With many races cutting their prize purses, of late, and others becoming ‘age-group only’, the debate around ‘Do pros really matter?’ has blossomed.
It’s a valid conversation, for sure, and an important one, but before the true value of a professional triathlete can be measured, the term itself ‘professional triathlete’, must first be defined. Currently there is no true definition of what a pro is as each national federation has their own standards for obtaining a pro license.
On Friday morning, trsracing.com published an engaging piece by Kelly O’Mara. (You can read it at http://trstriathlon.com/forced-upgrades-make-the-best-amateur-triathletes-turn-pro/). O’Mara’s piece basically asked the question: should the top age group competitors be forced to turn pro?
The question gained a lot of traction on social media. It got me thinking, too, and after lots of back and forth with Triathlon Squad coach Paulo Sousa, I felt I should add my opinion to the debate and what’s more, I’d need more than 140 characters to do so!
So what follows is one pros opinion on the problem that currently exists with simply defining a ‘professional triathlete’ (and later on, my solution to this problem).
What is a pro triathlete?
A clear definition of a ‘professional triathlete’ can only help bring added value to the sport, for professionals, elites, and age groupers alike. Because right now, there’s just too much ambiguity around this term.
Is a pro triathlete somebody who makes money racing? Is it an athlete that has completed a set distance in a set time? Or is it simply somebody who owns a piece of paper that says ‘Pro Licence’ on it?
I even went and checked the dictionary, and according to Webster’s, a professional is an individual who earns their living from a specified activity.
Anyway, for the purposes of this piece, I want to use my experience with becoming a professional to show some of the flaws that exist when it comes to making this definition.
How I Became a Pro Triathlete - Take 1:
About five years ago I decided I wanted to become a pro. I’d won my age group at the national championships, I’d won some local races, and I’d found myself on the podium at some larger races. At the end of the season I decided to apply for my elite license (which confusingly is used interchangeably with a pro license).
So I submitted my resume with all my race results, and just like that, I was granted my elite license. Bingo! Did that make me a professional? At the time I thought so, but turns out it didn’t.
To be totally honest, I’m not really sure what this card does (maybe someone from Triathlon Ontario will read this and clarify?) because I’ve known athletes who have this card to race one weekend as a “pro” and the next as an “age grouper”. So it doesn’t really make sense. In fact, it’s pretty confusing.
How I Became a Pro Triathlete - Take 2:
At this point I had my elite license. I was happy. I was good to go. I signed up for my first pro race, Rev3 Knoxville.
A few weeks leading into the race I’m looking around online and I come across the Triathlon Canada International Competition Card (ICC). Hmmm, I say. I wonder what’s this?
I dig around some more and suddenly discover that THIS is actually what you need to race as a professional (I’m still not sure if this discovery was 100 per cent correct. Nobody has ever clearly defined this to me.)
So, in a panic, I quickly apply for this newly uncovered card. Now, there are a few different ways to qualify for an ICC. You can send in a resume (this is what I did). You can go under a certain time for a Half Ironman (4:20 for men and 4:45 for women) or a Full Ironman (10:00 for men and 10:45 for women). Or, you can place in a certain position at world championships.
Luckily I was granted my ICC card based on my resume, and I was good to go. Again. Was I professional triathlete at this point? I’m not sure.
The problem is, some athletes with an ICC card will still race age group at bigger races and to me, this is where the flaw in defining ‘What is a professional triathlete’ really begins. It’s the source of a problem that flows for quite some distance.
Before Knoxville, I thought some more about my own status. According to Triathlon Canada and Triathlon Ontario I was a professional triathlete. According to the dictionary I was not.
Pro or not, I got destroyed in that first race. I finished behind some age groupers and behind some of the pro women. That trend continued for a few years, until 2014, when I began to mix things up in the pro field.
Should I have been granted a professional license when I first applied? Probably not. At the time, I'd have preferred to race at the back of the pro field, gaining some experience, rather than race towards the front of the age group race, but looking at it now, in the cold light of day and with a few years of racing as a pro under my belt, I feel I decreased the value of other pros in those races.
Racing at the back of the pro field, I was one of those guys that others, sponsors included, looked at and asked: is the pro triathlete valuable?
Stay tuned for Part 2: My suggestion for a solution - the category system or open racing.