Did 2022 see more penalties than ever issued in Elite triathlon events?
In all honesty, we don’t have any stats as to back that up. What does feel to be the case however, is the frequency of those penalties playing a material impact on the racing we’ve been watching this year.
So, in the second of our 2022 Year in Review series, we look back at a selection of the highest profile penalties of the season, and the stories behind them.
Mistaken identity for Hauser
Australia’s Matt Hauser has had the best season of his career to date – but there have been a few frustrations along the way. The winner of SLT Championship Series races in Munich and NEOM, the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist has also had some challenges along the way.
Round one of the Triple Mix format at West India Quay saw a penalty applied in the very first transition for a false start in the swim for the Team Eagles member. Such are the small margins in SLT racing, that if you miss the proverbial train, you can be effectively out of contention before you’ve truly started. Especially when you are held until the last swimmer had exited the water and you are starting from the back on the bike.
Them’s the rules though… the only problem was that it wasn’t Matt that had started early, it was fellow Eagle, Jamie Riddle! Eagles Team Manager, Tim Don, was rightly fuming about the error, which could have put him out of series contention inside four minutes.
Thankfully for everyone concerned, Hauser got himself back in the game and ultimately took second place on the day, behind Hayden Wilde but ahead of Alex Yee. It was all smiles in the end.
Hayden Wilde in Birmingham
Right or wrong? Whatever the merits or not, this was absolutely one of the biggest penalty moments of the year. Aided by a great swim and his typically aggressive bike breakaway, Hayden Wilde had got ahead of home favourite Alex Yee starting the run at the Commonwealth Games in Sutton Park, Birmingham. 16 seconds was the advantage with 5km to run; could the Olympic silver medallist catch the Olympic bronze medallist?
The race was on, and remember, this was the first medal event on the first day of competition of the entire Commonwealth Games. I remember it very well, as I was in the commentary box announcing at the venue when the news came through that Wilde had been awarded a penalty. He would have a 10-seconds stop-and-go to serve. Drama on top of excitement.
We would later find out that the source of the penalty was that the Kiwi was adjudged to have unclipped his cycle helmet before his bike was fully racked. A field-of-play decision assessed in real time by the Technical Officials, even the benefits of slow-motion replays don’t give absolute clarity on the matter.
There’s no way of knowing how the result might have changed had the penalty not been issued, but the circumstances have clearly been noted by World Triathlon, with a rules change implemented from 2023, that touching the helmet locking mechanism will now be forbidden before the bike is racked.
Wilde and Triathlon New Zealand have reluctantly moved on from the situation, having petitioned that the penalty was awarded in error, and that the fairest solution was that two gold medals should be issued.
Despite what I’m sure would have been high emotions and disappointments, I have to commend Wilde for his mature response under testing conditions. He never sought to take away from Yee’s win – quite the opposite in fact – and as he always is, was generous with his time shortly after the medal presentations, speaking to the crowds when our host at the venue interviewed him and respectful of the event, the supporters and his competitors. He’s a class act on and off the course.
Who would have known that when we wrote an article in advance of the race called Triathlon penalties: The X Factor in Commonwealth Games clashes?, it would play out! There were some interesting Google Analytics on that article over the following 24 hours…
Beaugrand and Duffy win despite penalties
Penalties are nothing new in the high-pressure world of WTCS racing, and 2022 has been no different. Proving that you can get a penalty and still win, were Cassandre Beaugrand (Leeds) and Flora Duffy (Hamburg).
In Roundhay Park, Beaugrand’s infringement was mounting her bike before the T1 mount line. Despite the penalty (and a 39 second deficit at T2, relative to the breakaway due of Coldwell and Spivey), the French athlete was running so well, that none of it ultimately mattered.
Flora’s penalty moment came in Hamburg, where some misplaced goggles outside of the transition box at the swim exit would add some additional stress on the closing 5km run. She still managed a 13th career WTCS title, and so luck was on her side.
Standing in a penalty box and watching Beth Potter run by presented a significant challenge, but it was one the Bermudian would overcome.
Sam Long’s 70.3 nightmare
Few penalties this year have generated as many headlines as the five-minutes given to Sam Long at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship. It certainly wasn’t the only penalty that impacted top contenders across the Kona / St George 70.3 events (Florian Angert, Magnus Ditlev, Laura Philipp, India Lee, Lisa Norden, Sarah Crowley among them), but this was the one that really seemed to strike a chord with the masses – including fellow Pro athletes watching the coverage.
Having skipped Kona to go all-in on trying to step up from his silver at the 70.3 World Champs last year, the video coverage had shown the Big Unit, in typical style making significant moves through the field on two wheels.
The drafting rules are complex – and IRONMAN have indicated that the penalised infringement was made “about a minute to a minute and a half before the athlete was notified”, a ‘slotting in’ (drafting) penalty. Still, combined with the race broadcast images we had seen for an extended period, along with the carding moment highlighted in the tweet below, the overwhelming feeling from a significant majority was that there was no ‘intention’ to gain an advantage.
Athletes want rules to be applied, and we have all seen many a situation in the past wondering why (seemingly) blatant drafting was not being called. As Sebastian Kienle said after the race in Kona, “Everybody is calling for a fair race and wanting the referees to enforce the rules – and then they enforce the rules, and everybody starts to cry about it.”
I can appreciate both sides. Name-calling Technical Officials making the decisions helps nobody, while of course few athletes believe their penalty was issued correctly. Still… this one just didn’t feel right at all, a view that was seemingly shared widely. It will be interesting to see if the penalty discussions of 2022 have fast-tracked the developments and potential implementation of RaceRanger or other technology in the near future.
When the wind blows at Relay Worlds….
When Sam Dickinson joined with Olympic champions Alex Yee and Georgia Taylor-Brown, plus multiple WTCS podium finisher, Sophie Coldwell, at the Mixed Relay Triathlon World Championships in Montreal, the pressure was on alongside highly decorated team mates.
Imagine how you would be feeling then, handing over to Georgia Taylor-Brown on the final leg – with the news that you had incurred a 10-second penalty, just to further add to her challenge of turning fifth place into a podium and with it, potential early qualification confirmed for the team at Paris 2024.
GTB eliminated her deficit to all but the race-winning French through the swim and bike, but still needed to gain enough time to serve the 10 second penalty too. Thankfully, she did just that. “I was using some very strong curse words to little Samuel [Dickinson] over here, but we got there in the end.”
The interesting thing? Sam was not responsible – and the penalty, perhaps, was issued in error. He told us:
“What happened was my helmet got blown off of my bike with my sunglasses on before the race started. An official picked it up, put it back on my bike but left my sunnies on the floor. So I did the whole race not knowing, and then I got penalised because they were outside the box – when actually it shouldn’t have been a penalty anyway.”
All’s well that ends well.