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‘That just spells injury to me’ – outgoing British Tri chief on the dangers of too much racing

While welcoming increased racing options for pro triathletes, Andy Salmon says there are also challenges to overcome.

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This week sees both the WTCS and the new T100 series share centre stage in Abu Dhabi and Miami respectively.

It’s great for triathlon fans as many of the Olympic favourites get set for their first big battle of 2024 while the world’s best middle and long-distance stars kick off the PTO’s shiny new initiative in the USA.

But in an in-depth interview with TRI247, outgoing British Triathlon chief Andy Salmon – while broadly welcoming the increased opportunities – warned that there are some challenges.

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Collaboration the key

Salmon, who was in charge at British Triathlon for over six years, said: “I’ve talked about how we need to collaborate more as a sporting system in the UK and I think we need to collaborate even more as a triathlon system.

“Globally, we’re not a big enough sport to have different independent entities competing with each other. There’s a little bit of that going on – not too much when you compare it to some other big sports – but we should be as one.

“We should have a really co-ordinated approach with the athlete at the centre.

“So, for example, one of my concerns is if we have a really packed race schedule and as some of the so-called long-distance races become a bit shorter, some athletes will be really tempted, perhaps by prize money, to race in multiple different formats in a short space of time.

“And that just spells injury to me. And we don’t want to see injured athletes, we want to see healthy athletes turning up at the start line in the best possible shape, having great races. So more collaboration [around the schedule] is important.”

Andy Salmon CEO photo credit British Triathlon
Andy Salmon [Photo credit: British Triathlon]

More TV exposure a good thing

But Salmon also fully accepts that getting more high-quality triathlon broadcasts is a key part of growing the sport.

In the UK the Olympics will be by far the biggest shop window in 2024 but another significant showcase opportunity has been lost now that there’s not a British-hosted WTCS event and all the BBC coverage that entails.

Salmon explained: “We have worked hard with the BBC to make sure that even though there’s not a domestic WTCS race, there’s still BBC coverage of the sport, so that we keep it on the box for people to be inspired by.

“So whether it’s Super League Triathlon, whether it’s the PTO, whether it’s other World Series races. We have a great relationship with all these guys. I think Michael [D’hulst]’s done a fantastic job with Super League. There’s no doubt in my mind that what he’s doing is good for the sport.

“Likewise, the PTO. Perhaps it’s not as broadcastable – if that’s a word – as Super League, which is so fast and furious and exciting.

“But we want to see major events on UK soil in the future and ideally we’d like them to be the WTCS and WTPS under the World Triathlon banner. But if we can’t do that, then the next best thing is to help and support Michael and Sam [Renouf] at Super League and the PTO respectively to bring big events to the UK, because they can serve the same purpose, they can inspire next generations.

It’s amazing what you can achieve if you don’t worry about who takes the credit.

“This is not about saying, we’ve got to be the host of the only major event in the UK. We don’t need to be at all. We want to see high-quality triathlon in the UK because that’s good for the sport and we don’t mind if we play a supporting role or a leading role in that.”

There’s been a Super League – now rebranded as supertri – event in the centre of London in the last few years and in 2024 the supertri E World Championship will also take place at the London Aquatic Centre while the PTO are bringing the T100 series to the capital in late July.

Katie Zaferes - Super League Triathlon London 2023
Packed crowds at last year’s SLT London event [Photo Credit – Darren Wheeler / That Cameraman / Super League Triathlon]

Where does paratri fit in?

But back to the question of what Salmon feels is a worry: “I know there are some people who see the PTO and indeed Super League as a threat. As I said, I don’t see it that way at all. We’re too small a sport to behave in that way.

“But my first concern is the athletes’ welfare. I want to see the PTO, Super League, World Triathlon, IRONMAN, Challenge – all the big players – get together annually and have what I would call a fixtures meeting and say, right, what are our schedules looking like? And agree on some principles that are fundamentally about the athletes’ best interests.

“Of course some athletes are going to have to make a choice whether they race here or whether they race there. But I think we could do a much better job collectively as a sport about planning the elite schedules – and also where does paratri fit in? What is the right format?

“We’ve had lots of debate about this. Are standalone para races like we have in Swansea the right thing to do? Or is para better served by being alongside another triathlon race on the same weekend, in the same place, on the same course? There are arguments for and against, so it all comes back to collaboration and agreeing some common principles and sticking to them.”

Dave Ellis, Luke Pollard on the run at World Triathlon Para Series Swansea
Swansea will again host a World Triathlon Para Series event in 2024 [Photo Credit: Ben Lumley / World Triathlon]

‘Grown up relationship’

And how does Salmon see things panning out for the top GB athletes, some of whom have already tried their hand at middle-distance racing – or have suggested they will do so after Paris?

He told us: “First of all, from a GB point of view, we have a very grown up relationship with our elite athletes. We don’t say, you must do this, you mustn’t do that. I can understand how people might think that that’s how it works, but it isn’t how it works.

“If our athletes want to go and race in Super League or want to go to the PTO races or something else, then generally that’s what they do. We might advise them whether or not we think it’s a good idea based on the training load, risk of injury, course type, travel involved – you name it, a whole bunch of factors.

“And our performance programme is very clearly and deliberately focused on Olympic and Paralympic Games for one very simple reason: we get government and lottery funding through UK Sport for that purpose.

“It has to be focused on supporting athletes to prepare and deliver at Paralympic and Olympic Games. So it’s really important to be clear about that.”

Lack of long-distance support

Joe Skipper – who will be targeting the new IRONMAN Pro Series in 2024 – and David McNamee have both spoken about what they perceive as a lack of support from British Triathlon.

And while Salmon wouldn’t discuss individual cases, he did add: “We do have in our strategy, an aspiration to do better for what we call the whole sport, the rest of the sport.

“We would love in the perfect world, to do loads more for those many, many fantastic athletes who either progressed from Olympic distance or have just gone straight to long distance. We’d love to be able to do more for them.

“But we have to be really careful with the money we have that is unrestricted. We have to invest that in things like safeguarding and anti-doping, age-group athletes and so on.

“I would totally empathise with a long-distance athlete feeling ‘what does British Triathlon do for me?’

“There are things we do. We do support them in a very small way.

Would we like to do more? Absolutely. Can we currently afford to do more? No, I’m sorry, but we can’t.

“But we’re really open to further dialogue, to finding new ways that we can do more, because in terms of our triathlon community in Great Britain, not everybody is racing Olympic distance. People are doing more and more long distance racing, people are doing short racing variables, more adventure racing off road. So we want to serve the whole sport, not just a part of the sport. That’s our aspiration. Our challenge is to find the resources to do so.”

Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  

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