The weekend I raced Roth my mum was worried because she’d looked up the tracker and couldn’t find me. She’d searched for European Championships and had found Ironman Germany whereas I was at the “official” European Championships – the ETU ones at Challenge Roth.
It made me smile during my stay in Roth to see all the publicity stating it was the “Official European Championships” and I would agree it was. Though there were some comments ahead of time about how it was going to work out I feel it worked well and certainly was far more competitive than the last time I raced the ETU Long Course.
What makes it official? I don’t know the real reason but in my book there a couple of key things.
Firstly it was sanctioned by the ETU our governing body and quite importantly a body running things in the interest of the athletes and not for the profits of shareholders.
Secondly, it’s official because each country can send it’s own athletes under whatever selection process they chose (I know that for Roth due to the lateness this wasn’t strictly true but I hope for next year this will be sorted). This is in stark contrast to the Ironman European Championship, which is a championship for those people that managed to enter within the tiny window of opportunity after entries opened. This means it’s unlikely to ever be a competition between the best in Europe.
It’s always slightly irked me when events are called “World Championships” when they really aren’t. It’s a very American trait that makes it no surprise when the Ironman Series final is called the World Championships. I can make myself smile by just imagining my local 10k being rebranded “The Taunton 10k World Championship”. In terms of competition it is clearly the most competitive long course event and is thus the de facto world championships. However, could this challenged? For instance, if a massive prize purse was put on an event that clashed with Kona would Kona really be viewed as a The World Championships if all the best athletes went elsewhere.
I love Kona. I want to return as it is an amazing race and whether it’s “The World Championship” or not I would still desperately try to qualify and go. By qualifying through races rather than by national selection it, in theory, can be more competitive since if the top 50 are from one country they could all be racing however the bias on entry slots certainly gives it a massive American slant.
I’ve regularly wondered about Roth becoming the Challenge Series final and whether it would challenge Kona. It’s an iconic race and now having done both it does just not quite match Kona. The crowds are better, the organisation is on a par but it’s not as international and there’s not that big build up you get at Kona with lots of athletes arriving two weeks ahead.
There’s also the unique timing of Kona being between the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere season. It doesn’t really clash with other Ironman races allowing for a natural qualifying cycle. Looking at the idea of Roth being similar you immediately see problems for someone wanting to race it seriously each year. Choosing a qualifying race that doesn’t clash with Roth would be a challenge. This was demonstrated when I won a slot for Roth at Wanaka in 2011 – I couldn’t take it and I knew several others that couldn’t either since it clashed with other races already entered.
Having a challenge event as the ETU champs seems like a great move by both Challenge and the ETU. It gives Challenge a way to have a genuine Championship race with the need to sort out the qualification process and helps the ETU finally have a properly competitive long course race.
So what next? I hope the next stage will be that the ITU World Long Course Championship moves to Iron distance and perhaps gets slotted in as a Challenge event. Even better would be if they just chose a different each year and then once in a while the ITU run their World Championships at Kona!