Professional triathlon has a data problem

Posted by jordan_terry on December 14, 2022 · 6 mins read

For the amateur athlete. Triathlon is an, expensive, but accessible sport. Participating in the amateur side of the sport brings an interest in the professional side of the sport. You find your favourites, and then you want to follow them race.

Professional triathlon has many well known issues. That have improved dramatically over the past few years.

Poor event broadcasting. Many events have poor live coverage. Commentators don’t know athlete backgrounds, results or sometimes what is happening in the race they are commentating on. Coverage can range from moto cameras and helicopters to static cameras. Sometimes there are live splits, sometimes there are not. Triathlons are hard to broadcast, they often cover huge distances. This is improving but not uniformly across brands.

Lack of prize money. Can there be a thriving professional sport when many can’t make a living from it? There have been huge improvements in this from brands such as PTO and Superleague.

Too many events. Each triathlon brand – Ironman, Challenge, Clash, PTO, Superleague, World Triathlon, French Grand Prix – has many events throughout the year. They all cover different length events (from long course to short course) but the lack prize money means athletes choose events they can do well at. Resulting in shallower fields, rather than deeper well payed fields. The PTO and Superleague events are an exception to this.

Many of these issues are being addressed but it is a multi-year effort. Slowly, triathlon is becoming a health professional sport.

As a bystander watching the improvements I find this exciting. But one thing I think has been missed is data.

Triathlon is a sport full of amateur athletes. We all want to compare our times against those of the professionals or see how fast professionals are. Doing that is often difficult.

Leo Bergere recently won the World Triathlon Championship Series in Abu Dhabi. He ran the final 10km of race in 29:44. To get that data I can go to his athlete page and click on a link to the results of WTCS Abu Dhabi. What if I wanted to view all of his 10km times over the past year? Well, it looks like I can’t easily do that as a fan! That’s a shame.

Has Leo participated in any other racing series? I happen to know he raced, and won, Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote. Ironman does not provide a central database of results. This makes it difficult to discover.

A good resource for a fan to discover this is the PTO event results. The PTO are making an excellent effort to collect data. Combining many long distance events with shorter distance. This is great! It is heading in the right direction but it isn’t perfect.

If rumours are to be believed they do not have a good relationship with Superleague triathlon. Which could be why you cannot view Superleague results on the PTO website. This harms a fans ability to understand the sport.

The PTO athlete page focuses on their ranking system. Showing me a user’s ranking progress across the last years. The ranking is applied to athletes who race long course events.

I can see Vincent Luis’ page here.

<img alt="PTO ranking page for Vincent Luis. It shoes his profile picture next to his name.Below this is a box titled "Ranking History". It shoes his ranking at different sports over the previous few years.Below that is a table of results from 2022, 2021, 2020 and 2019." src="/images/uploads/2022/12/Screenshot-2022-12-14-at-10.44.44-1024x954.webp" />

I can also see Georgia Taylor-Brown’s page here.

<img alt="PTO ranking page for Georgia Taylor-Brown. It shoes her profile page next to her name.Below this is an empty box title \"Ranking History\".Below that is a table of results from 2022, 2021, 2020 and 2019." src="/images/uploads/2022/12/Screenshot-2022-12-14-at-10.44.48-1024x1007.webp"/>

But, as she does not race long course triathlon it shoes me a ranking. Just an empty block. It also shows her as having no skill at each discipline. It does show me some information about here previous races. I am interested to see her 5km time progressing over the past years. I can see that information here. But, I can’t breakdown or filter by that data.

Another example. Vincent Luis raced Superleague last year and 70.3 Bahrain this year. What is his swim pace over 400m compared to 1.9km? The PTO display overall split data. But they do not allow you to see detailed information. This requires me to work it out myself. Is that good enough for a casual fan?

Another another example. Lionel Sanders has famously struggled with the Ironman marathon. At the the Ironman World Championships at St George he put together his best Ironman. But I can’t find anywhere to easily collect marathon data and compare it over the past years.

This is a very surface level look at some of the issues. I could write a 10,000 word essay going into the little details that need to be improved.