PERSPECTIVE, with Tony O’Keeffe

Records matter. Who doesn’t respect the club-level, local, regional and world records set in sport? Record setting performances expand our perceptions on what is possible in the pursuit of excellence. Higher, faster, stronger – these are the Olympic standards that inspire self-improvement in athletics, at any level. Records should require no explanation. Records speak for themselves. Setting a world record is a very rare thing.

New world records for Ironman

Both men’s and women’s world records for Ironman-branded finishing times were recently set at the Ironman North American Championships in Woodlands, Texas. Melissa Hauschild’s 8:31:05 and Matt Hanson’s 7:39:25 are the new Ironman world record* times. The asterisk underpins the less-than-Ironman standard conditions under which these records were set. The bike course was shortened for athletes’ safety. And race officials were removed from the bike course to reduce congestion. This created rampant drafting resulting in much faster times across the board. To get an idea, just compare male bike times by age group at Woodlands, 2017 and 2018 on

The Woodlands Texas race

Ironman’s North American Championships should be the marquee Ironman-branded event on this continent. The leadership, planning and contingency operations must be top notch. But the venue in Woodlands, Texas, has been plagued by bad luck, last minute crisis management and uncoordinated decision making. In 2016, the bike course did not receive city approvals so was shortened to 94 miles. And a severe weather storm came through the area, which temporarily shut down the race during the latter part of the run. I was at that race; it was a dog’s breakfast for age groupers seeking Kona qualifications. 2017’s race was almost cancelled. And 2018’s shortened race course was marred by flagrant drafting. Shit happens, and we move on. However, the organizational leadership for a regional championship has got to improve.

Decision making

Ironman’s Facebook page contained the following post on race day afternoon: “Earlier this morning, Ironman made the decision to cut a portion of the bike course, reducing the distance from the standard 112 miles to approximately 110 miles. This decision was made in the interest of athletes’ safety. Because of the shortened distance, no course records will be recognized.”

Because of the drafting, this was the only viable ruling. No records. Variables such as terrain, weather, competition and luck will impact outcomes – that’s the nature of the sport. But Ironman distances are standardized. And so are Ironman rules on non-drafting. Ironman’s reversal, 24 hours later, to allow these records to stand is curious. Full disclosure; I reached out to Ironman North America’s operations for comment – so far, no reply. To recognize bike times on a compromised race course as world records is a challenge to the sports history, as well as its integrity.

Bringing it home

Race directing is a tough job, and we are lucky to have as high a standard as we do, especially within IMMT events in Tremblant. There is much to learn from the mistakes made in Woodlands. If you have ever done an Ironman-branded race, you have been very likely guilty of drafting. During one such event, a friend, who identifies as a back-of-the-pack recreational athlete, got a drafting penalty. “Imagine that,” she gasped, “me getting a penalty for drafting!” Well yes, I can. And not because she intended to draft. Somewhere out on the bike course, most triathletes mentally tune out – and inadvertently violate the draft zone. Athletes play a crucial role in upholding non-drafting. Pro tip: be aware of the rules on drafting and be seen observing the legal distances at all times. The Tremblant bike course features many opportunities to break up the pack. But it is on you and me, as athletes, to understand and observe the draft zone and more importantly, the rules on passing. The credibility of IMMT relies on athletes’ behavior.

Tony O'Keeffe39 Posts

Tony O’Keeffe a réalisé son lot de défis sportifs. Détenteur des titres de champion du monde dans sa catégorie d’âge du Ironman 70.3 et du Ultraman Kona Hawaï, il a complété plus de 30 Ironman avec multiples podiums et six premières places dans sa catégorie d’âge, neuf Championnats du monde Ultraman en plus de trois RAAM (Race Across America). / Tony O’Keeffe has succeeded at more than his share of sports challenges. Holder of World Championship titles for his age category in Ironman 70.3 and Ultraman Kona Hawaii, he has completed more than 30 Ironman events with multiple podium finishes and six first places in his age category, nine World Ultraman Championships as well as three RAAM (Race Across America) events.

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