IRONMAN Austria: Interesting, very interesting…

IRONMAN Austria logo (20 years)

The 20th edition of IRONMAN Austria in the stunning venue of Klagenfurt, Austria, produced some interesting racing on Sunday – and some post-race news which, perhaps, will have an impact on the future direction on the sport.

Pro Women

Austria’s Beatrice Weiss lead the way through what is perhaps the sports most stunningly beautiful swim venue, the Wörthersee, clocking 51:31 at the exit, two and a half minutes clear of 2017 IRONMAN Age-Group World Champion, Emily Loughnan (AUS). The GB duo of Susie Cheetham and Emma Pallant were next, a further 90 seconds later in the company of Mareen Hufe (GER), Sara Svensk (SWE), Lisa Huetthaler (AUT) and Steph Corker (CAN).

Over the first of two 90km loops on the bike, Hufe, Huetthaler and Pallant made the turn in close order, around four minutes clear of swim leader Weiss, with Cheetham now six minutes down on the front of the race. Pallant was still with Hufe and Huetthaler with 30km remaining, but lost almost four minutes over that final section, leaving the leading pair to arrive at T2 together. Cheetham was 15:19 behind coming off the bike, with Svensk and Loughnan arriving around four minutes later.

There was little to separate the leading pair through the first 20-miles of the run, but Pallant was the athlete on the move, not only recovering her T2 deficit, but entering the last 10km with a lead of three minutes. Would her first Ironman finish (she did DNF at Ironman South Africe with injury), produce a win? Cheetham was still inn fourth place at this stage, 13 minutes behind Pallant and 10 behind Hufe/Huetthaler.

Pallant’s charge started to show some cracks in the final 10km, and with 5km to go Hufe had closed back up to the Brit and made the pass into the lead, with Huetthaler also soon to make that same pass. Hufe was able to hold on to the lead to the finish, crossing the line just 1:15 clear of Huetthaler. Pallant had to dig deep and took her tired body to third place, 3:27 behind the race-winning German.

POST-RACE NEWS… 

Having finished in fourth place, Great Britain’s Susie Cheetham posted a “Statement Regarding Drafting and Moto-pacing at Ironman Austria”, indicating that she had submitted an appeal on Monday for both unfair drafting against one of the top three athletes (Hufe, Huetthaler or Pallant – the athlete is not named), and against the race officials for inadequate marshalling and providing an unfair advantage due to inadequate Moto-discipline.

The result? Well, based solely off of the Cheetham statement (provided in full below) – and note, I have contacted the race directly for their formal response / announcement to seek further clarification – all of the female Pro athletes, from fourth and below, will be advanced by five minutes. The result of that? Absolutely no change whatsoever to any positions… and, to my eyes, a mess. Just my opinion.

*Statement Regarding Drafting and Moto-pacing at Ironman Austria* Many people may have been disappointed be scenes of drafting and moto-pacing at Ironman Austria. I felt that unfair racing and officiating took place at the front of the women’s race, and that it affected the results on the day. I presented video and photo evidence this morning in an appeal against one of the top 3 girls for unfair drafting, and against the race officials for inadequate marshalling and providing an unfair advantage due to inadequate Moto-discipline. I’m pleased to say that after reviewing my evidence, and race footage, my appeal has been upheld. It has been agreed that the front 3 women received an unfair advantage. Although I have been told that retrospective penalties cannot be applied under the race rules; action will be taken to ADVANCE ALL WOMEN PROS BY 5 MIN FROM 4TH PLACE. The official results will be amended. I’m happy with this outcome as it vindicates my concerns that the front of the women’s race was not raced fairly. Unfortunately this will not change the positions and I believe that the advantage gained was a lot more than 5 min. I would also have raced differently if I had known I was 9 min back off the bike, rather than 14 min. I really appreciate the genuine concern and interest that I have been shown by the race organisers, officials and Ironman management. I think the matter has been handled swiftly and as well as possible, and I hope this can be used to learn and make this beautiful race better. Susie 📷 @rcruzworld #imaustria #ironmantri #ironmanaustria

A post shared by Susie Cheetham (Hignett) (@susiecheetham) on

First up, drafting and / or gaining a benefit from the draft of the lead motorcycles / TV cameras / race officials / media is not new. Indeed, it is a constant issue, or certainly perceived as such by many – and allegations are consistently made. In that regards, trying to do more than a social media whinge and provide more structured ‘evidence’ / deal direct with an event or race referee / competition jury is to be applauded. Kudos to Susie (and husband Rob), in that regard.

That said, the outcome seemingly implemented (and, as yet, I have neither seen any formal confirmation of been able to find any statement from the race itself) – to me at least – appears to be a ‘make it up as we go along’.

  1. Firstly, it would appear to be the case that an appeal has been granted for a drafting allegation. The 2018 IRONMAN Competition Rules (HERE), section 3.06, seem to pretty clear in stating that, “No person may file a protest which requires a judgment call”, specifically referencing alleged drafting violations.
  2. If that is the case (?), on what basis is the protest being assessed? i.e. Do the rules allow (even in the face of overwhelming evidence!), the consideration of a) video / photographic evidence, and b) in relation to a “judgement call”. That’s not me trying to be pedantic – see the potential impacts of doing so below…
  3. Given that the protest / appeal has been “upheld”, is that in relation to the drafting allegations, to Moto-pacing, or both? That seems to be a very important point.
  4. The result of the protest is a five minute time deduction / gain for the all of the non-podium female Pro athletes? On what basis and where did five minutes come from?
  5. Race rules don’t allow a retrospective penalty – but apparently are going to allow for a retrospective bonus time deduction?!
  6. The impact of the five minute change makes absolutely no difference to positions or prize money. Some might suggest that is very convenient in this instance 🙂
  7. Most importantly perhaps… this sets a dangerous precedent. What is to stop athletes making similar (with perhaps equally compelling video evidence) claims and appeals/protests at future races, citing the “Susie rule”?! How will their time(s) be adjusted? What then happens if/when that results in position and prize money changes? One might reasonably suggest that having a personal videographer on course to capture ‘evidence’ may be a prudent move…

Again, just so it is absolutely clear, taking a ‘stand’ / raising the issue with race officials / presenting evidence /  trying to make positive change for the future is to be applauded (and I’ve been in touch with Susie post-race, to say as much…), as the constant post-race social media bitching and accusations about moto-pacing is, if nothing else, getting boring and making the professional side of the sport look amateur.

I’m yet to be convinced that the ‘action’ taken by the race jury / referee, is consistent with the competition rules or is significantly more than a token gesture. Ultimately, that is the key issue here.

The ‘positive’ is that making some public action (I’m assuming (hoping!), there will be something from the race itself on this to outline the procedure from their perspective…), is that it there is an acknowledgement of the issue beyond the typical, closed doors, “we know, and we’ll stop it happening”. If that can be a catalyst for change, that will be a huge step forward.

In the meantime, don’t be surprised if you see similar post-race cases of this nature. Precedent has been set. Time will tell if that precedent is a good one.

Pro Men

Germany’s Lukas Wojt powered through the swim in a very swift 44:31, building a lead of almost two and a half minutes over the chase back, lead by Great Britain’s David McNamee, who had Andy Potts (USA) and Johann Ackermann (GER) for company. The next group of six followed a minute and a half later.

By the midpoint of the bike, Ackermann had joined swim leader Wojt at the front of the race, but the fastest man on the course was Michael Weiss (AUT), now up to second and just 1:23 down with McNamee solo in fourth, exactly two minutes further back.

The Weiss charge continued on lap two, leaving the Austrian to arrive at T2 with a two minute lead over Wojt, with Ackermann 40 seconds later (and then into the penalty tent for five minutes for a drafting penalty). Potts (+11:48), McNamee (+12:13) and Diederen (+12:16) followed.

By the midpoint of the run, Weiss was in total control with a huge lead of almost 13 minutes over Woijt and Potts, with Ackermann next (+13:47) followed by McNamee (+14:49).

By 20 miles, McNamee’s chances of a podium had gone (see below), while Weiss was now almost 14 minutes ahead of Potts, with David Plese (CRO) and Ivan Tutukin (RUS) having moved through into third and fourth respectively.

Weiss duly crossed the line first (via a 2:51:39 marathon), with Tutukin producing a by far race best of 2:40:00 for second, and push Andy Potts into third place.

IRONMAN Austria, Klagenfurt – Sunday 1st July 2018
3.8km / 180km / 42.2km

PRO MEN

1st – Michael Weiss (AUT) – 8:04:46
2nd – Ivan Tutukin (RUS) – 8:13:21
3rd – Andy Potts (USA) – 8:14:25
4th – David Plese (CRO) – 8:16:01
5th – Johann Ackermann (GER) – 8:26:41

15th – David McNamee (GBR) – 8:55:55

PRO WOMEN

1st – Mareen Hufe (GER) – 9:00:32
2nd – Lisa Huetthaler (AUT) – 9:01:47
3rd – Emma Pallant (GBR) – 9:03:59
4th – Susie Cheetham (GBR) – 9:12:45 **
5th – Emily Loughnan (AUS) – 9:16:22 **

(** See reference above – according to the ‘statement’ of Susie Cheetham, these times look set to be reduced by five minutes…)