An Interview with Rob Urbach, CEO - USA Triathlon
31 May, 2012By: Peter Francesconi
Years of experience:
Joined USA Triathlon in March 2011 as CEO. Has 20+ years as a sports industry executive.
What is the mission and vision of USA Triathlon?
The mission is to encourage, support and enhance the multisport experience in the United States. The organization’s vision is to engage every American in the multisport lifestyle.
How many members do you have?
450,000—150,000 annual members and 300,000 “one-day” members. Membership is comprised of athletes of all ages (from age 7 to 100), coaches, officials, parents and fans.
What is your history with triathlons?
I was drawn to the sport through TV broadcasts of the Ironman competitions. In high school, I read a Sports Illustrated article about an Ironman event in Hawaii, and I knew it was something I wanted to do. I still have a passion for multisport.
What events comprise a triathlon?
The international standard for a triathlon, and the format used at the ITU Age Group World Championships and the Olympics, is a 1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike race and 10-kilometer run. The 1980s saw the development of the “sprint distance” triathlon, which is about half the distances of an international race. But races can be of many different lengths.
What does USA Triathlon do?
As the National Governing Body, we “oversee” the sport. We sanction events and provide programming and thought leadership to over 20 constituent groups. We touch all aspects of triathlons. On the elite level, USA Triathlon is responsible for the selection and training of teams to represent the U.S. in international competition, including the world championships, Pan Am Games and Olympic Games. USA Triathlon conducts national camps and clinics and provides coaching education programs. On the developmental level, USA Triathlon fosters grassroots expansion of the sport, which is facilitated by the sanctioning of age-group events and triathlon clubs.
How many events does USA Triathlon sanction?
4,300 events a year, ranging from grassroots to high-profile races, including 14 national championships.
What is your vision for USAT?
We have a pretty bold mission that includes fueling the multisport lifestyle and facilitating and enabling people to participate in triathlons. For people of all ages and all fitness levels, including special populations, we can help them change their lives and achieve fitness. We would love for all members to be able to race every week within drive time of where they live. For us, it’s about creating more opportunities for people to engage in triathlons and other race formats that take place at convenient venues. While the traditional triathlon is swim-bike-run, there are other variations, and various distances.
How can multisport become more mainstream?
The youth aspect of the sport is extremely important for us. We recently hired a youth program manager. Triathlon inspires kids to establish good fitness habits at an early age that they can carry through for the rest of their lives.
What do you look for in venues for triathlons?
We look for good support from the host city and all the appropriate agencies, an accessible location for athletes and a good course that is both scenic and challenging.
How can USAT help event organizers and race directors?
Choosing a prime location to host a multisport event can be tricky. We offer an Events Location Guide that identifies market opportunities and competition challenges when planning an event. We also have partners that can provide a variety of opportunities to allow race directors to save money. Also, in partnership with One Million Revolutions, producer of the Musselman Triathlon, we provide a course-mapping tool for race directors that can display each segment of a race on an interactive map.
What do people not know about triathlons and multisport?
A lot of people who aren’t attuned to our sport believe they simply can’t do it. They hear about the most famous triathlon, the Ironman, and think that’s what multisport is all about, and then conclude that triathlons are too overwhelming and too difficult. In fact, most participants do sprint triathlons, which are much, much shorter distances, and there are also “super-sprints,” which are an entry level.
Doing a triathlon does not take a massive amount of training. You may not be training to win the race, but you can finish—and importantly, you will get all the benefits of the training and the competition. And that’s another important point: You can be as competitive as you want to be. The key is you’re being active, having fun and maintaining your fitness.
This is an Olympic year. How will that help USAT?
Triathlon was added to the Olympics in 2000, and it’s become one of the most exciting competitions of the Summer Games. We expect the sport as a whole will benefit greatly from the exposure it will get at the London Olympics and through TV broadcasts.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Inspiring people to transform their lives. It’s all very inspiring to me, and it’s inspiring to know that at USAT, we’re changing lives.