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.


Coach Mike said...

Brad - Your college buddy is correct, but there's a couple of footnotes to be placed within his statement, IMHO.

People take up triathlon to lose their fear (swimming/failure, for me) and to quit looking at participatory sport from a parochial POV (i.e., "If you aren't a runner, you snck.").

(oh, BTW - My wife and I have already planned to turn our two grandchildren into tri-geeks before their mother & father can turn them into musicians & actors...)

Brad Culp said...


That's a fine idea. There are too many bad musicians and actors and not enough good triathletes. I'll have my kid doing brick workouts before he can walk.

Chris said...

Brad - You are funny. I always enjoy reading your blog. Now keep updating it during the off season. Wait - why are you writing about triathletes? You are supposed to be retired and now a runner. How is that going for you by the way?

Coach Mike said...

Brad - isn't that the truth. Of course, the bad musicians/actors are making more coin than the good ;)

And don't tell me you're really going to be strictly a runner...

Gordon said...

Hey, I read your blog! Brad, as a parent of 13 and 11-year-old boys who are huge jocks, I can tell you my strategy, and it is a nice refutation to your facebook pal.

In addition to all the baseball and basketball they're signed up for, we add in liberal doses of surfing, mountain biking and even trail running. The goal? Give them activities they can enjoy past college and into adulthood.

ndtriguy said...

Great post Brad, very thoughtful. One of the more pressing issues with the sport is proper media exposure on TV. With the exception of NBC yearly coverage, no event gets much in the US, therefore no heroes are made, nobody sponsored by Gatorade and Nike and thus few parents signing their kids up for races. I chose the sport to give me a way to set athletic goals past the age of 30. Its the only sport I know of that makes that happens. Great blog.