Cait's Blog

The Definition of Insanity


Yesterday at Ironman Texas – the North American Ironman Championship – records were broken. It seems like records are broken all the time in this sport, and as the saying goes, that’s why records exist.

Andy Starykowicz rode 112 miles in 4:01:15, smashing the Ironman bike record. Matt Hansen won the race in 7:52:44, setting a new American record for an Ironman finish time.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to take Ironman’s word for it because there is no video of the race. Now to be precise, there is video of Matt Hansen coming out of the water (although the apparently unmanned camera was mounted on a tripod facing the sun, so you mostly saw silhouettes of athletes). There is video of Hansen coming into T2 and of him crossing the finish line. But how he won in record-breaking time will remain a mystery to anyone who wasn’t on the course. Likewise, as Starykowicz powered his bike at the front of the race at nearly 28 miles an hour - 8 months after he was hit by a van and dragged under it during a training ride - Ironman had no camera to broadcast the amazing feat to their loyal following.

Unfortunately, fans of Ironman have been dealing with the lack of coverage of our sport for years and despite universal complaints about the amount of work it takes to follow the races, Ironman shows no signs of ever improving coverage.

"Right now you can watch people playing a soccer video game on ESPN. But I couldn't watch Ironman Texas on my computer this morning."   – Brad Culp via Twitter

For football fans, yesterday’s coverage was the equivalent of having Tom Brady set the all-time passing record while having the camera focused on the players leaving the locker room for the entire coverage of the game!

Imagine Isaiah Thomas breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s long-standing single game scoring record with no camera to witness the event.

Golf Central broadcasts ‘live from the masters with more than 85 hours of news, features & masters-themed programming’ on a specific golf channel just in case a 16-year old caddy out-putts Jordan Speith. Fans will see it live - just like being there!

When Joey Chestnut was defeated by 22-year old Matt Stonie at The Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest in Coney Island, New York, in 2015, the event was recorded and broadcast by EPSN.

I have no illusions about Ironman ever being as popular as American football, baseball, basketball or hockey. It’s not Nascar, horse racing, or soccer. We aren’t asking for prime-time coverage on network TV. But how about relocating the camera every now and then? Drones? Go-pros on a couple of motorcyles? I’m no expert, but it seems like we have the technology.

At the 1936 Olympics, 56 athletes toed the starting line inside the Olympiastadion in Berlin. After one lap around the track, the athletes left the stadium through the Marathon Gate to run through the streets of Berlin before returning to the Olympic stadium where they ran for 150 meters to the finish line. Did the cameraman halt at the Marathon Gate after the first lap saying to fans, “see you in 4 hours”? Nope. The camera follows the athletes throughout the course of the marathon. In 1936!

I realize I am part of the problem. I have been coaching triathletes for 20 years and my daughter is a pro. As much as any Ironman fan I have a great interest in following any race that I can’t attend in person. Strike that – not following, but watching. To those of us who love this sport, Triathlon is very exciting to watch – even at the Iron distance. You get that, don’t you, Ironman Executives?

I was in Chattanooga when in the final meters of the race, the spectators at the 2015 Ironman were treated to a photo finish, with the top three athletes completing the 140.6-mile race within seconds of one another before collapsing from exhaustion. But I guess you had to be there, because even if you happened to have your computer opened to Ironmanlive as this was unfolding, the pixelated shot taken by the fix-mounted video camera at the finish line doesn’t do the battle justice.

Ever since “Ironman Live” first made its debut and promised fans coverage of its branded races, I have been imagining turning on a channel where all the action is captured as it unfolds. Instead, I go to a website, click on ‘live coverage’ and wait patiently watching the feed from a camera mounted at the finish of the swim with a countdown clock letting me know that I might see something in an hour or so. The mic is left open and you can hear the idle banter from random spectators and crew. This passes for live coverage.

"#IMTexas 'course on private toll roads Ironman will pay $135,000 to use' But no money left for live race day coverage?!"   - Thorsten Radde via Twitter

Then, once the camera goes live, we are treated to hours of watching age-group athletes struggle out of their wetsuits while the rest of the race is unfolding miles away on the bike course. Fans of the sport then do the heavy lifting by following Tweets from spectators who are following family members, hoping to piece together enough information to get a picture of the race, or clicking on ‘athlete tracker’, to see when athletes cross various check-points. But athlete tracker has serious limitations, such as showing an entire division of athletes in order of when they came out of the swim HOURS earlier, rather than where they are in the race now. And ultimately – inexplicably – athlete tracker STOPS TRACKING ATHLETES roughly around the time the top-10 female pros finish, so you may actually get a phone call from your athlete after they’ve completed the race, while the tracker still shows them at mile 15 of the run course!

I realize my opinion is just that, and it is highly possible that I don’t know enough about the logistics of filming and broadcasting an event of this magnitude to understand the pitfalls and limitations. Please enlighten me. If I am wrong about the level of interest in live coverage, I’ll stand corrected. Until then, I remain ever hopeful …..

(Thank you to Mike Lamie for providing all the non-Ironman sports examples for this piece)

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