I was asked by Nick Rose, via Twitter, to weigh in on a discussion about what age groupers should expect from pros as fans.
This is a very heady topic. Truly, the role of professional triathletes is nebulous. We, of course, are expected to perform at races, but beyond that, what is the role of the professional triathlete?
I have been racing professionally since 1998. In that time, I have seen an evolution of the sport.
In a global sense, triathlon has reached the world stage with inclusion in the Olympics, more races worldwide and increased numbers of participants. I believe that the professionals have helped raise this level of awareness.
Mainstream sports, such as football, tennis and golf, are often televised or watched in person. Who is followed? It is the professionals. Watching the same athletes week after week competing against the best their sport has to offer garners a following.
Triathlon is no different. Yes, our sport is not televised as frequently as other sports, but, online live coverage of events has bloomed allowing for the same type of audience enjoyed by other sports. It is the professionals that are covered the most and it is their job to "entertain" those who are watching.
Since professional triathletes are often the individuals at the forefront of the sport, it is their obligation to act in a manner that portrays the sport in the most positive light. This will help increase viewership, sponsors and help move triathlon into the mainstream (although I am not sure what to make of the depiction of triathlon on a recent episode of Hawaii Five-0).
On a micro level, professionals need to perform well at races. It is their livelihood. It is from race performance that pro’s earn wages, gain sponsors, and expand their fan base.
There are numerous ways that pros can connect with fans: social media, appearances (i.e. Q and A sessions) and of course, races. Most of the pros I have met over the years are incredibly nice, approachable and eager to impart their knowledge. Emails are usually answered. Autographs are given generously. Photographs are smiled for. Facebook and Twitter statuses are updated with training tips and other vignettes. Blogs offer race reports.
But, there is a time and place that is appropriate for approaching a pro. Most races have a pro panel or Q and A as part of the race. Make an effort to attend one of these events. Tri shops or tri clubs often have a pro as a guest speaker. This is another suitable time to have your questions answered. Right before a race may not be the best time to ask for a picture or to find out what to eat race morning. Pros have to balance their public persona with their personal goals, a task that is not always easy to achieve.
I have always tried to answer every email that comes to me. Sometimes, though, one slips through the cracks. Many years ago, I was riding with a group of pro women along the St. Anthony’s triathlon course while the age groupers were racing (we had raced the day before). I was shocked to hear one of the competitors shout out, “Joanna Zeiger? I emailed you and you never answered.” Even the most diligent are apt to have an off day.