the globe.

So, if you're a parent, think about signing your kid up for an IronKid instead of Pee Wee football team. If the kid likes it, he or she might win Kona one day. If they don't like it, buy them the damn football pads and stop taking my advice.