Let me start this topic by pointing out that these comments are purely my own, that may or may not be shared by members of Team Latitude, and is in no way meant to be derogatory or negative to any stakeholders or supporters of this great sport! I should also point out, I am not doing any extra research here, just going off memory, so cut me some slack!
Ok, now that’s out of the way here goes!
Let me take you back many years, yes I am “old School”, the year was circa 1984, the runners in the Westfield Ultra-Marathon (remember Cliffy Young) were making their way into Melbourne after a lazy 900km on the road! A Scotsman (whose name slips my mind) was in third place with only 7kms to go, I’m pretty sure Yannis Kouros had already crossed the line in first (as he always did), anyway back to the Scotsman. He was done, spent, cactus! Only 7km of a 900 km run to go and nothing! Collapsed coincidently out the front of the Kew cemetery. His support crew dragged him into his van and in came a sport physcologist. 2 hours later he emerged; stood still for a few minutes then slowly put one foot on the ground in front of the other, another minute passed and the next foot followed.
It took the best part of another hour before he was moving again, not running, but a stagger, albeit a solid stagger. I was following this on the television, then made my way up to Doncaster road as he was nearing the finish line. Suffice to say, he DID finish, ended up coming 5th. How would you be, getting overtaken with only kilometres to go in a 900 km race. He was taken straight from the finish line to hospital, and suffered amnesia; didn’t remember a thing of the past week! Tough! or stupid? I say tough and inspiring, many say the opposite.
2 years later, if I recall, a similar fate hit a South Australian by the name od David Standeven, he was leading Yannis Kouros by a small margin to be fair, Yannis started 24 hours behind the field, he is my vote for greatest athlete of all time in any sport, in the dying kilometres he was passed by Yannis, and another guy and came third, only to be also taken by ambulance and also receiving a dose of amnesia.
The moral of that, these guys, to name only a few in this legendary event were tough!
Lets go to a sport close to all our hearts, again back to the 80’s, Julie Moss! Ill say no more on that, it doesn’t need more said. But I believe her “toughness: inspired generations of not only triathletes but athletes in general!
Also in 1997, remember the “Ironman Crawl”, no that isn’t a dance! Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham crawling to the finish! Tough? No shit!!!
It seems that just about every big race a solid percentage of pros fail to make the finish line, for many reasons. This has become exceedingly topical after a tough day at Ironman Melbourne a few weeks ago, when many big names and strong athletes failed to even make the run course. Why is this?
Well Matty White wrote a fantastic article in response to some criticism by us “armchair critics” which really summed it up well, have a look at http://firstoffthebike.com/news-and-features/its-not-just-about-the-t-shirt/ he points out the demands placed on the modern pro triathletes and I think covers some very good ground.
Personally, I was never a great athlete at all, but I prided myself on being tough, “old school” I’ve never had a DNF in any activity I have partaken, and never would or will, BUT lets be honest there is an enormous gap between what the pros do, and what I could ever have done, so for me, it was “only about the T’shirt” as it is for the majority of people on a starting line of any distance race in any given endurance event. So, yes, I was one of the critics that said “soft” not in a negative way, but more of a gentle tease. I personally know quite a few of the guys that pulled out at IM Melbourne, and they are not soft! What they are is over worked, over tuned, elite machines trying to stay at pace. Just like a Formula 1 car; if they are not at the pace and things are going wrong they have to be smart and withdraw; to fight another day. The cost becomes too great to continue.
There is no money in this sport, every penny counts and the depth of people in long course battling for a measly buck is immense, and getting tougher as the ITU guys make a move over to the “glamour” of long course.
So Soft? Hell no! but highly tuned machines doing their job, trying to eek out a quid off a small prize pool. And if you have the view “sponsors pay em”, you clearly have no idea of professional triathlon. They will all make less that you! and one thing is for sure, they work a damn site harder than you!
So you cant call modern day Professional Triathletes soft, its just not appropriate. lets go back to the IM times now compared to only a decade ago, they are substantially faster, last year in Melbourne 2 people (nearly, as cam Brown only missed by seconds) broke the elusive 8hr barrier. So please people, have some respect, and Race Directors and Race Organisers, its not just about money, this is triathlon, a lifestyle and a passion for many, so please pass a little over to the guys that do it for a living and fill your pockets with their relentless promoting and inspiring performance on and off the worlds race courses.
I must sum up by saying this though, those old athletes, well they just had a different meaning for tough!!