Lots of people know only of only one triathlon event by name: Ironman. But the Ironman 70.3 — half the distance of the more familiar, grueling Ironman’s 140.6 miles — is gaining popularity. And exciting new changes are afoot. Starting in 2017, the World Championships will split into an event held over two days. See this report and this report.
Day one will be the women’s race, day two will be the men’s.
The reason for this change is to accommodate more athletes and, in particular, to enable gender parity with respect to the number of athletes who can compete. Andrew Messick, CEO of Ironman, said:
With the global explosion of Ironman 70.3 races, we expect approximately 4,500 athletes from around the world to qualify for the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, which is too many for a single day of racing. We are focused on providing more opportunities for women to race with us globally and, after consulting with members of our Women For Tri Board, felt that having a separate race for female professional and age group athletes would be a strong step forward for our sport.
The move has been well-received by professional triathletes. Heather Wurtele, 6-time Ironman Champion and 11-time 70.3 champion, likes the way the change will highlight the women’s event. She and her husband, Trevor, have both dedicated themselves to Ironman competition, and she says, “I’m sure that plenty of triathlon couples will be stoked to be able to cheer each other on too.”
Sarah Gross is a professional triathlete and president of TriEqual, an independent group seeking equality in triathlon. She too comments on the virtue of this plan for showcasing the women’s event. She also thinks it’s an opportunity for Ironman to offer an equal number of professional spots to women as to men (something that hasn’t happened in the past).
“I love this initiative because it creates an opportunity to showcase the women’s race in its own right, at both the age group and professional level. I hope that Messick and the Women for Tri Board will also see this as an opportunity to offer equal slots for men and women, since the venue will allow for that [Ironman currently offers 50 slots for men and 35 slots for women at the 70.3 World Championships]. This could be great news for women in triathlon.
It’ll be interesting to see whether this move has the positive impact on women in the sport that everyone is hoping for. I feel like it’s a good news story. Too often, women’s sports are not as valued as men’s sports. But with a special day dedicated to the women’s event, the 70.3 world championship in 2017 will be able to accommodate more women competitors and will allow the women to shine brightly on the day of their race.
Not only that, it will provide the professional women with the same “clean” course–fair and unobstructed–that professional men have the privilege of competing on. This is one of the issues TriEqual has taken on, advocating for changes to the start of races. They suggest a 10-minute gap between the professional men and the professional women, then a 25-minute gap before the age-group competitors (based on full distance IRONMAN–gap times are adjusted for the 70.3).
Splitting the event into two days, with women on one day and men on the other, will address this issue completely.