If We Were Riding’ is a weekly triathlon-ish newsletter written by Kelly O’Mara and produced by Live Feisty Media. Subscribe to get it in your inbox every Wednesday morning. You can also read past issues. This episode is from April 3, 2019.

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It’s officially race season again. At least here in the U.S. And if you’re going to be at Oceanside this weekend too, say hi. I’ll be at the Smashfest Queen warehouse sale on Friday and ideally less than 30 minutes behind Daniela on Saturday. If you see me on course, yell something at me that makes me laugh. Because this is what we do for fun.

Who are the biggest stars?

I’ve been thinking about who are the biggest stars in triathlon. Being a star doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best or have the most results (though often it correlates). And it doesn’t necessarily mean I like them the most — some people who are my favorites aren’t as big as I feel like they should be. Being a star is more a subjective denotation of power, prestige. Who is the biggest deal and can command the most attention. Who, when see them on the start list of a race, makes you go, ‘Oh, shit.’

Obviously, my list is 100% completely objective and accurate. I never make mistakes or miss people. And I don’t expect that anyone will have any other opinions or arguments…

1. Daniela Ryf – IMO, Daniela is *the* biggest star in the sport. End of discussion.
2. Jan Frodeno – Obviously, he’s a multi-time world champion and gold medalist, across distances. He’s charismatic and fun and every time people think he’s washed up, he’s not.
3. Lucy Charles – This may be my first controversial pick, but I’m saying, in terms of how much people care and how much they want to follow her, she’s bigger than Patrick.
4. Patrick Lange – Honestly, I think he just doesn’t have the appeal in the U.S. Yes, he’s a two-time Kona winner and I know he’s big in Europe, but I’m simply less excited.
5. Javi Gomez – He’s Javi, guys. The only thing he ever done wrong was not dominate Kona in his first try.

Then I think you gotta go with Gwen Jorgensen and Chrissie Wellington still, even though they’re both actually out of the sport, but that raises the question of if we’re going to include legends. Dave ScottMark AllenCraig AlexanderMacca?

OK, after those top five, I think the ranking becomes a little less clear, but in the next tier, still in the top 10 in the world are:

– Mirinda Carfrae – She’s still a massive deal and hugely loved.
– Holly Lawrence – Wildly popular, and the year of no losses was unprecedented. Made her a star.
– Andy Potts – Old guard, sure, but a classic and a name that opens doors.
– Yeah, OK, I know everyone loves Lionel Sanders. He’s easy to love.
– The Brownlees (Alistair and Jonathan) – Yes, we tend to forget about them when it’s not the Olympics, but they’re so insanely good.
– Flora Duffy – Last year, she looked poised to become the next huge star of ITU and if you’ve seen the video of the crowds going nuts during her win in Bermuda, it’s hard to argue she’s not already a star. Been working through some injuries, but still.
– I’d probably include Tim O’Donnell here too, though his star power is upped by being married to Mirinda.

When we get to the next tier of stars, I immediately can think of a dozen women who should be included, but not as many men. It’s hard to say if that’s just because I care about the women’s race more or if it’s because the women are simply a bigger deal at this level.

I think you’d probably include:
– Jesse Thomas — though he seems to be on the verge of retirement?
– Tim Don (especially after his comeback)
– Starky has his fans of course
– Ben Hoffman
 Sebastian Kienle
– And then potentially Mario Mola or Eric Lagerstrom — though it’s a bit hard to say, because you get into questions of geography and appeal in the U.S. v. Europe, etc.

But really for me, it’s all about:
– Meredith Kessler is one-of-a-kind, beloved, and really fucking good
– Linsey Corbin obviously
– Katie Zaferes
– The Sarahs (Piampiano, True, Crowley)
– Both Heathers (Jackson and Wurtele probably)
– Ashleigh Gentle
– Lauren Brandon
– All the Australian Emmas
– Caroline Steffen — I think if you have your own Xena nickname, you’re probably automatically on the star list.

And then there are some interesting up-and-comers — some of the Super League stars could cross over, there are a few younger American ITU girls who could go big, I think Chelsea Sodaro could end up being huge, and Anne Haug has the credentials to turn into a mega-star. We’ll see.

OK. Now tell me why I’m wrong and who I missed. And I’m sure we will discuss on the podcast on Friday and Sara will tell me her list.

A business proposition

Speaking of using your star power. Lucy Charles (and her husband/coach) launched an online swim training program this week. It looks like it’s a six-week course for $90. That was followed by Sarah True (and her husband/pro runner) launching a run training course. They all appear to be in coordination with Triathlon Taren, who I don’t totally get, and I have to assume he takes a cut. I don’t know, then, what the pros are being paid or if they’re getting licensing fees. The two other courses include Cam Wurf on cycling and Tim O. & Rinny on strength. Is this the new having a Youtube channel? I think it’s a smart business move, in terms of diversification of income streams, and it seems like a relatively low time commitment, potentially, for their pay-off. But I’d really like to see the business plan on these things. Relatedly, Tim O. & Rinny are also leading a travel tour in coordination with Challenge Prague. And Linsey launched a food company (?). #gottagetpaid

And a thought about exclusivity

This weekend there were two events both much beloved and previously under-the-radar but now very trendy: The Barkley Marathon and The Speed Project. (Barkley had no finishers again this year, though you could follow along on Twitter. And the 340-mile Speed Project from LA to Vegas had a new women’s record and a new overall record.)

Though the two events are wildly different, part of the appeal of both is in how hard they are to get into, how off-the-beaten-path and quirky. Barkley involves, I don’t even know, some whole thing where you have to find out the rules to enter from someone who’s already been there and then follow them on some specific day and then be selected by Laz. Or something. I think TSP just requires you to, like, convince Nils you’re cool?

I get it. I do. We want to do something that’s not easy, that takes more work than just clicking ‘register’ on our computers. We want to return to the original spirit of adventure, whatever that mean, by crafting unique experiences that defy conventional “race” structures. Knowing where the aid stations are makes even an Ironman, in some ways, too simple. And I am not hating on the life-changing experiences people have at these things.

But here’s the catch: By definition, exclusivity excludes. What about all the people who don’t know anyone who knows anyone who’s done Barkley? Maybe one of those people would be great at it. Maybe they’ll never know and we’ll never know what we missed. I think it’s no accident the interest in these types of unsanctioned adventure events is on the rise. (Across all sports — just look at the growth of backcountry skiing too.) They are, in essence, a response to the increase in accessibility of the things that came before them. It’s almost like we opened the doors to the clubhouse and it got so crowded that some people needed to go build their own clubhouse. I get it. I do. I also am getting tired of this increasingly shiny and crowded clubhouse. And a huge part of me wants to do both these events and all kinds of other crazy things too, but part of me wants nothing to do with anything that involves a bouncer.

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  • The Cross Country World Champs were this past weekend too. (When my husband walked into the living room while I was watching on NBC Sports, he went, ‘Why is cross country on TV?!’) The course was brutal. The American women didn’t do as well as hoped — Steph Bruce was best in 33rdHellen Obiri’s win was dominating. But I’m really just here for the random elite runner LetsRun.com paid to fly to Denmark. (FloTrack/Instagram/LetsRun)
  • USA Triathlon’s Collegiate Nationals is coming up this Friday and Saturday. May you only hit your enemies during the swim, and may all the beer be drunk after the finish line. (USAT)
  • It is, evidently, equal pay day as I write this. Clif has stepped up to cover the cost of the difference between what the U.S. women’s soccer team makes and what the men’s team makes. Which is cool. But also, why should they have to? And what’s the plan for U.S. Soccer after that? (USA Today)
  • USA Triathlon also launched a women’s website this week. I appreciate the effort, but, well, you know. (USAT)
  • Slowtwitch thinks maybe 70.3s are gonna catch on. Who knew. (Slowtwitch) 
  • Challenge Daytona is going to stick with the accidentally awesome pro race we got to do in the storm last year — all inside the Daytona track. You can still listen to December’s craziness on the podcast(Instagram/Soundcloud)
  • Or, you know, just do a race virtually. Which is on the rise(New York Times)
  • I feel, though, like a virtual race won’t give you the full experience of this insane ice marathon across Lake Baikal(New York Times)
  • As more women are traveling on their own, the reality can be different from Instagram(New York Times)
  • If somehow you didn’t read Lauren Fleshman’s ode to her sandbagging self, which is making the rounds, it’s worth a read. And it makes it clear why her book will be hotly anticipated. (Oiselle)
  • I actually did miss Lisa Roberts’ story about why she doesn’t dive and how she had to convince herself to for Taiwan 70.3. Also totally worth a read/watch(Instagram)
  • Brenda Martinez is hosting her training camp for girls in Big Bear again. And it’s free for those who earn a spot. (Instagram)
  • The superbloom is causing a lot of problems for small towns overrun by Instagram influencers. Please don’t land your helicopter on the flowers(New York Times/Outside)
  • This was just the weirdest thing I read this week. Which has nothing to do with sports. (Vanity Fair)

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Comments & thoughts

Some thoughts, emails, messages and notes from listeners and readers this week.

– There were some requests to explain the “sternum rule” last week, so we devoted a whole section of the podcast to it.

– There were also a few suggestions about books to read: Lisa Bentley’s, Mike Reilly’s new book. And one request for me to write a book on triathlon legends.

– Bri thinks the newsletter doesn’t need to be “more” triathlon-y, which will come as a relief to some of you.

– And Karin said, “This was a great podcast episode!”

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