‘Big Blu’ is the reigning Olympic champion and last year he won the IRONMAN World Championship and 70.3 Worlds, both in St George. And in each of the last two seasons he’s topped the PTO world rankings.
Knibb meanwhile won a silver medal in the Mixed Team Relay at the Tokyo Olympics, has already qualified for the individual event in Paris next year, dominated the 70.3 Worlds in August for the second time in a row and then finished fourth when making her full-distance debut at the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona last month – in the process moving up to #3 in the world.
So few are better placed to weigh up the evolving triathlon landscape as we head into 2024, a year which features those Olympic Games in Paris, Super League, an expanded PTO Tour and the inaugural IRONMAN Pro Series.
‘Almost impossible to combine both’
We caught up with Blummenfelt when he was in Neom for the Super League Championship Series finale and, given the way he’s juggled a whole range of races, wondered whether he thought it possible to contend for the lucrative end-of-season bonuses from both the PTO and IRONMAN in a non-Olympic year?
But he told us: “I would say it’s going to be almost impossible to combine both.
“Because you suddenly have to do five IRONMAN-branded events – including three at full-distance – and then you have to probably do five, six, seven PTO races and that’s going to be too busy.
“It feels like IRONMAN are sort of stepping up to PTO and giving an answer back, though they are more focused on full distance. It’s interesting to see.
But the more interest there is, with the PTO, with IRONMAN, with Super League at short distance, the better it is.
“They are all investing into the sport and putting prize money on the table – and it’s better to have too many races to choose between than too few!”
100km Olympic distance?
That was very much echoed by Knibb when she appeared on the Talking Triathlon podcast recently, embedded below.
Asked if she thinks it’s a good thing for athletes to have so many different – and potentially competing – options, she said: “I think it depends on the athelete. Because there are lots of shiny objects and you kind of have to decipher … what’s valuable to me and what’s not.
“You need to decide what’s your goal and focus on that because you need it all to fit in.”
Discussing the range of options on offer, from Super League through to IRONMAN, she said: “That’s the fun thing, there are so many different avenues you can pursue triathlon in these days.
“[But] you might never overlap, which is unfortunate. There needs to be some race where everyone races [each other].
“Who’s the better triathlete? They’re all great, but you can’t really compare.”
And her – perhaps – radical suggestion was interesting: “I sort of hope they add the PTO distance to the Olympics. That would be the best. If that distance was in the Olympics it would be very interesting to see what decisions athletes make. Because you could race the PTO series and race the Olympics.
“You look at someone like Jason West – he went up in distance, gained even more control of his career and now he’s potentially going to be racing short course.
“Because he can and not because he has to. It’s his choice and you’re coming at it from a different perspective.”
The Brownlee perspective
Another athlete with Olympic medals to his name – the full set no less – who has tested the water at the 70.3 distance and likely could again after Paris is Jonny Brownlee.
And speaking to TRI247 he underlined that it’s great to have the wider choice – but that he too thinks there will be a big choice to be made for a lot of athletes in terms of racing IRONMAN or PTO, not a dilemma the short course stars have.
He told us: “We’re really fortunate with Super League guys and World Triathlon in that we can do both. And I actually think racing Super League complements the WTCS.
“As a triathlete sat here now, it is absolutely amazing that I can race Super League, the World Series and I can do the PTO if I want to do.
“And obviously as someone who might look into that distance in the future, to see it kind of opening up and more series coming in is brilliant.
“But now with this new IRONMAN Pro Series – I think what they’re trying to do is to get you to really choose between the two of them. I think they want you to either commit to the IRONMAN series or the PTO series, which is fair enough, really. It means that they can publicise those athletes and really get behind their series.”