October 9, 2019

Newsletter ep. 108: everything about Kona

I thought this week we’d talk Super League and ITU and how they can work together. Kidding. Of course we’re going to talk Kona, Kona, Kona.

The arguably biggest annual week in triathlon — at least according to everyone Instagramming — is underway. With the actual big day on Saturday. So if we were riding, you can be sure that’s what we’d talk about. (Well that and the fact that extreme fire watch warnings are stopping me from actually riding right now…)


Kona: Things to Know

By the time you read this, the World Championships will be just four days away. People will be counting days in “sleeps” and posting photos of themselves in bikinis and calling it underwear. Triathlete has the details on how to watch — though the gist is: Ironman Live’s Facebook streaming with some NBC Sports coverage on the actual TV. (The fancy NBC recap show will air Nov. 30, so plan your drinking games accordingly.)

You want on-the-ground details? Ironwomen should be doing some stuff from the sidelines — though network capacity can be problematic — so I’d check their Insta and FB for anything fun.

Speaking of: Ironwomen has been making almost all of the pro women balance pineapples on their heads. So there’s that. Here’s Lucy CharlesLinsey CorbinMirinda CarfraeHeather Jackson. More and more and more. Plus, the new Fitter & Feisty show has daily gossip.

The biggest gossip everyone seems to be talking about is Faris al-Sultan not being able to attend due to his lack of a U.S. visa. Everyone keeps saying he was denied a visa — which is technically true, and is probably at least partially because of his father being Iraqi (even though Faris is German) what with the U.S.’s ridiculous entry requirements these days, and is bullshit — but it also sounds like he waited too late to apply too. So?

Men: Faris is defending champ Patrick Lange’s coach, so of course he has to pick Patrick for the win, but here’s my big prediction: Jan is going to win. Jan Frodeno is angry, hungry, been head down and getting ready. He’s going to come out swinging and I wouldn’t bet against him. I also don’t think anyone should count out Alistair Brownlee. Even if it is his first Kona, he’s scrappier and grittier than most. I actually don’t think Patrick is going to do that well and I have zero predictions about Lionel. That’s my men’s recap.

Women: Obviously, house money is on Daniela Ryf. Odds are she’s going to win some record number of world titles this weekend. She’s hard to beat and isn’t done yet. But there are some women who are clearly ready to pounce if the opportunity arises — and it might; that’s why we race. Lucy Charles looks good. I wouldn’t worry too much about Mirinda Carfrae’s arm injury. And I think Anne Haug has been quietly getting ready to unleash something. I also think Imogen Simmonds is one to watch — maybe not podium this year, but will be up-and-coming. (Plus, I think she’s secretly hilarious.)

Want more details? Torsten’s Kona report is the way to go. And if you’ve ever wondered where the past champions are now, well, the most interesting answer is: flying float planes

A different world champs

This week also wrapped up that other world championships: the track and field ones in Doha.

I know there’s been a lot of huffing about how the event was a disaster and there are no stars now and isn’t it hard to even care. But everyone I know who actually watched the races agrees: they were great races; it was really exciting.

The 400m hurdles was amazing. The women’s 1500m was nuts. The men’s shotput, randomly, was crazy. Apparently, I missed a fantastic pole vault competition too.

Maybe we should give these athletes a chance.

Should we even have an amateur ‘world championships?’

Here’s a thing, though: When you say the Track & Field World Championships, people know that you mean the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS. ie. The very best in the world, period, who have qualified to compete and represent their country. There is no amateur division, no age groups, no legacy slots. That’s how most world championships for most sports work. 

For one second put aside however you personally feel about Kona and think about it from outside a triathlon perspective. There’s no other sport where you qualify for a “world championships” in random age groups that are also the ages of the actual pros. Isn’t it a little weird to race to be the fourth-best 30-34-year-old in the world — except for, you know, all the 30-34-year-old pros who are better? It’s like qualifying as the best of the people who aren’t good enough.

Look, I totally get having a junior (or U25) worlds, masters, seniors, super seniors categories. But for the prime-of-life ages, what does qualifying as an amateur really mean? We all know the people qualifying for Kona between the ages of, I dunno, 26 and 40-ish train like pros, spend more money than pros, have sponsors, some could literally be pros. But instead they keep coming back to the B championship.

I know it won’t change, because there’s money to be made. And that’s another part that’s not normal: What other “world championship” is run by a for-profit company? There might be some, but it also means Ironman can institute whatever rules they want for Kona, let whoever they want race, do whatever they want.

Think about it for a second: Isn’t that a little weird? Can imagine if that’s what we had watched in Doha?


  • A bit more on the Salazar doping ban: All the details and a full timeline if you want them. I know there are a lot of people angry and suspicious and wanting all athletes associated with him banned. I know there’s a feeling of how could Salazar be banned but no athlete he doped get a ban? I get it. But I actually think we need to go after the coaches and the doctors and the systems that put athletes in these positions even more than we need to go after the athletes. Without investigations like this, we’ll never bring down the overall structure of the problem. (ProPublica/Runner’s World/The Guardian)
  • The cost of doping is very real. Literally. In terms of dollars for those who were cheated out of their medals. (Women’s Running)
  • People who wanna cheat, though, gonna cheat. British Cycling strips Zwift winner of title(DC Rainmaker)
  • If you just want to be like ‘wtf is wrong with everyone,’ then have I got a story for you: This women’s swim team was harassed by the men’s team so harshly one of them wanted to commit suicide, and the university knew and did nothing. Told them to grow a thicker skin. (The Lily)
  • Also: This essay by a woman in Iran about not being legally allowed to ride a bike. It made me so angry for every time we trot out the first woman from ‘x’ country to participate in a sport where there are, undoubtedly, countless women in that country who would love to participate. We can do better. (CyclingTips)
  • I don’t super follow this kind of gear news, but I do follow it more than the mechanic at the bike shop thinks when he condescendingly explains basic things to me: Wahoo is buying Speedplay, which is interesting because they may be getting into the pedal game. This is all related to the growth of the virtual/indoor market — which I’m also not super into, but it’s a thing. (DC Rainmaker)
  • Also, there are more lawsuits against Peloton for stealing music, which I think is hilarious. (The Verge)
  • And I was glad to see some national reputable publications finally getting on board with my healthy frozen meals for all meals all the time plan(Outside)


Thoughts & comments

– Is physical training or mental training more important? I say physical; Sara says mental. Is the mental peak “the secret sauce?”

– Apparently Julie joins Sara in just walking around the house sports bras. Maybe they don’t have tanktops in Canada.

– And, Alex wanted to know if there’s one master list of all the races. No, there’s not. But I think it’s actually a really important thing for the smaller races — some kind of way to find all the races and know which ones are the good ones.


‘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 Oct. 9, 2019.

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