It was brought to my attention this morning that there is an ongoing social media barrage about the ‘Captains Pick’ selection of Nicola Spirig to be part of Team Europe at the upcoming Collins Cup race in Samorin. To be honest, I was unaware of this until today as I don’t follow the social media chitter chatter of triathlon. There are more armchair experts who haven’t got a clue about real performance at the top level than most other sports; and I have been involved at the highest level in a number of them.
Hence I usually avoid getting involved in such nonsense. However, when I see one of the greatest triathletes of all time visibly upset by it, and then attempts to forbid me from saying anything, there comes a time to educate those who seem to know everything. The facts are Nicola Spirig has a triathlon career that will never be matched again, in what is one of the most gruelling sports there is.
I’m told that there are three main points of contention, so lets go through them one by one:
Those with a short memory may have forgotten Nicola’s destruction job at Challenge Walchsee only one year ago. Prior to the race, the hype was the German Kona Ironman Champion was going to do this, and do that. Meanwhile Nicola in full training for the Tokyo Olympics was a late entry, with instructions this was to be a training race - road bike with ITU wheels, clip on bars, no disc, no aero helmet, no speed suit. However her instructions were clear - ‘show them who is boss on the bike’. And she surely did, riding off the front and was never to be seen again. Not a bike in sight. Just in case someone writes that she did not have the fastest run split, or some other benign statistic, I will mention the other pre-race game plan was for Nicola to only push the last 5km of the run, so as not to be dead for training on Monday morning.
Look at Nicola's race results over the half distance, all on a road bike, with no disc. I don’t know the exact number of wins without checking, and I’m writing this in a short gap between the three workouts I’m coaching at today, but it’s around 14, could be more. One win only 11 days prior to her Olympic Gold medal in London 2012. I remember that especially well as she completed the last 20km of the bike with a flat rear tyre, still leading all the way there too. This is a phenomenal record for a half iron distance specialist, let alone an ITU athlete.
Take the time to ask any female or male athlete who has trained with Nicola for any period of time, and I’m sure they will be quick to set you straight on the joke that she needs to draft off anybody! She is a machine on the bike. To have one sub-par race, and then have the armchair experts throw 16 years of results out of the window, is farcical.
Yes, a great decision. Why? Well everyone has been told that the Collins Cup is a celebration of triathlon that is honouring the athletes. However do you think that similar premier events in golf would not invite Tiger Woods? Or in tennis, would not invite Roger Federer? These two are past their best (Nicola is not) yet any marketing manager in those professional sports would be sacked on the spot if they were not included. The PTO is trying to pull triathlon pro’s out of the dark ages that Ironman (previously known as WTC) put them in. Their business model being more money for themselves, while the pro’s could fight for scraps. Meanwhile in tennis, in any of the four majors, the first round losers walk away with more prize money than any so called ‘pro’ triathlete received winning the most prestigious race we have. Of course to change that, things need to be done differently to widen the viewing audience.
I’ve commented on other athletes having a good year. Congratulations to them, and I urge them to put a couple more back to back. They too will then be sure to be selected in future races by showing some longevity at the top of the tree. I shouldn’t have to point out the obvious to the armchair experts, that Nicola Spirig hasn’t had 1 good year, or 3 or 5. She has had 14 consistently brilliant years (I’m a little harsh here as it’s more like 18 brilliant years for most normal people, however I hold her to higher standards). Sprint, olympic, relay, half-iron, and even Ironman when it fitted into her incredible career. All at the very top level, while raising three children, running a foundation, a kids race series and countless media and speaking appearances.
But Sutto, she is out of form now! Oh really, do you view her last 12 months as a failure? 6th place at the Olympics, followed by a slew of race wins and podiums.
And this year, despite a horrific bike crash in training with fractured clavicle, ribs, and a punctured lung, still showing up at the Sub 8 event. Whilst others succumbed to their injuries, Nicola said to the organisers "don’t replace me, I’ll be there somehow".
And she was. 75% fit, and having only swum with both arms in the four weeks before the event. She still managed to run a 2.45 marathon (after blowing up on the run at 21km).
There are plenty of athletes who can only dream of being that fit! And in case anyone is asking, yes the course was measured accurately to the cm. There was no race director shortening the course to manufacture a fast run.
I can assure any 'expert' that Nicola will be in Samorin. No one will be giving their best any more than she will be. That is who Nicola Spirig is. No one deserves the spot more than her in her last world class level race. We should be grateful to have the opportunity to watch one of the greatest all round triathletes of all time go around one more time, and celebrate with her. Instead of throwing unwarranted crap, we should celebrate not one of triathlons greatest careers, Nicola has transcended that, but one of the greatest careers in women’s sport period, and did it as a mother of three.
Just the way I see it.