Ironman CEO Interview - part 2

In the next instalment of my interview we ask Geoff Meyer about the 5150 series, the Shepparton issue, Ironman Melbourne’s drafting, different swim starts and the Challenge of Challenge.

Roxii: Is there any talk of brining the 5150 series to Australia?

GM: At the moment it’s a bit yes and no, we have the 5150 in Geelong, we have spoken about it with Mooloolaba, but Mooloolaba is an ITU sort of World Cup race at the same time so it’s not the right fit for that race. Noosa...well Noosa is Noosa, even though from a professional point of view Noosa is part of the 5150 point series.

We could probably bring a couple more 5150’s into Australia, but where I see 5150’s really growing in in Asia. We have now got two new ones in the Philippines and we are looking at putting one into Taiwan and definitely Malaysia and also looking at shorter distances as well. Australia is well down the track as far as Ironman and the like, we need grass roots in Asia and that’s where we can see the 5150 brand developing.

Roxii: I suppose another contentious point at the moment is the whole Shepparton race issue, with the disappearance of the race and now the clash of dates for the new events.

GM: There has been a lot of garbage spoken about the whole Shepparton thing. Shepparton is a fantastic event with a great Victorian country feel about it. The LOC (Local Organising Committee) down there did a fantastic job. What happened, and we sat right here last year with the Shepparton guys, basically they had a director group of about 30, it went down to about 17 and for this year’s event there were really only about half a dozen people putting up their hands and wanting to run the even the way that it has been in the past. It’s like any volunteer group, you can’t keep drawing on the same people. And the amount of work that goes into running on of these events is intense. So, sitting right here a year ago we discussed how we do it, and license fees, the license fee was never really the sole crux of it all. We said to them that you shouldn’t be paying the fee, the council should be paying that. We can’t run races without government support.

That group of 5 or 6 people then decided that if they were going to do it then they needed to get paid. We said OK, we don’t have an issue with that. So it turned from a large LOC group, to a smaller group then it got really small and these guys were still dedicated to try and run it and run it like a business.

We went with them to council and we did a big presentation to council on the economic benefits of the event. We have all the economic data of what these events do, I mean we are almost a tourism business as much as we are an event business. We put this presentation to council, looking for money to pay the license fee but to also help these guys run the event. At the end of the day council didn’t put their hand up. Maybe they didn’t think the event would disappear. Then it came down to those individuals and whether they were going to take on the responsibility of running that. And it was a to and fro between the club and those individuals. At the end of the day these events are expensive, and the club didn’t want to take the financial risk, if they had a bad year it could bankrupt the club. So in the end the club and those individuals all decided it was in the too hard basket and they were happy to walk away.

We knew well before Christmas that it was heading in that direction, and in that process we said, “Well we need something to replace it in that market”. We went to Ballarat, they were very keen, the government said they would love to have the event and we proceeded down that path.

Ballarat was probably the worst kept secret known to man, and we may have helped that process. We wanted people to know there was going to be an alternative. So the Ballarat event was always going to happen. The media knew it, everyone knew it. And it was always going to be on that date, Ironman has been on that date for the last ten years, November 16 is Ironman day. It’s not as simple as saying “Super Sprint came in and just put it in there” as I believe the club is not involved in the Super Sprint event either. But we were always going to run it on that day and Ballarat has other functions and festivals as well. There is a big horse racing carnival the week after which goes for a few weeks that would have clashed. So that was the date that worked. We had that date booked in with the Victorian Triathlon Association to be sanctioned before Christmas. So that is the whole story.

Roxii: Another issue raised on the forum was the drafting in Ironman Melbourne. How does Ironman view that, do they have any plans to actively try and alleviate what we saw, because most will say it’s not a good look for an Ironman triathlon?

GM: Definitely, we are spending a lot of time on this. You will see what we did this morning with the “time trial” swim (at Port Macquarie) it has a few benefits to it. One is the safety aspect, first timers not freaking out, Port Macquarie is a very narrow corridor for a swim, but also spreading these guys out. We do wave starts in every 70.3 we do for the same reason it stops the drafting out on course.

Melbourne, the year before, the shortened swim, you physically could not get the people out on the road without the drafting happening. This year, to be honest I think it two fold, and I think the athletes need to tale a bit of responsibility on this too. If you looked at the way the swim went, it should have been ok, and the first lap went ok people were spread out and not much drafting, then the wind came up. The fast riders come through and everyone starts to jump on their tail. If you looked at Melbourne closely you would have seen a pack of 50 then 500 metres clear then a pack of 50 and then a kilometre clear then another pack, so in saying that the draft busters have pinged more than they ever have before in any Ironman, there was over 210 pinged for drafting, you would have seen the tents had forty or fifty in there at a time. But this is where the athlete needs to make a decision, because we can go out there and impose all these measures, but if the athlete chooses to jump on a faster rider coming through, I mean it wasn’t because there wasn’t enough room on course, there was room not to draft out there. What we are looking at from a global perspective is what works and what doesn’t work. Is it more penalties, do we raise the penalty from 4 minutes to 10 minutes.

Roxii: That idea has been very popular on the forum.

GM: But this has got to be a global thing, when Ironman went to 12 metres, we wanted to make it a global thing. If we are to do this, and I think it is heading that way, we want it to be a global thing. But its twofold we can put harsher penalties in but the athletes need to take some care and responsibility for what they are doing.

Roxii: So does that mean you are looking to see how the rolling swim start works and how it affects this race and maybe implement it n other races?

GM: To me, I’m a bit of a purist, I like the mass start, maybe because I’ve been in the sport for a long time. But there are places where a mass start works and certain places where it just doesn’t work. I would never want to see Busselton turn into wave starts, I think it is an iconic mass start, it works well, it is big, open and wide, we thought we had that this year in Melbourne so that works. Here (Port) going to a rolling start, the time trial situation, that seemed to work this morning and I think that we will tweak it some more, get the weir a little bit better, but I think that it worked really well as a one lap swim. Melbourne, we are going back to the drawing board and seeing what we have to do. Will we put wave starts in there? Probably. Cairns will be a similar situation, each venue has its own intricacies. So I think we will see a mixture of time trial, mass start or wave starts depending on the venue.

If you look at Kona you would see that this year they have announced pro’s, men’s and women’s. If you look at Kona, our biggest problem with the World Championship, it’s not really a capacity issue its trying to run a good legal championship race when everyone swims 55 minutes, and everyone bikes under 5 hours and everyone runs 3-3 and a half hours. So between 9 hours and 10 hours if you see the finish line they are queueing up. We need to be able to manage that and it comes back to the logistics of how you spread these guys out and that’s where the swim comes into it.

Roxii: While we are on the topic of world championships and championships in general, with the whole dynamic with Ironman and Challenge how would it be received it Challenge decided to say run Roth as a World Championship, or run their own Asia Pacific Championship?

GM: I used to run Challenge Cairns, and I know Felix and I consider Felix a mate. But what Challenge does I can’t control. If they want to run a World Championships and call it that, well it will become a bit like boxing, you will end up having 4 or 5 different belts and only care about one. I know Felix is very against putting Roth up as his World Championships it won’t add any value to Roth. There are races around the world that stand alone. Roth is one of them, Noosa is another, Wildflower, those kind of races, they stand alone and that is great.