Wednesday, March 30, 2011

going old school (triathlon origins)

i've noticed during my time in this sport that there's a surprising lack of awareness about the origins of triathlon. it's surprising, since most other athletes have some knowledge about the history of their respective sports, with even recreational participants having some modicum of understanding about how their sport started. triathletes, in comparison, don't seem to have the same general level of awareness--at least most of the ones i've met at all my races.

which is a shame, because i think it's important to understand how the sport has evolved, in terms of competitors, venues, sponsors, and profile. it helps to produce a greater respect for all the work put in by so many race organizers, volunteers, spectators, and participants to grow triathlon to what it is now. it fosters more gratitude for what the sport is now, and an appreciation for just how fragile it all was (and in some ways still is). it also puts each of us in context, and induces humility by recognizing that our enjoyment is derived from the sacrifices of the past.

to that end, i suggest everyone take some time to refer to the triathlon entry in Wikipedia, which i think does a pretty good job of summarizing the origins of the sport:
there's another more immediate reason as well: a realization of what the essence of triathlon is. to a large, and i think excessive degree, this sport has over the years become a cult of technology, and in so doing a cult of money. almost every race and training session you go, conversations invariably revolve around the latest race suit, latest bicycle, latest shoes, latest sunglasses, latest helmet, latest hat, latest speedomoter, odometer, pedometer, thermometer, power meter, power gauge, nutritional supplement, geographic positioning device, navigational aid, race belt, water bottle, watch, sunscreen, socks, leg-warmers, arm-warmers, underwear, tattoo, bracelet, and any other virtually conceivable marketable item possible within the creative imagination--conscious or subconscious--within the human mind.

it seems all too often that most triathletes' perception of the sport is technology...and the implied ability to pursue it by conspicuously spending money.

which is what triathlon is not.

and it never was.

just go back to the beginning and see what i mean:
a review of the very first days of triathlon shows what the essence of triathlon is about, and what the basics really are:

the essence of triathlon was, and is, not about technology or money. it was, and is, instead about people. pursuing very personal goals. in the company of others who share that desire.

and the basics necessary to achieve this are the barest of bare. with the freedom that comes with simplicity. no fancy bike. no fancy shoes. no fancy race suit or sunglasses or helmet or hat or water bottle or satellite geopositioning link or computer-aided workout tracking or scientifically engineered nutritional supplement. none of that. all that was, and is, needed is something to swim in, something to bike in, and something to run in--and all this can be anything at all.

which is why i applaud when i hear of someone sometimes swimming in nothing but speedos and riding a beach cruiser and running barefoot. because it shows that person is still in touch with the essence and the basics of the sport: personal goals, and the freedom of simplicity.

it's something that i think we all, deep down inside, know as the prime motivation for our involvement in this sport.

and the reason, deep down inside, we need to connect with the past.

and the purpose, deep down inside, of going old school.

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