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© Delly Car / ITU Media /
Triathlon in the Olympics: the next step
Posted by: John Levison
Posted on: Tuesday 15th November 2016

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The future of the sport in the Olympic Games, World Triathlon Series and more

Seeking Mixed Relay Olympic Gold... and other changes?

As triathlon seeks to expand its footprint within the Olympic Games by lobbying for the addition of the Mixed Relay format to be added to the schedule for Tokyo 2020, Tri247 Editor John Levison speaks to the President of the International Triathlon Union, Marisol Casado, to find our more. Marisol was in the UK this past weekend as a guest at the British Triathlon Awards Dinner.

Also a Member of the International Olympic Committee, she believe that "yes, it is completely realistic" that the popular relay format could be added as a medal event - while also revealing that changes to the format of the individual races to a sprint distance "could be a possibility because it makes sense".

First of all, welcome back to Leeds once again. Are you happy to be back in the UK in what I guess has become one of the major countries now of the triathlon world?

Thank you very much, of course I’m very honoured that I get this invitation; I think in this moment, together with Spain, we are in a very good place, yes! And also I’m really happy and thanks to the City of Leeds that is investing so much in our sport.

You were out in Rio of course this summer for the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games; what's your overall feedback of how the triathlon went as events themselves and how much of an impact they had on the Olympics and Paralympics?

Well I think it was really a fantastic venue. We had some little problems – or some big problems at times – but we were able to solve all of them and finally the athletes had a fantastic place to perform on. As always, the athletes’ performance was better and better than before, the evolution of our sport is fantastic. Then also fantastic was the number of people in the street; this was also something very, very special. The backdrop was… unbelievable!

Inside the organisation of the Olympic Games, we are in this moment, and not just in this moment but it looks like more and more, we are very important also for the Olympic Games because we are in the street. We are very clearly an event that can show a beautiful part of the city and we have to work very hard to maintain this position because, for example, in the case of Tokyo we are – at the moment, it might change – in the bay of Tokyo, under the iconic bridge, and this is very important for our sport, giving us a different position against others that are inside venues.

copyright Delly Carr / ITU Media /

With triathlon in the Olympics we just have two events, individual men and individual women. We’ve had the Mixed Relay happening now for around seven years, which has been increasingly popular. I was doing the commentary at the Commonwealth Games two years ago in Glasgow and when I returned home all anyone spoke to me about was the Mixed Relay – even though we had home winners in Jodie Stimpson and Alistair Brownlee. What is the process, and is it realistic, to add that event into the Olympic programme?

Yes, it is completely realistic. We tick every single thing. It’s very clear and on the agenda for 2020, because this is a great way to promote women in to the sport. It looks like we have a lot of women competing (globally), but the number is still short – and this is so important now, that in a sport such as ours that is very individual, suddenly the touch of the ‘team’ is unbelievable. Athletes really, really love it, each time more and more. Each time there are statements from the athletes they love it, it’s really good for the viewers and the TV and of course from the point of view of the young generations in situations like the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the Youth Olympics, this is very well placed.

copyright Janos M. Schmidt / ITU Media /

Does it help that in recent years we have seen the United States, France, Germany, Great Britain and Switzerland win (the Mixed Relay World Championship), that it has gone to a number of different countries, not been dominated by one country – does that competitiveness help the case for its inclusion within the Olympic programme?

Of course, I think it is one of the most important things. From the start of the Olympic inclusion 16 years ago, it is so important that we ‘hook’ the spectators, and we are able to do exactly that with the Mixed Team Relay. Games like the Olympics are all about countries, about NOC’s (National Olympic Committee’s).

So what is the process now to put forward the case for Tokyo?

Well, we recover the document that was put forward three years ago (ahead of Rio) and we update it. With this we put that forward to the IOC. We were very lucky that in 2013, Thomas Bach (President of the International Olympic Committee), was in Hamburg… and in this case, Germany win! He personally is very much for it since the very beginning.

copyright Janos M. Schmidt / ITU Media /

The report will go to the Programme Commission around March, so we submit to the bidding in February and the Programme Commission makes a recommendation and then the Secretary Board makes a decision – it’s not going to the General Assembly (of the IOC), because it is an additional event, not a new sport. What’s key is that we are not asking for more athletes.

With the attractiveness of the country element, the male-female inclusion and the speed of racing and fast action – what implications does that have for the individual triathlon in the Olympics? Is there going to be external pressure to move to a shorter distance sprint race?

I think the question of the distance has to come as a natural issue. If it is coming like that, we will change because we are not afraid of changes. We are not “we used to do it, we used to do it.” No, we have to do what we have to do. Then, I think it is not coming (pressure) from outside. We will decide as an organisation and, in my opinion, this could be a possibility because it makes sense. Now, in fact, we are doing the championships after a sprint race all the time.

So you are saying there is no pressure from the outside at the moment, that it would be something that would come from you as a Federation and from your athletes deciding that it makes more sense?

I think at this moment in our Federation we have a very well oiled system to discuss. The athletes have nearly two places in the Secretary Board, they have one fixed and another one they can request for it, and they are 100% inside the process of decision-making.

Every year the key, premiere events of the ITU are the World Triathlon Series events. How do you assess how that has developed and do you see any major changes to that over the coming years or do you feel that you’ve now got to a point with a structure that works?

Yes and no. I think the structure is working quite well; it works in many other sports. Where we probably have to make some changes and thinking is that maybe the Grand Final is not the ‘final’, because it might have to be in the middle of the series! Why? We have to consider the rest of the world. If we always have the Grand Final in September then it won’t be possible in many countries because it’s too cold. Then, I think we would have to arrive at a conclusion because it is unfair because now we are really global.

After the Youth Olympics, Argentina is coming on very fast, also Chile and South Africa – places that deserve to have a Grand Final but when September is not the best time. We have to see how we resolve these kinds of problems, but I think the structure in general we are very happy with.

We are getting good viewings for the series and the Grand Final also – but we are always continually discussing the pros and cons of everything and I’m very happy about that. Our technical people are excellent, coaches too – a very important and crucial group – are also involved in the process, along with athletes too. I am quite confident that we will find the right solutions.

copyright Delly Carr / ITU Media /

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