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 July 10, 2019.

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As I type this, I’ve now been awake for about 26 hours worth of traveling home from Australia. So I apologize in advance if I make no sense. And promise to be back to your regularly scheduled comprehensible programming next week. We will also be taking two more weeks off of the podcast—this Friday and next—to wrap up summer vacation. Hope everyone is having as, uh, restful a vacation as I am.

Unflappable. Unapologetic. Unequal.

I am not the only one who’s been weirdly obsessed with the USWNT’s Instagram photos throughout their World Cup run. The photos of their celebrationsTheir gritTheir partiesTheir hugsOhthe hugs.

This is not the first Women’s World Cup I’ve watched. I’ve watched pretty much all of them. In 2015, I went to the final. I saw the U.S. end their World Cup drought in person. It was a crazy game in the smoke that covered Vancouver then, four years ago. People yelled and cheered and screamed and loved that team.

But this one, this time, feels different. It feels more.

I think the reason the photos of the women on the team have been so mesmerizing is because we’ve been able to see female athletes in all the ways we actually know female athletes. Not just one thing, but many things. They yell at each other on the field and then they hug and scream for each other’s victories. They do weird dances during practice and goof off at the hotel, then they slide tackle and dive for the ball and get hurt and get dirty. This is a team where each of the women has enough room to be their own person, in all the complexities and weirdness and nuance that entails. Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are very different people. But it is also a team where both Megan and Alex have a place to come together and are the same together out there on the field.

It means something that Megan Rapinoe was the star of this tournament. She’s a complicated star. It means something that there are gay players and straight players, and you don’t always know and sometimes you do know, and there is room for everyone. It means something that the crowd chanted ‘equal pay‘ after the win.

Every game it felt like this team had to win to prove they were right to be themselves. They had to prove their equal pay fight was right, their advocacy was right, the way they’ve paved the path for women in other countries was right. It felt like it all meant something more than just a soccer game, which is why that Nike ad was so damn good. Because it’s never just been about soccer, but it is always ultimately about soccer.

The title of this section comes from the Sports Illustrated article: “One of the greatest sports teams of all time? Probably. The most meaningful team in history? Perhaps, considering all the things the 19ers have represented to different people. The greatest U.S. women’s soccer team ever? Oh yes, certainly.”

They may not win again in four years. They actually probably won’t, given how much is being invested in women’s soccer in Europe and how fast the rest of the world is finally catching up. There’ll be more teams in four years and more prize money. It was more competitive than ever this year and it’ll be more so in four years. This U.S. team was the best ever, had the hardest path to the final, and now they’ve built a way for others to beat them. That is their legacy. So, for now, let’s love everything about them having their moment. They earned it, on and off the field.

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Lucy v. Daniela

Lucy Charles-Barclay and Daniela Ryf both won big Ironman distance races in Europe this weekend. Which brings us back to the recurring question: Why do we almost never see these two head-to-head except at the World Championships? And are there too many races then, spreading the top talent too thin (especially at the Ironman distance now)?

Lucy won Challenge Roth in 8:31, about seven minutes ahead of Sarah Crowley. Daniela took IM Austria, which was almost definitely the smaller draw this weekend, in 8:52 and 26 minutes ahead of second. Make of that what you will.

Another thing I keep thinking about is how everyone says the racing in Europe is epic, is great, but gets ignored from the North American viewpoint. I keep wondering if the way races play out in Europe, the different strategy, is starting to come over here too. I haven’t fully formed this thought yet.

Making ITU happen

One thing Ironman and Challenge *could* do is make an agreement not to schedule the biggest races at the same time (though Ironman would also have to negotiate with themselves). It’s something Super League did with ITU, reach an understanding about scheduling, so the athletes wouldn’t be split.

The ITU WTS Hamburg race was this past weekend and Katie Zaferes crashed out. Katie’s been dominating this season and I am waiting to see her up against a healthy Flora Duffy. But the only reason I really noticed is because she noted after the crash she wanted to make sure her legs were preserved for the mixed team relay the next day. Now I’m not against mixed team relay. I did one once with the college kids; it’s fun. But every time ITU starts pumping it up again, all I can think is: Are we still trying to make this happen? Personally, I think it’d be way more fun to have a relay on the last day of the Olympics with the best athletes in each sport competing for their country — ie. the best runner, the best swimmer, the best cyclist.

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  • In Gwen news, she was both on the Morning Shakeout podcast this week talking about where she’s going with her running and how she’s recovering from surgery, and she revealed that her mother and sister will be co-writing a book called, ‘Go, Gwen, Go: A Family’s Journey to Olympic Gold.’ Which isn’t not awkward. (Morning Shakeout/Medium)
  • Amelia Boone opened up about being in treatment the last three months for disordered eating. If everyone’s stories are their own unique stories, then this one is worth reading in its own right. (Amelia Boone)
  • I know everyone’s been sharing the story of the man who was accused of cheating at the L.A. Marathon winding up dead in the river. I know everyone now is wondering if the two events are connected and if we don’t take this whole cheating-shaming thing too far. I got news for you, though, the whole public shaming of amateur athletes was always bizarre and excessive. The fact that MarathonInvestigations.com exists is bizarre and the social media comments are excessive. Yes, cheating is wrong. So is being an asshole. Let’s all chill out a little bit. (L.A. Times)
  • I actually haven’t gotten into the Tour de France yet (sorry), but here’s a history of women and the Tour(Bicycling)
  • One the proposals I’ve played with over and over in my head is a book following athletes preparing for the Olympics. Now this podcast will be doing that for the Olympic Marathon Trials(Youtube)
  • And as someone who never earned an athletic scholarship to any school I actually wanted to go to, I never realized there is often a whole performance formula to determine how much money you get each year. This thread was fascinating. (Twitter)
  • Oh, actually, two more soccer things: 1. Sue Bird’s essay on what it’s like when the President hate-tweets your girlfriend is hilariously amazing. 2. The reason we have so many good soccer players is because of public policy. Laws matter, policy matters, money matters. (Player’s Tribune/The Guardian)
  • In downer Olympic news, because it’s a week that has a day in it: There was extensive bribery in the Rio bid and the USOC chief got a $2.4 million severance — which some people don’t feel great about given some of the things he oversaw. (New York Times)
  • $2.5 million was diverted from the National Park Service — and it could have really used the money(Outside)
  • And according to this massively comprehensive list of the best books to read at every age, the book I should be reading right now is ‘Beloved.’ (Washington Post)

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Comments & thoughts

– There were a lot of thoughts about pros v. cons working out on vacation — which really sorta all came down to: maybe don’t be anal about it, but if you have to, then you do you. Though we do all agree some of the craziest adventures and memories have come from our training travel adventures.

– One reader had a particularly interesting story about meeting a parolee on a trvael run, who ran with her and then helped out with other potentially dangerous people they were passing.

– On the question of if success begets success, most of us thought it’s a matter of confidence, but Karmen pointed out, “People who are successful get sponsorship, which means they have more time to train, which means they get better.”

– And congrats to Jason, who finished Western States last weekend even though he still had 38 miles to go when the insane Jim Walmsley crossed the line.