Ken Baggs Interview Part IV

In this final instalment of our Ken Baggs interview Ken tells us about how age groupers have changed over the years, how he is happy with the way “Ironman Asia Pacific” have taken hold of his race and yes even what he is going to do when he retires.

Note: I have had to take liberties with editing this interview and it is a mark of how all-consuming this race has been on Kens life, that every time I mentioned retirement Ken would get the word “golf” out and then return to talking about the race.

Roxii: Do you find the seriousness of the age groupers has changed markedly over the years?

KB: You know it came home to me this morning about the fierceness of the competition of those elite age groupers and just how competitive they are from a couple of blokes I talked to this morning. It dawned on me that you can forget sometimes, I tend to have a bit of tunnel vision at race time and see all age groupers as one. But yes, some of those hotshots are very serious and they always worry you because they buzz around the pro-females. We’ve tried to introduce all sorts of measures technically to make sure the female pro’s stay legal but at the same time the young bucks are jumping on them. So it can be a bit problematic.
But I think Ironman is also a bit of a bucket list thing where people want to do it and then move on but in saying that even they get serious, with the nutrition and all the technology. I mean it’s a big part of the sport, people can go out and buy a $10,000 bike and rock up and do the race and think just because I’ve got the best bike it will be easy... It’s a bit like me, I’m a lousy golfer but I want a good set of golf clubs, but yes the evolution of the age grouper has been interesting.

Roxii: So what’s the plan for retirement, will you still watch Ironman and keep an eye on things? Will you pop back in next year for the 30th year.

KB: I think Jeff Meyer will probably allow me back as a VIP. They “sacked” me this year and said “you’re not doing anything!” Having said that, I was out driving the bus today, taking international athletes out on the bike course. I have been out on the weir every morning checking on the progress of that. That has been a work in progress for five years for me to try and get a one lap swim which we hope will work well.
I’m grateful for what Ironman Asia-Pacific have done here, they came in with a huge staff, a vibrant young team and they said to me “Well, we need what’s in your head.”
I said it would be nice to have a couple more years I suppose, that might see me out, go and get a pension or something. So the first six months was tough, I was very hands and was always getting frustrated.

I was most frustrated in Melbourne, one of my pet hates is outside assistance and the reason is in 1987 I had a policeman come up to me and say “I’m going to stop your race!” That 1987 race, by the way, the police initially wouldn’t approve it. They said the race is approved, but you have to run it all in daylight!
I said, “You ARE kidding, we are well committed mate”.
He said “No, the superintendent from Newcastle says you have to run it in daylight!”
His answer to the problem was do the swim and the bike on Saturday and do the run on Sunday.

We won them over in the end but that race was watched like a hawk. Then when it got dark we had runners running in the dark with glows sticks and what have you and their the supporters out running and riding with them dressed in whatever they liked and not bein visible.
So I have the cops saying to me “You’ve got people on pushbikes and running beside your competitors on the roads in dark clothing!”
So he was going to shut us down there and then and that has always stuck in my mind. I always talk about it being an unfair advantage and it’s always been my beef.

I don’t know if we have ever disqualified anyone for outside assistance but it was my pet hate because of that hammering I got that one year in 87 when the race was nearly shut down. So from then on I would go out on course and not necessarily delight in it, but my approach was to drive the car and see a runner with someone beside him chattering away or riding a bike in the dark and I would sit back and watch for a half a kilometre or so then I’d go up to them and I’d say “Excuse me do you know that athlete?”
They would always say “NO!”
Then I’d say “You are free to ride your bike, it’s legal for you to ride your bike, but what I want you to do now is tell your friend that I’ve got their number and that you have disqualified him!”
And they would carry on and scream “No! No! No!” and I would drive on.
Occasionally I would get half a dozen of these people and I would say “This is what I have observed please respond, if you wish, and give me a reason why I should invite you to race Ironman again.” And that was my way of trying to impact on the athletes the seriousness of the offence.

We were accused of running a very military style, regimented race but I stand by that. We prided ourselves on sticking to the rules and being consistent. I believe that is a great foundation. Now the new team have come along of course and for them it’s a bit softly, softly. But what they will find is that if you are not consistent there will be problems, they will cop a bit of flack but they have a big staff to deal with these things but there are lots of athletes and lots of different stories to contend with.
So I have been weaned off that hands-on role and having to step back which is hard because I’ve been very close to this great local organising committee. To give you an idea of the commitment from these folks, we’ve got a lady in there, she’s principal of the local primary school. We wanted her to be the communications director. We handed her a two-way radio. “What’s that?” she said. But now she is brilliant at her job, she comes out of her normal employment life of teaching and took to like a duck to water, she is just brilliant!
And you balance that out with the nurses and doctors who work in that profession but then they come here as volunteers and still do the same thing but are also learning a bit of sports medicine. And these folks do this all for free, they don’t cost anything they’re volunteers for us so because they love doing it. The new Ironman team were not used to that coming into town and finding a local organising committee that were up and running and brilliant and ready to go.

Golf, yes golf. Probably some travel, probably not race related travel. Bet we’ve been fortunate to go to Kona too many times to count. I’ve been to Canada, New Zealand but never got to any of the European races in that time. So we may get to a few of those places, but I don’t know till after race day exactly how I will feel, right now I’m quite comfortable this new crew can handle it. They have got to worry about all the big things, but I’m still buzzing in their ear.
Even this morning, I was saying to them, “You know, I told you about those pavers.” You can’t let those little things fall through the cracks and it is the attention to detail that makes a difference. It’s funny you know they have a lot of guys here, a lot of guys doing what two or three of us used to do this. But it has grown so much now there used to be 5 events now they have got 19 and growing so it’s a whole different game. It takes a whole different management structure and then you become a target and get hammered, so these new guys have to do a bit more PR. As I said, in those early days I was regimented I had my blacklist, if you were on the wrong side of me or with Glenda, Glenda used to call them her problem children and Glenda copped a lot of flak over the years. But she now has a lot of very, very close triathlete friends who are like family. As I said before it is Glenda that had to talk to Pam Green because I couldn’t handle it, she got a lot of abuse from athletes over the years and when I get my frustrations I take it out at home. So Glenda pulled out when IMG left, so Glenda has been through it all as well. So that hardest thing I have had to do is to step away, they have a race director here and he is brilliant, very young and is a born leader. But I still assess him I watched him during the briefing, he is very firm, very forceful. The first years I had to try and take a step back but then had to step in and tell them the briefing went on too long. But they got it right here last year, but yeah I have found it difficult to take a step back. Even managing the volunteers and letting them understand why they were there. You need to say to them “You are all volunteers, regardless of your job. You need to come to terms with the fact that you don’t get paid and I do and that’s the way it is and I know the feeling and it’s a very real feeling, as I felt in 1985 when I was a volunteer. Back then there was a guy that was charge and was watching him stuffing up a lot and getting paid and thinking this is bullshit! So I make sure that situation doesn’t arise again.
But I haven’t been in Port Macquarie since 70.3, six months ago, till this week so that’s me stepping back and allowing the new race organisation to form their relationships with the local organising committee and that is what’s been happening.

So I’ll come back for the 30th  but me to it’s already been 30 years of involvement as we started about September 84 for 85 till 2014, but if they still want me back I'll come and celebrate the 30th officially and drink their wine and eat some good food. 



Well deserved I'd say; and on that final note I thanked Ken for his time and effort over the years and all that he has done for Ironman, and enabling people to reach their goals, live their dreams and again for graciously giving me some of his valuable time on such a busy day and hopefully we will see him back at Ironman next year for the 30th anniversary so we can all show our appreciation.