Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Beijing ITU World Champs

The ITU (International Triathlon Union) is the governing body of the national Olympic distance triathlon series that are held at different locales around the world. The term 'Triathlon', refers to any distance of swim/bike/run (almost always in that order), with the most common distances, Olympic (1.5/40/10), half ironman (1.9/90/21.1) and full ironman (3.8/180/42.2). The Olympic distance is so named as the distance that is raced at the Olympics as it is more spectator friendly often raced in major cities on small courses with several loops on the bike and run. It is draft legal on the bike at the elite/pro level (can ride in packs), but at the age group level drafting is still not allowed (must ride at 7-10m apart).

Pros are allowed to ride this close - Beijing was a hilly course!
Aside from the Olympics every four years the ITU run a series of races for the Olympic hopefuls to race at every year. There are two levels to these races the top level World Championship Series (WCS) which has seven races at varying venues around the world and the World Cup level, a tier down. This year the WCS races were Sydney, Yokohama (postponed), Kitzbuhel, Madrid, Hamburg, London and Beijing.
 The WCS races are kind of like the Formula One races with a points system over the season to crown the overall champ. The final race each year is the “Grand Final’ and is worth double points. With each race they also hold a punter’s race (Age Group) while everything is set up (good chance to make money from entry fees and give us pretenders a chance to race on these cool courses). The Grand Final leg becomes the 'World Age Group Championships' with punters like me getting to live our Olympic fantasies out complete with Parade of Nations, named uniforms, opening and closing ceremonies etc. 

We're good enough athletes to represent our country....really rooly truly we are!
To qualify for the AG world champs, each country has a points series in its own races and you need to finish in the top group or prove to your federation you are worthy to wear the colours (or more importantly pay the fees and buy the uniforms). Due to the expense of travelling and lack of real prestige of qualifying, it’s not that hard to qualify for most countries. As this year’s Grand Final was in Beijing (nice and close) and some friends were racing, we thought it would be a good year to give it a crack.

ITU: All that glitters....
In the longer stuff (half ironman and full ironman distance) the World champs are held in Las Vegas and Hawaii respectively. Although the levels at Vegas and the ITU world champs are a step up for your average race (both held on the same day this year), in reality Hawaii is the only one that qualifying for is a major achievement and a fair dinkum World AG championship, with the best of the best from all over the world competing. But the ITU world champs are the only one with the feel of representing your (a) country. The ITU also have a long course world titles each year (always varying in Distance but around 3/80/20) that are a bit less well known than the Olympic distance ones as not many top pros race them, but with the same nationalistic hoopla. This year they are in Las Vegas and next year they are in the Basque region in Spain.

The real object of most AG triathlete's desire...

Our mates from Tokyo, Keren and Geraldine had gotten entry representing Japan through their performances in several local races in the last 12 months, as we had not raced any Australian ITU points races we got entry to the Japan team via our race in Ishigaki earlier this year. We would have had to travel back to Aus to race the ITU WCS in Sydney to represent Australia and that was not going to work for us. It definitely felt a bit weird representing Japan, when our hearts are green and gold, but what the hell it's all a bit of wank anyway and it should be a fun event. Sign us up! 

Good times with Keren and Geraldine
Due to the lure of the Olympic medals, ITU athletes and races attract a shed-load of government funding, which was very apparent at this race, like no other I'd been at. In our hotel some teenage Australian athletes were staying as they also have the junior world champs on. It was interesting to see three girls come back from a run with a government paid for coach riding his mountain bike beside them. I heard the Aus Govt has put $20million into the triathlon program ,through Triathlon Australia (TA) all of it with the sole goal of getting Olympic medals. You never see one penny of govt money put into triathlon that has no chance of getting a gold medal and TA have almost no interest in any other form of the sport, pretty poor considering they are supposedly in charge of the sport as a whole in Australia.
I know gold has risen in value, but $20mill for a ticket in the raffle for one of these bad boys??
  The Aussie athletes bombed out severely in Beijing but on the same day two Aussies won the World Half Ironman in Vegas, meaning all Full and Half Ironman World champs male and female are currently Aussies, but TA send out a release on how the girls finished 11th, 12th and 13th in Beijing without a mention of the success in Vegas. ITU is now starting a team relay format of some kind where two guys and girls do a very short swim/bike/run of their own as a relay and trying to get that as an Olypmic sport (this format was recently accepted as a medal sport in the Asian Games). I guess Triathlon Australia would cop another $20million from the Govt if they got approval for the Olympics, and maybe the teenage girls could get a sport scientist pricking their finger for lactic acid test on every run they do too. 

The rub is Australia's only gold medal in triathlon (Emma Snowsill) was gained when she got out of Triathlon Australia's clutches and trained her arse off on her own with Brett Sutton and her boyfriend Craig Walton. The men have next to zero chance of gold in London and the women are struggling too, so that $20m is going to amount to nada as far as the Govt is concerned. OK, so in case you weren't a fully clued-up tri-geek, you are now and my rant is officially over...
It's just not fair....

As soon as we arrived it was clear that Beijing were going all out with this event, it was the olympics all over again as far as they were concerned. There were banners at the airport and on every street around town, their must have been more than 1,000 of them spruiking the event. 
They brought in 2 x walk through metal detectors to our hotel (the results of which were ignored) and then a dozen 'friskers' to search everyone individually before you were allowed on the bus to the opening ceremony, note security guys and ropes making sure you couldn't leave the area after metal detection. "That's the way we did it in the Olympics and everyone loved it, so that must be how to do it for all sporting events, right?" I wasn't about to tell them any different.....was pretty funny.

The course for the pros was exactly the same as the Olympics, the swim being in a Lake in front of the Ming Tombs with an awesome stadium to view from, and a 400m long stretch of blue carpet to ride (6) and run (4) loops around. The AG race had 3 loops on the bike and run, and the swim course was different too. Unfortunately they had blown the measuring on all three disciplines as the swim was 1,700m, bike 41kms and run 10.3kms, which was pretty annoying. The bike was understandable as the available roads for the loops sort of dictated the length of each,  but the swim and run should have been measured correctly – just moving the turning points at each would have seen the distances correct.
Get it right! And if you make a mistake make it shorter - we want to PB!
 The Parade of nations and opening ceremony was fun, albeit a bit weird. Seeing the difference in all the countries through the afternoon was cool. There were cheeky Brazilians jumping into other group's photos, posing besides guards and generally skylarking at every opportunity.  There were Americans with their precisely cut and combed military hair, a little too-white-for-comfort teeth, kitted in chunky white running shoes, knee length beige pleated shorts with brown belts and tucking their polo-shirts into them at every opportunity. There was the Australian team with baggy daggy blue shorts and over sized white polo shirts, chanting Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi at every opportunity. And of course our Japan team taking group photos while making the peace sign at every opportunity. 
I think I'm turning.........

I really think so.
The opening ceremony was in a massive indoor basketball stadium kitted out with lots of the now familiar blue banner stating how modern, green and civilized Beijing is and how the Olympic spirit was living on in this great city. We were greeted with a few local bands blasting their stuff through massive speaker stacks so loud many people (including me) had their fingers in their ears. There were a few speeches by Chinese dignitaries of some form or another, with an English translation saying stuff like “Glorius Athletes will show a valiant display of heart and courage as you put your endeavours and brave efforts into this esteemed event that will see the nations rejoice in the Olympic spirit in these momentous occassion….blah blah blah”. 

Heart-felt messages that inspire us all to perform in harmony and with unbounded excellence.

There was almost a mass mutiny at meal time, as they were not handing out food unless you had a slip of paper that was supposedly in your registration kit. The problem was that many kits did not have the slips put in them (including the entire Japan teams – we double checked when we got home) and even more people who had them in their kit assumed they were for guests and that their wrist band would be enough or didn’t think to look for them tucked into the corner of an envelope filled with junk. So several hundred tired and hungry athletes who had just had a long bus ride from the hotel, a long wait for the parade to begin, and then the long parade, all while in effective security isolation that they could not step away from to buy a drink were staunchly being denied food by all the helpers. Eventually someone stepped in and gave the OK for the wrist band to be used for provision of food. 
Finally got our hungry hands on the food boxes....what will be inside???

I wasn't sure what any of it was but whatever it was we had to be quick!
I now appreciate even more why athletes competing in the first few days of the Olympics skip the opening ceremony. I was glad when it was over.

Enough is enough.

The day before the Olympic distance race (Saturday) they held the sprint AG races (750m/20km/5km) and it was cold and raining. We decided to sleep in and go down for the men’s Elite race that was also wet and miserable. English brothers Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee dominated again, finishing 1st and 3rd, I can’t see any way the field is going to beat these guys for gold in London, and good luck to them. Seeing them walk around they don’t look any different to a 22 year old pasty English kid, their legs are unshaven and don’t have the really ‘cut’ look of most triathlete’s legs, you could confuse them with Harry Potter, except instead of Quidditch (Spl? I'm not a HP-phile) that they swim 1,500m in 17mins any day of the week wet suit or not, hammer the bike without looking to hide in a pack and run sub 30min 10k’s straight afterwards. They are the first ever athletes brought up on triathlon and have been racing them since they were 10. All the other athletes who came to the sport as 18 year olds after swim, athletics or team sports background just can’t compete with them. It was great watching them race up close.

Poor fellas have yet to start shaving so the mud sticks to their peach-fuzz.

Swim 1,500m (1,700m) 24 mins (17th)

The weather cleared up for our race, although it was pretty cool with our early start time (waves from 6.30am. The swim start saw us line up along the pontoon and I was looking forward to the dive start like the pros but they had us jump in and hold onto the pontoon with one hand before the horn went. 
We wuz robbed!

Each AG started separate, but they had put some thought into the time gaps and it was a one lap course so we didn’t have to swim through many waves ahead. I felt pretty good throughout the swim but not very fast. It was a pretty open course with a long straight swim to the first buoy and everyone was an experienced OW swimmer, so very civilized albeit without much drafting on my behalf. 
View from the swim start - ours was a big upside down U shape.

Not much to note through the whole swim really, the water was really nice, it felt clean and a good temp, but as I mentioned it was 200m too long. I now am even more certain the non-wetsuit swim does not suit me, with my non-existent kick and non-swim background, you can't get away with just smashing through the water with crap technique and body position like you can in wet suit swims. Non-wet suit swims gives the real swimmers a bit of a leg-up and I was a way of the lead guys in my AG group and never saw them thereafter.The transition was a long run up a couple of flights of stairs and another hundred metres before reaching the bikes.

Plenty of space to swim!

Bike  40kms (41kms) 1.04 (7th)
The bike leg was three loops of narrow roads that were completely closed to traffic. It was quite hilly with a lot of turns, but a few small stretches that you could get in the aero bars and hammer. Not really a course suited to my strengths but not too bad either. I was worried that the course was going to be too full of pumped up riders trying to show how tough they were and it would be really dangerous due to the narrowness, down-hills and tight corners, but the field was pretty well spread out. When I got to the bike racks there were about 15 or so bikes there already. I passed a few guys in my AG and several from waves ahead on the first lap. 
Dream machine. But have got a few more tweaks to increase its aeroness.

I got passed by an American bloke with a super-aero Trek Speed Concept and we traded leads a few times until he lost me through the transition areaat then end of the first lap, that had a few obstacles that could bring you undone easily at 40km/h, but he hammered through them. I can handle getting ridden past by a better rider but getting out aero-ed is even worse! This guys bike and position was slick! I'll do some more cable hiding and drop the final spacer to cheat the wind a bit more...The second lap I traded the lead with an Aussie guy in the 24-29 Ag who was a really strong rider, - he went into T2 and I noted where he removed his shoes and most importantly where the entrance to T2 was! I wished him all the best and headed onto the last lap.
Elite male bike leg

Towards the end of the third lap an Austrian bloke in the 45-49 AG speed past me putting out about 600 watts at 100rpm, it was certainly a weird pass to see in a triathlon, I was thinking. He must have been following me for a bit and trying to prove a point about how strong he was when he passed. Obviously after putting out that sort of power he slowed down a bit after he passed me and 5 seconds later looked back to see I was in the draft zone gave me that scornful look and did the ol’ “Bushman’s Blow”, 'clearing the nostril without a tissue' thing directed right at me. Some strong cyclists have this 'holier than thou' attitude on the bike course that they think no one has a right to ride with them and it is bladdy annoying. This is one of those things like rough stuff in the swim that some triathletes love to talk about at dinner parties or on forums when people ask about the dark-side of the sport and he obviously couldn't wait to play his favourite trick on me.

I could have copped it sweet if he hadn’t passed me like a good sort and slowed down so much so soon afterwards, or if I had been hanging in his draft zone for longer than the 3 seconds I was. Screw that I thought and re-passed him slowed, sat up did a half pivot on the saddle and let him have it - the uniform might say Japan but I'm as Aussie as the day is long and we invented the Bushman’s Blow Kaiser, so get that into you big boy! I had a bit of a sniffle so he got a good spray.
Triathlon Australia offered Megan (and me) automatic entrance into the squad after seeing this superb technique.

 He was none-to-pleased and mumbled something about Japanese, but you started this game buddy! I was heading into T2 soon after and flicked him the bird while I was unstrapping my shoes. "Glorious, friendly nations coming together to compete in a spirit of joyous harmony", while showering each other in snot.

Chinese wind slows you as much as Japanese, German and Aussie wind. Gotta avoid the bugger.

Run 10km(10.3) 39.30 (16th)

Was stoked with an effective 1min PB on the run on a tough course.
The run course was really fun. Three long laps with a 50 percent of the laps on the carpet in front of the big grandstand. Outside of that there was a killer hill of about 150m before the turnaround that the pros did not have to do, and a big steep ramp over the bridge to enter the stadium area.

Rounding the bend for home in the cup! Propaganda on the outside looking strong..
I was pretty focused on the Garmin pace watch throughout the run, trying to keep it around 3.45-50 on the flats. I was looking at my average speed slide up slowly from 3.51 after one lap, to 3.55 after two (damn might not go sub 40) and then with 1km to go saw it was 3.56 so I knew that meant I could do the last k in 4.40 and still go under 40mins. Sweet! I didn’t expect the extra distance and had hoped to duck under 39 minutes, but at least I held it under 40 on the official time. I was pretty stoked that my run split ranking was even higher than my swim ranking for a change and gave me hope that the work I’d been doing on it was finally paying off.
Pros going up the ramp to enter the straight - I much prefer a hilly run to a hilly we had both.

 Ness got some hypothermia again and had to drop out after the swim. Keren had a very solid day, getting 28th in his AG and Geraldine got 9th in hers. We had a lot of fun hanging out together all weekend.

Will take that result.

Money shot.
 Closing Ceremony

The closing ceremony was similar to the opening but even louder (maybe I am just getting old) but the performances were pretty cool.
The medal ceremony went for quite a while doing all the age groups for sprint and Olympic distances. A Japanese fellow won the 30-34, and the whole J team were all stoked for him.

Nagata-san won the M 30-34 - he has won a series of races overall in Japan and will be in Murakami - look out! Flys on the run.

Will take a long time to get over the olympics in Beijing. OK you did a good move along.

The Japanese team all bailed from the ceremony for our own dinner in some kind of a yakitori place with coals and a chain driven drive to turn your sticks for you.

Chinese charcters say: "House special: Roast Border Collie"

Chinese are about as subtle as a brick with most things, use of chilli and garlic in their cooking included. I'm going out there on a limb to say it- All Chinese food is shite.
We had a great time overall and even though there was a fair bit of over-kill in the organisation and security they did a great job hosting. Next year it's in Auckland in October, and there is a fair chance we'll be in staying in Sydney at that time so maybe we will give it a crack. Water temp will be 16 degrees though so I might do it solo! 

Next up is the Tour De Hokkaido bike race this weekend, where I'll be playing domestique to Team Niseko's roadies Ben and Ross, who have a chance of winning it, then we have the biggest gaijin participation race in Japan, Murakami on Sep 25 and then Taiwan Half Ironman Nov 5, before IMWA Dec 2.


  1. Thanks for superb write-up. I hope Ness is OK.... Does she need to bump up her fat%. Also, Sprint is also a Triathlon even as much as OLY/HIM and IM ;) Great writing and experience for you all. Breaking 40 min 10k in style must feel good ;)

  2. Congrats!!
    Very happy for you.
    And feed your wife more often... ; )

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    Starting out in triathlons