Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Need for Collaboration

Victor Del Corral. Remember that name. Not necessarily because of his two Ironman wins in as many weeks, which is very memorable in its own right, but because of the controversy attached to them.

In the triathlon calendar, no race is bigger than Hawaii. The big one, the Ironman World Championships, is the race that every top professional prepares for. The buildup takes up the entire season, unless you're aspiring to reach the top ranks. Yet that race does not end the season. There are two more races, Ironman Florida and Ironman Arizona. Very few that race the World Championships race Florida or Arizona. There's simply not enough time to recover and perform well after 8+ hours in the lava fields of Kona. The only reason that people that race IWC race Florida or Arizona is to validate a slot at the next years world championship (like Mirinda Carfrae, who "raced" at Florida). As long as an ex or current world champion finishes an Ironman before the next world championship, they are automatically included in the roster of athletes.

I've digressed. Del Corral didn't race Hawaii, so he raced Florida and Arizona to gather points. For those that don't know, if you're not an ex or current champion, to get to Kona, you need to allocate points at other WTC races to qualify. Each year the top ranked pros qualify, based on the number of points. Depending on the number of past/current champions that have auto-qualified, the number of pros fighting for points qualify as well. So Florida and Arizona are great races for aspiring pros to get points to try and qualify. Hence, Del Corral now has enough points, I think, to guarantee a spot next October.

At Florida, Andrew Starykowicz came back, despite racing in Kona, to try and repeat his winning performance of 2012. He would have succeeded, with an Ironman record 4:02 bike split, had Del Corral not run him down with a blazing marathon to take the win.

However, after the race, someone noticed that the helmet that Del Corral had worn wasn't legal.

Wait, not legal? The Ekoi CXR13 helmet that Del Corral raced with was the same model as Frederick Van Lierde wore on his way to winning the world championship not a month ago. Why was this helmet legal there, but not in Florida?

FVL in route to an Ironman World Championship. Photo: Slowtwitch

The answer is complex. USA Triathlon, the stateside governing body for triathlon, sanctions both races, however, according to slowtwitch.com, they make allowances for the Ironman World Championships in regards to helmets because of the large number of foreign athletes and USAT's rules regarding the safety certification of helmets. You can read the full rules and slowtwitch.com article here (it should be noted that Del Corral's victory stood, despite the rule).

Del Corral on course in Florida. Photo: Slowtwitch

En route to a win, wearing the same Ekoi helmet as FVL. Photo: Slowtwitch

A little more background to the USAT's rule regarding helmets. The governing safety standard in the US is the CPSC. Like the metric system, almost every other country has a different safety standard, the CE. USAT requires that the helmets used (except in Hawaii) adhere to the CPSC standard and while most helmets adhere to both the CPSC and the CE standards, the Ekoi CXR13 and several other helmets, such as Specialized's McLaren helmet adhere to the CE but not the CPSC. Additionally, according to slowtwitch.com, the most stringent standards for helmet safety come from
Australia.

"It’s standard is called AS/NZS 2063 and it’s universally accepted as the world’s most stringent. Australia was the first country to make helmets compulsory while riding on the road, and it’s not just illegal to sell helmets that are not AS/NZS 2063-certified helmet, you must also ride a helmet bearing that certification.

Except in competition. Here’s the rule in Australia, in triathlon, per Triathlon Australia’s rulebook, (3.3): “Bicycle helmets are compulsory and must be approved by a testing authority which is recognised by a national federation that is an affiliate of the International Triathlon Union (ITU).”
In this instance, we see a great need for collaboration between the WTC and the governing bodies of triathlon in every country when Ironman is raced (the trademark, not the distance)." 

Del Corral switched it up for Arizona, wearing an approved Kask Bambino helmet. When this photo was first released, a firestorm erupted as pundits assumed it was the same Ekoi helmet. Even though USAT allowed his Florida victory to stand, speculation has it that it was because he wasn't caught until after the race was over. Best not to tempt fate. Photo: Slowtwitch

Currently, it sounds like USAT is considering the same thing as Australia. In not enforcing the illegality of Del Corral's helmet choice, they've set a precedent. The only question mark that dogs the issue is what precedent they're setting. Del Corral wasn't caught until after the race, and I'm sure that there were multiple athletes who were in violation of the rule because by the numbers, approximately half of the competitors in Florida were not from the US.

The solution here is simple: Take Australia's example and make it the USAT's own. With the WTC working with USAT instead of the two enforcing separate rules and regulations, it opens the door for international athletes to be able to ride worry free, and that's something that triathlon is truly about.

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