Ken Baggs Interview Part 3

Roxy: So one of the things a few of the athletes have wanted to know is, when it comes to things like the controversial wetsuit calls who holds the biggest stick?

KB: Right from word go, in the early days, I would say “What is all this stuff about drafting and draft busters and Steve Ray who was the President of Tri New South Wales told me we were required to get approval from the State Government for the race under the Department of Sport and Rec. so you had to make an application for that. Part of that approval was that you had to have $20 million public liability and we had a local insurance broker in Forster and he would take some months to split up the premium based on the amount of entries we would have until we got to the total of the premium which was about $3000. So we were doing this for a couple of years and Steve Ray came in and said “Baggsy, how about we take over. We will put some blokes on motorbikes out there, police the so-called drafting, we will handle the DQ’s and all that, and he said we can do the sanctioning and one other thing, because it’s a national event I can give you $20 million cover public liability for $250.”

I said “Sold!”

So I said “Fine. But Steve, one rule. I run the race, you don’t. It’s not your race it’s my race. You’ll do it under my direction. I will work with you, that’s fine, you can handle all your stuff, but just remember you don’t run the race.”
So included in that we always had an information booklet which always said wetsuits are optional, every book for every race. So he came to me one day at this half ironman said, I met him down at the Bellevue Pub with technical blokes. I had worked closely with them (Technical) I have looked after them because they’re volunteers, would give them polo shirts and a good feed. So we were at the pub having a beer and he said, and it was pretty hot that day,

“What are you going to do it it’s over 25°”

I said “I’m not going to do anything why?”

I said “I haven’t got a problem you’ve got a problem. Because as far as I’m concerned wetsuits are optional it’s up to the athlete.”

They had all this quirky thing about this stupid rule, I said “Yet a bloke in the same race who cannot wear a wetsuit depending on the water temperature but you don’t have a rule where the same guy on a hot day can head on the run and put on a fur coat and thermal underwear when it’s 28 or 30°. You don’t have a rule for that. Wetsuits are optional mate it’s up to the athlete”.

He said “No!”

So I said “Show me the medical studies”, and I knew there were none.

I said “I can tell you, and I know because we had it happen here in 1985, I can tell you about core temperature when is too cold and that’s when you need a wetsuit but there are no studies that say about it being too hot.”
So the compromise was, Saturday morning we would go and take the water temperature.

I can picture it, at the front of my house, at the letterbox and he was saying “We’ve just been down to Forster Keys and it’s hot!”

I said “Yes so you’ve got the problem” It was over 25°. So we pick up the phone and talk to Joe Ferris the doctor I said “What do you think about this, this is what I’ve been told your call.”

He said “Are there studies?”

I said “No, no studies.” and that was it.

So the race referee said will take it again on race morning I said yes sure do what you like.
About 10 minutes before the start I’m wondering what he is going to do as I had 12 motorbikes, 12 technical officials and one of them is Ross McLennan my mate. I’ve looked around I thought shit I wonder what his water temperature is. I’m looking in the compound everyone is putting their wetsuits on he comes running up and says “It’s 25.6 it’s 25.62 what are you going to do Ken”

I said “Are you going to withdraw sanctioning? I don’t give a stuff if you do, because it may be $20 million public liability insurance that we won’t have but IMG has a $200 million policy worldwide because they run tennis golf other international events so I said it’s your call mate. If you pull your technical officials I need to know right now because you see those motorbikes I’m still going to put them out on the course they will just ride around.”

He said “I want to talk to them”.

I said “All right they are all assembled down near the boat ramp”.

And I can still picture it, from up in the tower we said “Righto, the water is a bit warm, referee wants to talk to you.”
So he said based on this blah blah blah and strong recommendations we recommend no wetsuits.
I said “Right you heard him, you’ve got three minutes to decide whether you want to take your wetsuit off or not” and I watched and about three people did and off we went.

Craig Alexander was in the race and I must admit to being a bit apprehensive and as people were coming out of the water I was going over to them and saying “Are you okay, you’re not too hot?”
We got them all out, it was a very hot day but we didn’t lose anyone in the swim a few pulled out on the run. So I thought, right when you guys get your act together and do a proper study and I mean a proper study with internal core temperature… and they went to the expense of doing all that. So that then created a bit of a hassle, well it didn’t for me, as I said it all goes back to an understanding I had with the President of Triathlon New South Wales that it was my race and I run it, but more importantly you have known my competition rules it’s always been in the booklet, wetsuits are optional.

I had Craig Alexander come up to me and say “That was too hot!” and I said “Craig it was your choice, wetsuits are optional. Maybe it would be better if you didn’t wear one if you feel like it was too hot and your fellow competitors may have suffered with the heat if they had worn a wetsuit and you didn’t.”

Then we had the Ironman in 2004, we had Roger Duggan our great swim director down there and the referee said “Gee it’s a bit hot.”

I asked Roger what he thought and he said “Baggsy it’s like a bath.”

So I rang Dr Joe Ferris and said Joe remember the Half Ironman way back when?’

He said “Yes.”

I said, “I’ll probably need to be a bit more responsible here, it’s an Ironman and some people spend two hours in the water.”

It was hot, so we made the decision to wait until race day. It was already 25 something degrees and while we waited it when up a degree so it was no wetsuits. But that created a problem for us in so far as what we were going to do.

We made that call early that it was no wetsuits, so we stopped traffic coming down King George Parade and told the athletes to leave their wetsuits in their car, but the mistake, and these are the things you learn from races like Hawaii, obviously there is no wetsuits in Hawaii, but for over 70 to 75 are allowed to wear wetsuits and Jack Gubbins, he was the oldest competitor that day, pulled out of the race saying we wasn’t comfortable swimming without a wetsuit, that day I should have made the call and let Jack wear his wetsuit.

But we changed a few things over the years, even then we had the long course up here, the call was made the day before no wetsuits and overnight the temperature plummeted and I said to Ross McLennan, Ross we've got two guys sitting there with hypothermia whose fault is that??

Roxy: Competitor Wise who have been the most memorable age-group all professional athletes you’ve had an Ironman?

KB: Craig Alexander by far, I spoke to someone about this the other day that’s not casting any disrespect on Chris or any of the other athletes.

Roxy: Pauli Kiuru?

KB: Pauli, yeah! Pauli was the finest athlete I’d ever seen, I used to ride a pushbike as a kid but to watch Pauli ride and to see how well he looked after himself, he just had a Rolls-Royce engine. Always had his heart rate monitor on and that’s, I believe why he never won Hawaii, because whenever the heart rate went up his coach said that he had to slow down. I remember saying to him “Pauli, we have to do some press and TV stuff.”
And he would say “No, my coach says I have to sleep for two hours.”
He was a very committed athlete, I still keep in touch with him, very lovely bloke great friend and he is now a politician in Finland.
But I consider Craig Alexander to be the finest Ironman athlete in the world and I’ve told Craig that I think he is the best and he is very appreciative of that, I wasn’t trying to piss in his pocket. I’m not a triathlete, but I’ve seen it all and I just think he is the best. Of course there’s “Welchy”, he is a great mate and we still get on well, I was there the year he won Kona, I got a bit “under the weather” after that one when Greg won, got a photo of it somewhere.
From the women’s side Chrissie Wellington was interesting wasn’t she, I haven’t really got to know the more recent ones like “Rinny”, but probably you’d have to say Paula was the best, I still talk to Paula, she is part of the Ironman organisation now and is a very smart girl and I guess you’d have to say out of her and Chrissie she was still probably the better athlete.

Age-group people, I don’t know, here are so many good ones it is hard to tell there is Keven Ferguson and David Meade hey would be the stand out age groupers and now “Chappo” is doing the same thing.
I remember Craig Alexander pointing him out to me saying “He could win this!”
I said “Are you kidding me.”
He said “No, this boy is good.”

As it transpired that year “Chappo” didn’t win, but he certainly shook things up a bit.  (Ed.)