With multiple events and multiple opportunities for involvement, triathlon continues its growth. USA Triathlon, the national governing body, is at the vanguard of the multisport movement. What follows is a review of its most important initiatives affecting event owners and destinations.
NCAA Championship Status
As of February 2020, 35 colleges and universities across the country were sponsoring women’s triathlon as a varsity sport. USA Triathlon needs to recruit at least 40 varsity programs by 2024 in order to achieve full-fledged NCAA Championship Sport status. In fact, we have added 27 programs since January of 2017, making triathlon the sixth-most-added varsity sport by colleges and universities overall during that timeframe.
USA Triathlon’s goal is to reach the 40-school mark by the end of 2020. We are having conversations with 20 schools that are very interested in adding the sport, so we believe the milestone is achievable. Once women’s triathlon earns championship status, the NCAA’s Championship Sport office will take over the management of the championship calendar, though USA Triathlon will continue to play a role in the recruitment of new programs.
Presently, USA Triathlon has several strategies for recruiting schools to add varsity women’s triathlon. We present to collegiate conferences, athletic directors and coaches at conferences and symposiums across the country. Specifically, the NCAA Convention is a huge opportunity for us to get in front of many institutions at once, network and make connections.
We work with USA Triathlon members — especially those who are faculty, staff or athletic coaches at colleges and universities — who are interested in helping us with the effort by introducing us to university leadership through their personal and professional connections. We reach out directly to colleges and universities that might be a good fit to receive our USA Triathlon Foundation Women’s Emerging Sport Grant. We’ve even hosted athletic directors at U.S.-hosted collegiate and elite triathlon events to give them a better understanding of the sport, especially the draft-legal racing format.
In addition, we assist current varsity programs with their recruitment efforts by hosting high school triathlon combines, working with national federations of other countries to reach international athletes, etc. Once triathlon becomes a championship sport, it will be eligible for points toward the Directors’ Cup — awarded annually to the nation’s best overall collegiate athletics program. For athletic directors and departments that are competitive in the Directors’ Cup, this is a major draw. These are just a few examples, but we are always looking for new opportunities to get in front of potential schools with the emerging sport opportunity.
One of USA Triathlon’s key strategies is to recruit schools within close proximity to each other to build the movement regionally. We are seeing significant growth in areas of the country where the sport of triathlon as a whole is strong, such as in the Mideast (Mid-Atlantic) region. The women’s collegiate triathlon schedule currently features three qualifiers and the National Championships — but many schools also host regional invitationals or coordinate with nearby schools to race each other at local USA Triathlon-sanctioned events. This helps schools to cut costs on travel while still competing regularly throughout the fall season.
The Growth of Triathlon as a Whole
USA Triathlon has used its Time to Tri initiative, as well as the #DreamingSeason campaign publicized this year. Through the Time to Tri Virtual Triathlon (the world’s first entirely online swim, bike and run event, held in November 2019), we were able to connect triathletes of all skill levels and experiences, both able-bodied and paratriathletes. We had involvement from elite athletes like Katie Zaferes, Melissa Stockwell, Allysa Seely and Tamara Gorman, to members of USA Triathlon’s amateur Team USA, to age group triathletes who compete once or twice a year, to hundreds of people completely new to the sport.
Race directors, coaches, club leaders, and brands and retailers from across the country have made pledges to help tackle some of the sport’s barriers to entry, including providing free SwimSafe clinics, offering free triathlon races for kids, and giving away or discounting gear and equipment.
The industry-wide push to make the sport more accessible, inclusive and attainable has resonated throughout all of our constituent groups. We’ve also seen a number of efforts across the country that aren’t tied directly to Time to Tri, but align with the initiative, such as the Hand & Stone Women’s Philadelphia Triathlon that debuted in 2018 and sold out in 2019, and events adding beginner-friendly elements such as first-timer waves or non-traditional “swim” waves (such as with kayaks or paddleboards).
The numbers are already impressive. For example:
DreamingSeason 2020 saw:
• 12,946,467 impressions on social media — nearly a 40 percent increase over 2019
• 25,396 impressions — a 25 percent increase over 2019
• A total reach of 772,340 — a more than 160 percent increase from 2019
Time to Tri: More than 25,000 training plans have been downloaded over the past two years from www.mytimetotri.com.
• 4,741 participants completed the November 2019 Time to Tri Virtual Triathlon, raising nearly $30,000 for the USA Triathlon Foundation in the process (there was a Foundation donation option that included a finisher’s medal and T-shirt; otherwise, the event was free to participate).
Something new this year is the USA Duathlon Virtual Run-Bike-Run presented by TOWER 26, which ran from April 10-May 16. It was free to participate, but for an optional $35 donation, athletes could support the USA Triathlon Foundation COVID-19 Relief Fund, providing grants to members of the multisport community who have been impacted by COVID-19 (such as race directors, coaches and club leaders).
When USA Triathlon announced a partnership with the CBD company, Pure Spectrum, it was a big and progressive step forward. The partnership has garnered a lot of interest from elite and age-group athletes as well as coaches. Education has and will continue to be a key component of the partnership, so we are in the process of informing athletes and coaches about the benefits of the product.
USA Triathlon and Triathlon Business International (TBI) recently hosted the inaugural Endurance Exchange, a three-day industry conference for endurance sports in Tempe, Arizona. At that conference, one of the most popular presentations was focused on CBD and its potential benefits for triathletes. It was extremely well-attended, especially by coaches, demonstrating that people across the multisport industry are curious about CBD. USA Triathlon is committed to helping athletes navigate the crowded CBD space, and we are proud to provide a vetted option in Pure Spectrum.
The Effect of COVID-19 on USA Triathlon’s Calendar
Obviously, with COVID-19, many of our events this season have been derailed. Our national championships calendar for the 2020 season did include some new destinations; Hewitt, New Jersey, is one. The city will host the 2020 USA Triathlon Off-Road National Championships on September 13 (rescheduled from May 16). We also look forward to returning to some of our favorite locations in the future.
While nobody knows exactly when normal schedules will resume, USA Triathlon has athlete safety as its first priority. We are evaluating all remaining events on our calendar on a case-by-case basis, and we are hoping for a return to regular operations as soon as it is safe.
Site Selection for USA Triathlon Calendar Events
When selecting sites for championship events, USA Triathlon looks for a strong, well-rounded and connected local organizing committee. With the nature of our sport, which combines swimming, biking and running, it is important to have all the backing and resources to properly permit and execute. This is not possible or feasible without a strong infrastructure in place.
While each discipline feeds into the race as a whole, the local organizing committee must understand that each portion of the race carries its own challenges and intricacies. In addition, we take into consideration previous experience hosting large-scale national or international events, climate, airport proximity, hotel availability and nearby local attractions. Of course, a strong local club presence is a bonus in that those athletes will turn up at the race in large numbers and potentially help us recruit volunteers as well.
Cities that are interested in hosting future events should look for the RFPs on our website at usatriathlon.org/nationalchampionships which allow for application at any time throughout the year. SDM