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The Road to Paris 2024: Why does swimming get a real Seine backup plan, but not triathlon?

Mark Allen responds to the latest reports concerning backup plans for the Olympic Games triathlon if the River Seine does not play ball.

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A few days ago, another article appeared explaining the backup plans for the triathlon and the marathon swim events at the Paris Olympics if the water quality in the Seine is unsafe.

AP News reported what we already know. If the water quality deteriorates, there could be a few days delay if the scheduled days are unsafe. If the water quality remains unsafe after that, the triathlon will become a duathlon. But the marathon swimming events will remain marathon swimming events and will be held at the Vaires-sur-Marne Nautical Stadium, which will also host the rowing and canoeing events.

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Why no Plan B for triathlon?

This begs the question. Why hasn’t there been a Plan B put in place to keep the triathlon a triathlon? The marathon swimmers aren’t being told to do a run instead! They aren’t being told they have to do the swim in a pool.

But the triathletes are being told there’s a potential they will have to do a completely different sport! Yes, running and cycling are part of a triathlon. But a duathlon is a fundamentally different sport.

Echoing this was a conversation I had with Olav Aleksander Bu, the coach of Gustav Iden and Kristian Blummenfelt. In an interview I did with him for Road to Paris, I asked if they were preparing for the eventuality of the triathlon becoming a duathlon. He said, absolutely not! They were preparing for the triathlon, that the duathlon prep would be completely different.

I’m sure the International Olympic Committee is filled with extremely smart individuals. But somewhere in the planning process a link broke down. Perhaps those in charge of mitigating the water quality overpromised and underdelivered to the IOC. Maybe they kept reassuring the Committee that the water quality would be fine, so no plan B for the triathlon was even considered outside of morphing it into a completely different sport.

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This shouldn’t be a shock

This issue didn’t just sneak up on anyone though. The Mixed Relays and the Para Test Event were turned into duathlons last summer. At that point, a year out from the Games, from my naïve perspective, it seems an alternative option should have been crafted. I get that likely the scenic backdrop of the heart of Paris was a huge factor in not wanting to move the race venue, but still!

Rather than just complaining, let me offer a solution. I checked on how far the Vaires-sur-Marne Nautical Stadium is from the Pont Alexandre III Bridge where the transition area is located.  On what appear to be very viable roads, it’s 32.8km. Contemplate that!

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A missed opportunity

The cycling leg in the triathlon is 40km. This could have been our Tour de France moment. The last stage of most Tours starts outside of Paris, then concludes with some laps on the Champs-Élysées. The triathlon course could have mimicked that same dynamic. The bike could have finished with a lap or two on the famed boulevard, then concluded at the Pont Alexandre III Bridge overlooking the Seine with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Epic!

But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

I hope I’m just venting over nothing. The AP News article I am referring to did say that the water quality has been good enough to swim in five out of the last seven days. With a bit of luck and a lot of sunny days, we will bear witness to what will likely be the most iconic triathlon (not a duathlon) to ever take place, all in the heart of Paris.

See you at the Seine!

Mark Allen
Written by
Mark Allen
Mark Allen has to be in any conversation about the greatest triathlete of all time. A six-time IRONMAN World Champion, he won every other title that mattered in the sport and dominated like few others
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