By Bill Plock
In 1966 Lamar Hunt unknowingly named the Super Bowl. The owner of the Kansas City Chiefs in the American Football League led a movement to compete with the National Football League. The champions of each league would play each other in a championship game in 1967 leading to a future merger of the leagues. Lamar Hunt wrote NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle a letter in July of 1966, “I have kiddingly called it the ‘Super Bowl,’ which obviously can be improved upon.” He later said the named popped into his head watching his kids play with a super ball. That super ball, along with Lamar Hunt are the in the Football Hall of Fame and we all know “Super Bowl” stuck and it’s one of the most watched events on the planet. But that first game didn’t even sell out, it takes time.
Triathlon’s “Super Bowl” happened today in Slovakia, it was called the Collins Cup. Yes we have Kona and the IRONMAN World Championships but that is about individuals, today was about the teams and the sport and profession of triathlon.
The Collins Cup was designed to mirror golf’s popular Ryder Cup pitting three teams of 12 athletes (6 men, 6 women) against each other. One team from Europe, the United States and Internationals.
The goal, to make professional triathlon a better spectator sport thus attracting more money to make the profession more lucrative and sustainable.
Will it work? Did it work? It’s too early to say but nobody predicted the wild popularity of the Super Bowl. Triathlon will never be that popular but lets see what happens.
The Professional Triathlon Organisation orchestrated this “made for TV event”. Viewers watched 12 matches with one competitor from each team racing. Each match started 10 minutes apart. The entire race lasted about 5 hours. Cameras were all over the course capturing the 36 athletes racing in their own three person race. It was fun to watch and the coverage was good as was the announcing. It was especially fun to have Tour de France commentator Phil Liggett behind the mic. His voice just adds a tone of familiarity and importance.
Team Europe won, followed by the United States and the the Internationals. No surprise there.
By far the story of the day was U.S’s Taylor Knibb, again. She absolutely crushed her competition and notably IRONMAN World Champion and number one ranked Daniela Ryf. Taylor beat her by almost 17 minutes. By far the largest gap of any match of the day. Her final time of 3:30 was the best time by almost four minutes over any women and only three minutes behind IRONMAN male World Champion Patrick Lange! And Taylor did it on a road bike!
Said 303 Podcast Director, Rich Soares, “Having the best triathletes in the world racing for teams makes for great competition. Having the fantasy competition really added to the engagement and the eventual upsets and surprises. I Loved seeing the Olympians race against long course champions. My big question, where was Olympic gold medalist Flora Duffy? Knibb vs. Duffy right now would be Pay-Per-View worthy!”
But let’s break down the event. It’s a good start if you like triathlon, know some of these athletes and understand what they are trying to do. A better start if you have raced long course to appreciate the speed. And a fabulous start if you know anything about the Ryder cup and how match play works. But even if you don’t know the Ryder cup, the announcers did a good job of explaining what was going on and how the points were earned. Where beating competitors by more minutes meant more team points. That alone kept every race important and each athlete motivated to stay close. The motivation of working for the team was very real. We heard Jan Frodeno say how hard it was when he was told with 2k to go that if he could increase his lead by 30 seconds it would mean an extra point for his team. And he did just that—busted a move and exhausted himself even with a comfortable lead over Sam Appleton.
The points were key to making the races compelling. Otherwise there were almost no close finishes and little shoulder to shoulder running and drama at the finish line. I think that needs to change somehow. Having 12 matches and virtually no finish line drama was a bit of a miss.
The television coverage was good with plenty of coverage all over the course. And the interactive “maps” showing arial views of where the athletes were, sort of like Harry Potter’s Maurader map, was cool. I would’ve like to see a huge arial map showing where all athletes were on the course with “flags” showing speed/pace.
One thing that was severely lacking, and would’ve added a lot of energy were spectators. Even more riding through towns with fans, but there were barely any. And the finish line was small and not very electric. That was disappointing.
Rich Soares adds, “The Olympics is a hard act to follow. After weeks of Olympic village and Odaiba Park with it’s massive blue carpet area, I was a little underwhelmed by the Collins Cup venue. Great camera angles and on course coverage no doubt. Being right after the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic might be limiting, but I would love to see this in a bigger city with crowds next time.”
I thought they (PTO) might steal some ideas from NASCAR and feature more data like heart rates and watts and give more stats like min/mile, mph and other effort indications. I think more of that data would be appealing to non-triathlete watchers who get speed and data. I’m sure getting athletes to agree to reveal that data might be hard.
In general I liked format and match ups. I felt the racing was a bit lonely with not enough dueling on the course. Maybe matches should be with 6 or even 9 athletes so teams can work a bit together on the course with more potential for drama at the finish line.
But I also have a Super Bowl ticket stub when a ticket cost $30 and my dad thought that was crazy. $30 might get you a parking spot a mile from the stadium these days. You gotta start somewhere!
By the way the fantasy aspect Rich talked about; fans and media could predict the outcomes and fans could win prizes. I took a few chances hoping for some upsets but finished in the middle of the pack of the Team US media. The European Press mimicked the European athletes and kicked ass!
The final standings:
INDIVIDUAL MATCH RESULTS
Taylor Knibb USA 3:30:11 – 6 points
Daniela Ryf EUR +16:43 – 3.5 points
Teresa Adam INT +22:58 – 1 point
Lucy Charles-Barclay EUR 3:33:46 – 5 points
Katie Zaferes USA +4:16 – 2 points
Paula Findlay INT +4:53 – 1 point
Jackie Hering USA 3:35:19 – 4 points
Anne Haug EUR +2:23 – 2 points
Jeanni Metzler INT +3:24 – 1 point
Ellie Salthouse INT 3:38:36 – 4.5 points
Skye Moench USA +2:01 – 2.5 points
Holly Lawrence EUR +5:29 – 1 point
Emma Pallant-Browne EUR 3:34:45 – 4.5 points
Chelsea Sodaro USA +1:13 – 3.5 points
Sarah Crowley INT +8:27 – 1 point
Katrina Matthews EUR 3:35:12 – 5.5 points
Jocelyn McCauley USA +5:42 – 3 points
Carrie Lester INT +10:42 – 1 point
Jan Frodeno EUR 3:20:22 – 5 points
Sam Appleton INT +4:38 – 2 points
Sam Long USA +5:09 – 1 point
Gustav Iden EUR 3:13:28 – 6 points
Collin Chartier USA +7:13 – 2 points
Kyle Smith INT + 7:16 – 1 point
Lionel Sanders INT 3:19:13 – 3 points
Sebastian Kienle EUR +1:06 – 2 points
Andrew Starykowicz USA +1:51 – 1 point
Daniel Baekkegard EUR 3:15:27 – 4.5 points
Ben Kanute USA +1:23 – 3.5 points
Max Neumann INT +10:58 – 1 point
Braden Currie INT 3:27:13 – 5.5 points
Matt Hanson USA +5:16 – 2 points
Patrick Lange EUR +6:44 – 1 point
Jackson Laundry INT 3:18:28 – 3.5 points
Joe Skipper EUR +00:38 – 2.5 points
Justin Metzler USA +3:45 – 1 point
Team Europe – 42.5 points
Team US – 31.5 points
Team Internationals – 25.5 points