PTO Explains Its Vision, Will IRONMAN and PTO Raise the Bar for the Sport of Triathlon, 303 Thinks So.

By Bill Plock

Recently social media giant, Triathlon Taren interviewed the CEO of the Professional Triathlon Organisation (PTO), Sam Renouf. This podcast left me quite impressed with the direction of the PTO, Triathlon Taren and made me hopeful for the sport of triathlon. 

Triathlon Taren’s Podcast HERE

https://triathlontarenpodcast.libsyn.com/ptos-2021-business-plan-with-ceo-sam-renouf?fbclid=IwAR0prEShgNp4aeKqII4On69QiyVzuZz-ArG_1Pit5Viop2qSRFKtTwq7YI0

In a public perception sort of way, we seem to want a good vs. bad, a black vs. white, a villain vs a hero story. In the triathlon space, last year PTO took a shot at buying IRONMAN only to be denied. Then PTO decided to introduce a golf influenced triathlon extravaganza, the Collins Cup to showcase the sport of triathlon and attempt to make it a made for TV event. But Covid killed that for 2020 and its slated for August of 2021. 

They then partnered with IRONMAN competitor, the Challenge Family and made CHALLENGE Daytona their pro triathlon championship complete with a 1.2 million dollar prize purse. The PTO also awarded other non-Ironman races with prize purses during 2020 eventually rewarding pros with a few million dollars. Meanwhile IRONMAN had a few races in 2020, but all in all, PTO was responsible for a majority of the cash awarded to pro triathletes and frankly kept them going in 2020.

So now, in the eyes of the public, there seems to be a bit of a triathlon “war” between Ironman and the PTO. According to PTO, their mission is to grow the sport overall and they believe the way to do that is with a healthy pro field and events that appeal to sponsors who want to reach an audience not just racing, but watching on television or in the venue itself—like the home of the Daytona 500.  

Furthermore the PTO believes that salaries and prizes for pros should not be funded primarily by age group entry fees, but rather by sponsor fees. In IRONMAN races, the age group entry fees are the foundation for the revenues and thus the vehicle to fund prizes. The PTO believes that sponsors, TV advertisers and event marketers should pay for the bulk of the prizes and the age groupers shouldn’t be funding the pros. PTO believes IRONMAN races are too expensive for age groupers and that the experience can be made better and less expensive and also that pro’s should be compensated much better. 

Sam Long fired up running with Rudy Von Berg–photo Khem Suthiwan

Ok, so now what? PTO has deep pockets and has spelled out in this interview how they plan to eventually have a model like golf and tennis. There will be four or five triathlons the PTO manages that are the equivalent of the “majors” and will feed a championship. Along the way, local and regional triathlons will act as qualifying events for the majors. 

Not every event will be the same or on a track like Daytona. In this podcast they discuss for example how Challenge Roth could be a possible major and how covering it for TV won’t be as easy as a Daytona, but necessary. They discuss how they want a mix of race types so different athletes with different strengths can emerge champions. Again, think tennis or golf. There are clay court specialists, long course type of golfers, and so forth. Yes, they all need to be able to be good in all conditions, but not all triathletes compete well in say a Kona type environment, or even at a full distance Ironman. A full distance IRONMAN is pretty much about attrition and stamina.  There is strategy, and speed and making the most of one’s skills of course, but very few athletes have a chance to win. It’s not a compelling race. It’s a compelling event because what these pros (and age groupers) do is absolutely incredible and inspirational. 

303’s Khem Suthiwan and Bill Plock in Daytona

But, it’s not made for TV and a tough sell to non-endemic sponsors. The PTO, in Daytona had to prove they could pull off a made for TV event that was competitive and combined the need for skill and speed coupled with stamina and endurance—and they did it.

In Daytona, half a million people watched the race with an average watch time of 29 minutes according to Sam Renouf. That’s unheard of. The PTO definitely succeeded in orchestrating a watchable event. This isn’t to say that the steaming of Kona doesn’t have a large audience, but, according to this podcast the time watched is merely seconds versus 29 minutes. And, that makes sense. There is very little drama in Kona. In Daytona the lead changed practically every few minutes. People probably check in on Kona to see who is still in the lead and come back later. That’s what I do when I’m there.  Once in a while there is some drama in Kona, but with the lap format in Daytona, each lap showcased someone moving up or down the leaderboard. 

The bottom line, to me, is IRONMAN and the PTO can co-exist, quite nicely in fact. 

IRONMAN has one huge advantage over Challenge or any other triathlon—they have a brand. They own triathlon. 

To the average person on the street, if you say “triathlon,” they think “Ironman”. They will say, “oh that race in Hawaii.” Like Kleenex is to tissue paper. Do you see any tattoos of Challenge or USAT or any other form of triathlon on people? Nope. That says it all. 

So as long as IRONMAN continues to put on quality events, and they do, and people aspire be “Ironmans” they will succeed. And as long as Kona or wherever the 70.3 championships are held, are tough to qualify for and have a worldwide appeal, they will be remain relevant. 

To the pro’s, at the end of the day, they will, and need to go where the money is. But there may always be a desire to race Kona even if it’s not the top money gathering race. There may always be a desire to figuratively race against the legends of the sport on the same historic course; the Mark Allens, Dave Scotts, Paula Newby-Frasers, Chrissie Wellingtons, Miranda Carfraes etc.  And the same goes for age groupers. As someone who nearly qualified, I know its a pretty exclusive club to race there, and that appeal is strong. 

If I had my druthers, I would love to see IRONMAN and the PTO kiss and make up and throw IRONMAN races into the mix as qualifiers for the pros. Maybe Kona is the long course championship, maybe the Collins Cup is the place for national pride to take over (its America, vs Europe vs Internationals—like golfs Ryder cup) and maybe Daytona is a mix where triathletes of all disciplines get to race against each other and the fastest one wins. And maybe great regional races like a Lake to Lake, or Harvest Moon here in Colorado become qualifiers for a PTO Major maybe held in a place like Des Moines—think the old Hy Vee race. 

Who knows, but a fun, healthy made for TV sport will only help provide more opportunities for both age groupers and pros to excel, make a living and have fun.

The sport needs heroes and characters. Locally we have someone like Sam Long who isn’t afraid to mix it up and call people out and behind his “yo yo yo’s” I believe Sam is having a ton of fun and trying to make the sport more dynamic and earn a living doing so. He, I believe wants nothing more than great competition like all triathletes I have ever met.

The sport needs a healthy variety of races and distances and a sense of pride for competing in everything from a local sprint to Kona. Every triathlon and triathlete should be judged on their willingness to try every single day at every single event. 

Go PTO, raise the bar. Go IRONMAN, keep the dream alive and lets hope someday you both dance on the same dance floor together. 

PTO Championship and Challenge Daytona; Triathlon Forever Changed? Maybe so

By Bill Plock

Daytona Beach–It’s easy to want to compare the Professional Triathlon Organisation’s Championship (PTO) at Challenge Daytona with IRONMAN’s Kona. You really can’t though. If this were boxing, it’s like watching light and middle weight boxers fight versus heavy weights. One is full of action, flurries, speed and rapid fire punches, the other, a war of strength and stamina and seeing who can withstand the most for the longest. There is room in this world for both. There will be fans of both. But for the pros’ yesterday may have been a game changer. 

Kona is Kona. It’s a magical kind of place with known foes like heat, the Energy Lab, the winds on the Queen K and the hill on Palani. Daytona, like the backdrop for this race, was about speed and more speed. Like the NASCAR race that put Daytona on the map, these triathletes jockeyed for position all day long. They averaged up to 30 miles per hour on the bike! The road is flat, the only foe is the athlete in front, and the voices in their heads telling them when to make a move or not. 

For the pros, with their race contained entirely inside the 2.5 mile oval that is one of the most famous racing venues in the world, it was all right in front of them. Lap after lap. 20 times on the bike, four times on the run, and even twice on the swim. Yes, there is a large lake inside the track along with an RV park, smaller tracks and plenty of open space. The whole thing was a made-for-television event. The race was about speed and making moves. 

Winner Gustav Iden

In the men’s race, Coloradans Matt Hanson, Rudy Von Berg and Sam Long finished 2nd, 5th and 9th respectively.  Both Hanson and Long came from fairly far back after the swim to chase down the leaders and contend for the podium. Hanson had the fastest run of the day with a blistering 5:20/mile pace over the 18k run. While Long made up his deficit mostly on the bike with a fastest bike of the day riding the 80k course in 1:38:24 averaging 30.2 mph! He showed moments of speed on the run trying to catch up and at one point he held second place! Von Berg with a fast swim and bike, ran in contention all day. He and Long battled on the run for a couple of laps creating a buzz in the crowd watching on the jumbo tron—sort of a modern day “Iron War.” Von Berg pushed ahead of Long but slipped back on the last lap finishing just off the podium behind Britain’s George Goodwin, a middle distance specialist and long course veteran Lionel Sanders—who turned in the second fastest bike split and came from far back himself.  

Matt Hanson flying to the finish

With early leader and favored Alistair Brownlee of Britain pulling out on the run due to injury, Gustov Iden of Norway moved into the lead about half way through the run and never relinquished it. Hanson’s run was one for the ages tracking down the fastest triathletes on the planet finishing 51 seconds back and in second place. With each lap he moved up the leader board and excitement built in the crowd, but Iden’s lead was just too much.  Two and half minutes separated the top ten men creating a buzz at the finish line. 

Sam Long and Rudy Von Berg Battling it out.

This race may change the sport of triathlon. With its contained venue, the distance and format offers triathletes specializing in all distances a chance to contend. It could be the answer to showcasing a sport to a wider audience and increasing exposure for the pros’ to make it a more viable career choice. 

The exceptional performances and feel good stories at Kona also have their place and capture the hearts of people everywhere. The age group, midnight finish line in Kona (or any IRONMAN) is an amazing spectacle. But the race in Daytona was a far more exciting race to watch. Winning Kona for the pros is a big deal. And the winner gets $120,000 compared to $100,000 yesterday. But at Challenge Daytona the prize purse was much deeper and finishing in the top ten made for a nice paycheck. (click here for a breakdown https://challenge-daytona.com/race-information/prize-money/) The overall purse was almost twice as much as Kona. Every pro who finished was guaranteed at least $2,500. 

Female Champion Paula Findlay

But this race may resemble days gone by when entities like the NBA and NFL finally had to pay attention to other leagues gaining a foothold in their sport. Both the NBA and NFL adopted more open, crowd appealing initiatives found in the newer ABA and AFL. They brought fresh ideas to basketball and football and in particular shifted the attention to the stars not the sport—sort of like what the PTO is doing. From the three point line, the dunk contest, and run and gun mentality of the ABA to the throw happy style of the AFL (with its football designed to throw easier) and putting names on the jersey’s all made their way into the sports we know today. Back in the day Julius Irving (Dr. J) got a thousand bucks and a stereo for winning the dunk contest with his famous free throw dunk. 

Every sport has defining moments that change it forever. Will Challenge Daytona be one of those moments? How will IRONMANj respond, or will it? Does it need to? Maybe, maybe not but with bigger purses and exciting venues like the Daytona Motor Speedway, hopefully a rising tide will elevate triathlon for all. 

We shall see….

Help Support Triathlon Relief Fund, $5 Entries for Daily Prizes, “10 Days to Daytona”

Welcome to the PTO 2020 Championship “10 Days to Daytona” Charity Prize Draw.

The Professional Triathletes Organisation and our partners, CHALLENGEDAYTONA®, USA Triathlon and British Triathlon, have launched a Charity Prize Draw in support of the Triathlon Covid-19 Relief Fund.

Much of our sport has been decimated by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic – in working together we hope to provide some support to those in our triathlon community most in need. Alongside our fundraising partners, triathlon legends past and present have united to create a prize draw with once-in-a-lifetime experiences – all donated to Support the Sport.

Every day for 10 days leading up to the PTO 2020 Championship on Dec 6th, five unique prizes will be up for grabs with the five lucky winners of each day’s prize draw selected at random at the end of each day. That’s 50 amazing prizes in total!

Priced at $5 per entry with no limit on the number of entries, all proceeds will go into the Triathlon Covid-19 Relief Fund and be used to support triathlon-related causes around the world. Administered by our partners, the USA Triathlon Foundation, US based donations will support US causes, European funds will support Europeans and other International groups to their specific region of the world. Triathlon is a truly global sport, and this is an opportunity for us all to unite together for a common cause.

To enter Raffle go here: https://championship.protriathletes.org/charity-draw/#donate-to-win

PTO 2020 Championships in Daytona, Million Dollar Purse; Will Recent IM Cozumel Champ Sam Long Be Chosen?

In Daytona on December 5th and 6th there is a triathlon festival–the Challenge Daytona Triathlon. There are two days of racing finishing with the PTO Pro Championship. One million dollars will be awarded to top male and female finishers. Pros are invited based on qualifying points and below is a list of the top 40 male and female pros who have qualified. In addition, 10 men and 10 women will be awarded “wildcard” spots. If you are curious how that will work, here is a link to the process: https://protriathletes.org/pto-2020-championships-wildcard-selection-criteria/

The Wildcards will be chosen next week. It will be interesting to see if recent 70.3 IRONMAN Cozumel winner and Boulder native Sam Long gets an invite. On Sams YouTube page in his Cozumel race review he alludes to hopefully being invited to Daytona. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7LaidPWcAs

Charles Adamo, Executive Chairman of the PTO, commented,“These will be very sought-after openings and the non-athlete members of the PTO Board will have some very difficult decisions to make, particularly as the ITU season is ended and many of the Olympic distance superstars, like Nicola Spirig and Kristian Blummenfelt, are relishing this unique opportunity to have a crack at the PTO 2020 Championship. In addition, the wildcard selection process will allow the PTO to invite some of the young and up-and-coming athletes, giving them a chance to cut their teeth in a championship field. With the top 40 PTO World ranked professionals and the wildcard selections, the field for the PTO 2020 Championship at CHALLENGEDAYTONA® will be one of the strongest fields ever assembled for our sport. It will be exciting to see the best athletes doing battle for the spoils.”

This race is lining up to be a very iconic event with the swim and shorter distance races held inside the track and a spectacular middle distance ride that hugs the coast for a bit. Imagine doing the 5k run of sprint or most of the bike on a race track?? Here is a link if you want to learn more or register. https://challenge-daytona.com

In the pro field there are notable Colorado ties: Tim O’Donnell, Miranda Carfrae, Lesly Smith, Ben Hoffman, Andy Potts, Rudy Von Berg, Sam Appleton, and many others seen training and racing in Colorado over the years.

This video shows the courses:

Watch this to see what Olympian Rowdy Gaines thinks of swimming INSIDE of the Speedway…

The Pro Men in order of rank

Frodeno, JanGER1
Brownlee, AlistairGBR2
Kienle, SebastianGER3
Sanders, LionelCAN4
Skipper, JoeGBR5
Hoffman, BenUSA6
Von Berg, RodolpheUSA7
Wurf, CameronAUS8
Currie, BradenNZL9
Gomez, JavierESP10
O’Donnell, TimothyUSA11
Heemeryck, PieterBEL12
Dreitz, AndreasGER13
Weiss, MichaelAUT14
Aernouts, BartBEL15
Dapena Gonzalez, PabloESP16
Hanson, MattUSA17
Appleton, SamAUS18
Beals, CodyCAN19
Clavel, MauriceGER20
Angert, FlorianGER21
Baekkegard, DanielDEN22
Reed, TimAUS23
Nilsson, PatrikSWE24
Amberger, JoshAUS25
Starykowicz, AndrewUSA26
Trautman, MattZAF27
Koutny, PhilippSUI28
Phillips, MikeNZL29
Russell, MatthewUSA30
Amorelli, IgorBRA31
Boecherer, AndiGER32
McNamee, DavidGBR33
Kanute, BenUSA34
Funk, FredericGER35
Potts, AndyUSA36
Van Berkel, TimAUS37
Weiss, BradleyZAF38
Llanos, EnekoESP39
Goodwin, GeorgeGBR40
Van Lierde, FrederikBEL41
Burton, MattAUS43

The Pro Women in order of rank

Ryf, DanielaSUI1
Charles-Barclay, LucyGBR2
Crowley, SarahAUS3
Haug, AnneGER4
Adam, TeresaNZL5
Lawrence, HollyGBR6
Lester, CarrieAUS7
Jackson, HeatherUSA8
Philipp, LauraGER9
Moench, SkyeUSA10
Sodaro, ChelseaUSA11
Piampiano, SarahUSA12
Bleymehl, DanielaGER13
Kahlefeldt, RadkaCZE14
Findlay, PaulaCAN15
Simmonds, ImogenSUI16
Salthouse, EllieAUS17
McCauley, JocelynUSA18
Watkinson, AmeliaNZL19
Hering, JackieUSA20
Seymour, JeanniZAF21
Carfrae, MirindaAUS22
Steffen, CarolineSUI23
Svensk, SaraSWE24
Frades Larralde, GurutzeESP26
Pallant, EmmaGBR27
Corachan Vacquero, JudithESP28
Kessler, MeredithUSA29
Jerzyk, AgnieszkaPOL30
Smith, LesleyUSA31
Wells, HannahNZL32
Lehrieder, CarolinGER33
Morrison, KimberleyGBR34
Stage Nielsen, MajaDEN35
Tondeur, AlexandraBEL36
Genet, ManonFRA37
Visser, ElsNED38
Annett, JenCAN39
Vesterby, MichelleDEN40
Siddall, LauraGBR43
Watkinson, AnnahZAF44