For many years, it has been noted that the long-course calendar favours Northern Hemisphere athletes, with the travel and timings involved with championship racing for Southern Hemisphere athletes, especially Kiwis and Aussies, often suggested to hamper their chances.
Next year, the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship will be held in Taupo, with the race scheduled for Southern Hemisphere summertime in December. To better understand the implications of this for athletes travelling from Europe and the US, we spoke to Australian pro Steve McKenna.
Sharing a fascinating insight on what might lie in store for athletes not used to such a long and arduous travel to races and a big change in surroundings and climate, McKenna, who for years has been dealing with the same issues but in reverse, shed some light on an important topic that should shape championship venue allocations for years to come.
“It’s always been tough for Aussies to travel so far”
Drawing on his own experiences and those of his coach Tim Reed, who won the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship when it was held in Australia in 2016, McKenna explains the factors at play which are magnified by the need to travel further afield to race.
He told TRI247: “I think it’s always been tough for Aussies having to travel so far and spend a lot more money to compete against the best, but we still choose to live in Australia and it is worth it with a great domestic season over here too.
“I don’t think there’s any more a disadvantage this year than most year in the past, but in 2024 between the ITU Long Course World Champs in Townsville and IM 70.3 WC’s in Taupo, we will finally get to demonstrate that we’re very strong over here in Oceania.
“With the roles reversed and European and US athletes having to come to us or decide it’s too expensive, you will see Aussie and Kiwi athletes perform very well at those two world championship races. The European and US athletes will learn in 2024 (very briefly!) the decisions and losses/sacrifices Aussie athletes make each year to compete outside their “fish bowl”.
“It rarely happens that Oceania gets to host a world championships, but the last time Australia did, Tim Reed won (2016 70.3 WC’s). Reedy lived within 3hrs of the Sunshine Coast and talks about that race experience as a relaxed, travel-free, family trip…I’m sure US and European athletes went through a lot more to get to the start line in 2016.”
“We would struggle to break even on trips to the US or Europe”
It’s not just the travel which is a pain for Aussies, but the financial pressure that comes with trying to be fully prepared when racing in Europe or US. McKenna makes a compelling point that athletes from Down Under are often left in an unviable economic situation when it comes to planning racing trips abroad.
“Aussies would struggle to break even on their trips to the USA or Europe, so I assume a lot of the European and US athletes will be put off by the travel, cost and the fact that most athletes will likely make a hefty loss financially when it comes to Townsville and Taupo next year.
“We are sometimes damned if we do and damned if we don’t, because if we travel for a longer period, get on the time zone and race well, we will only be making back the money we have spent – basically gambling on the 2-3 races you decide to do.
“On the other hand, you’re even more likely to be damned if you don’t do the trip properly and you travel on race week, risking sickness on planes, getting no sleep on a new time zone and racing completely shagged. Do it this way and you spend way less money, but the chances of performing to your best right after travelling to a very different time zone are very slim.”
Having travelled out to Europe over a month in advance with his wife and daughter to prepare for the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in Lahti at the end of the month, McKenna is once again putting his money where his mouth is and taking on a huge amount of financial and logistical pressure to compete against the best in the world. Next year, he will likely be a lot more grateful that the same race is just a short flight away “across the ditch”.