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The Kona versus Nice debate

Trisutto Brett Sutton Ironman World Championships Kona Nice

Many are aware of the recent news that Ironman is planning to split the Ironman World Championship into two races, in two different venues. While Ironman has not confirmed the second location yet, rumour has Nice as the front runner. I have not made any public statements until now as I only see the performance narrative. I'm not one to fall into the historic romanticism of 'Kona'! I do fully support the separation of the male and female races, and have advocated for this for more than 15 years. While Trisutto has had unprecedented success in the female race, it was unfair to female athletes both professional and age group. For marketing purposes, Kona was built up and worshipped as the greatest Ironman race in the world. However, I could name five races off the top of my head that are far superior from a performance point of view, if the objective is to find the best all round triathlete in the world. Before everyone has a meltdown about how Kona must remain the pinnacle of Ironman racing, here is the answer I have given in many interviews over the years when asked what race do I consider to be the best test of an athlete in the world. Many were surprised when I didn't rate Kona. This is where Nice comes in. I have always said that Nice is the best venue by far, with one caveat - being held in May or early season makes it a wetsuit legal race. This could be fixed by a date change to late September or early October. The powers that be in France always said to me in meetings, 'yes we understand, but it would be financial suicide to take on Kona'. However the answer they gave was two pronged, as their second point was interesting and on reflection, very true - 'we wouldn't be able to get the so-called best athletes who shine in Kona'. So here is my summation - The World Championship race that used to be held in Nice was 4km swim, 120km bike, 30km run.

  • If you are not a strong swimmer you can't win.

  • If you can't climb you can't win.

  • If you can't descend you can't win.

  • If you can't time trial you can't win.

  • If you can't run you can't win.

I believe it is the true test of all the triathlete skills. Should it be held in late September or early October, then two more dimensions are added to the equation -

No wetsuit. Same as Kona. With the water temperature above the professional wetsuit cut off, athletes have to be able to handle a warmer swim. If they can't, they can't win. I don't personally think the additional distance upsets the balance. As usual, those who are screaming the loudest against the proposed change by Ironman, might not be doing it for idealistic reasons. If Ironman goes forward with the plan we may witness a championship that takes away the arguments of who is truly the best all round triathlete on the planet. That's a race I'd pay my own way to go and watch, even if I didn't have an athlete racing. To stand at the presentation and applaud the victors knowing the winner of this race ticks all the boxes of the test that our world championship should be. I applaud the decision by Ironman to float the idea of splitting the biggest race into two venues and I hope they stay strong and go through with it, whether they have been forced into it by logistics or a genuine desire to move the sport forward. If they don’t change the course this will be the ultimate test in the sport for pros and age groupers alike.

Just the way I see it.


Cover photo: Marc Derron

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