Tim Don responds to ‘Zippergate’ and more burning triathlon rules issues

Who better to give an impartial view on Matt Sharpe's DQ at 70.3 Maine?

News Director
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Tim Don recently used the ’60-Second Soapbox’ at the end of the latest Super League Triathlon ‘Short Chute Show’ to rail against some of the rules which divide opinions in swim/bike/run.

So who better to ask about the controversial ruling which saw Matt Sharpe disqualified after finishing third at IRONMAN 70.3 Maine on Sunday, a decision which the Canadian said left him “heartbroken”?

And as ever IRONMAN legend Don, who on Tuesday unveiled a stacked line-up for his Eagles team ahead of Super League Triathlon this month, provided a balanced and insightful perspective on what unfolded – or unzipped – in Maine.


Not all rules are black and white

He told us: “Certain rules are black and white, like the offside rule now in football; you’re either offside or you’re not. In triathlon [with tech such as RaceRanger] you’re either drafting or you’re not.

“But something like littering is a bit vague, isn’t it? I mean, theoretically, if a bottle did fall out the back, that’s littering, as is me throwing a gel wrapper in a bush. But they’re kind of different.

“And in terms of Sunday, if you remember the Jesse Thomas incident in South America, his zip broke in T1. And he ended up getting duct tape and wrapping it around his chest. There’s loads of photos and on the run, he put a T shirt on.

“I don’t know why Matt’s zip was undone on Sunday but it does sound like there was no performance advantage, there was no safety issue and he wasn’t deliberately exposing himself.

Tim Don Eagles 2021 photo credit Super League Triathlon
Tim Don [Photo credit: Super League Triathlon]

“So it is a very unfortunate but I guess the rule is the rule. Should it be changed? I don’t know, because you might then have loads of people, like old school, just racing in swimming trunks and no top at all.

“But I do I feel for the guy, especially when you get on the podium. I do think if he’d come fourth, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. He’s a newish pro into 70.3 so results mean everything. This could impact performance bonuses, sponsors, obviously prize money and more so I feel for him.

“Are Ironman going to change it? I very much doubt it. Do they need to look at some of their rules? Probably, but will they? I doubt it.

And is this one of the rules that should be updated? I really don’t know.

Early warning?

“The officials are probably more looking for a ‘cheating’ rule. Like cutting the course or outside assistance.”

But even in those areas, Don admits there are plenty of grey areas: “I know someone that’s been DQ’d for taking a chapstick off their wife in an age group race in America which seems a bit pedantic, but where do you draw the line?

“But yeah. I must admit, years ago, when I did my first Ironman in 2014 in Mallorca [which he won], I had my zip fully undone to my belly button, and halfway around the run, they blew a whistle and said, you need to do it up to so far, because it was too low. So I did zip it up. So I did get warned. Maybe that kind of rule could be a warning.

“But then again, sometimes I’ve been racing and I’ve heard the marshals say, you’re getting too close on the bike, come back. Other times they just go bang, here’s a penalty. It’s that discretion, that interpretation of the rule, that’s what can be frustrating.”

Thinking outside the box

Don has demonstrated once again through his team manager role in Super League that he’s always looking to stay a step ahead of the opposition, though always within the rules.

And as a final thought on this topic for now, he says he’s full of admiration for those athletes who are able to push the rules to their own advantage.

He explained: “The equipment and kit has obviously moved on, the evolution is there. The technology is looking at what’s fastest.

Joe Skipper, what he did to get aero gains with those bottles – that was ingenious and within the rules.

Challenge Geraardsbergen 2023 - Photo Credit José Luis Hourcade
Joe Skipper, with his distinctive aero bottle set-up [Photo Credit José Luis Hourcade]

“Let’s be honest, Gustav in Kona. Genius. Patrick Lange. The shoe rule got changed this year for one race at Roth, so take advantage.”

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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