The Melbourne Ironman, or more properly the URBAN Hotel Group IRONMAN® Asia-Pacific Championship Melbourne, was held in difficult conditions yesterday which bought out the best and the worst in the athletes that take on one of the toughest sporting challenges.
Strong winds and choppy seas meant that the organisers altered the swim course the day before the event, and then on the morning of the race made the decision to alter it again, halving the swim distance, apparently after some competitors complained that conditions were going to be too tough.
As one participant was heard to say “This is called Ironman, not Soft Princess, they just need to harden the F*** up.”
And the decision raised a number of deeper issues about our approach to sport. On the one hand, encouraging mass participation is good, because it gets our ever more sedentary population off the sofa and into action. On the other hand, the new approach that we are all winners and that we must be as inclusive as possible at all times also means that extreme sports lose their raison d’etre.
Ironman was an event conceived in a moment of testosterone filled madness, based on a do or die gladiatorial notion of finding out who was the best athlete among the swimmers, runners and cyclists.
To do this, gruelling tests from each discipline – a 3.8km swim; a 180km bike race; and a full marathon, all 42.2kms of it – were all thrown together to make an event that would sort the men from the boys. (Gender issues in Ironman, for there are no Ironwomen, only female Ironmen, is another topic altogether).
So the question has to be raised, if you know you are not physically or mentally capable of completing the Ironman in variable conditions, whether it is the blistering heat and wind of Kona or the choppy seas of Frankston, can you reasonably expect the race parameters to be changed when there are so many other events of varying degrees of challenge that you could tackle?
The other issue that came up yesterday, and which has been hot news lately, is cheating. Not drug cheats, in this case, but people who see a chance to cut the course short and get an advantage over their fellow competitors.
The weather conditions and confusion over the final route of the swim course meant that the 2000+ competitors took a variety of routes, seemingly choosing to ignore buoys and swim anywhere from 900-1900 metres.
The charitable approach is to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that people probably couldn’t see the buoys marking the correct course or simply followed the person in front of them thinking they knew what they were doing.
There was a lot at stake in the Melbourne Ironman, with 100 qualifying places available for the Kona, Hawaii, event, the holy grail of triathletes. Perhaps the lure of this prize caused people to momentarily forget the code of good sportsmanship, rather than a general decline in honesty and integrity.
After all, competing in an event like an Ironman is about getting to the core of your character and really finding out what you are made of, so surely to deliberately cheat would make the glory that comes with becoming an Ironman worthless?
To read more about the pro race, and to see results, check out the official website.