Ironman Rolling Starts Are Bullshit. Here's Why.
Some moron at Ironman corporation sometime in 2013 decided that a "rolling start" was a good idea. I've previously ranted over chip time over gun time as the decider of running event podiums but I'm compelled to revisit this topic following this devastating example of anti-competitive, race convenience before athlete crappola.
Here's some results of the male 30-34 age group of the Ironman Chattanooga. First two qualified for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii:
At face value, what an epic race! So little separating 2nd to 4th. A closely matched battle of guts and glory. Bitterly disappointing for 4th but what a race just to be involved in. A sprint finish after 10 hours of racing to claim every Ironman's dream, a coveted Kona slot. Right?
Mr. Sunn actually crossed the line about 20 minutes in front of the eventual 2nd and 3rd place finisher one of who booked their place to Kona. How does that work? For those that don't know, the rolling start is basically start whenever you feel like it, the clock will start as you cross the start line. His competitors started behind him. They raced in different conditions, different athletes around them, different time of day. One passing more athletes, one in clearer water and emptier roads up in front. On a hot day especially, the conditions, the wind and heat they rode and ran in, also would have been different. But what's more abhorrent is they didn't EVER get to "race". And essentially, that's what you're paying for.
Ironman was never meant to be a time trial. The legend of the sport was born on the back of Dave Scott and Mark Allen's epic side-by-side battle, the Ironwar, in 1989. That could never have happened with a rolling start.
What's the excuse for it? Anxiety reduction? I agree that many are woefully unprepared for open water swimming but there's no evidence mass starts have anything to do with the swim fatalities that have occurred in triathlons. All the rolling start does is take away the amazing, unique thrill of the mass start and the very soul of the sport.