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50 Women to Kona, Mud, Social Media and Rain

Today, I endured an amazing and wet and muddy 48 miler at the Cartersville Budweiser Plant.

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The Expert, “You can’t be seriously going riding in this weather.”

To which I said, “Yes, yes I can. Every single rainy cycling day before Ironman Coeur d’Alene? I sat on my trainer and watched the damn sun come right out. I’m riding in everything this year.”

So I did.

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Muddy tires and buns and face and all.  A great, empowering and hard ride. I love cycling. I just do.

My body still hurts all over from the recent shingles (and I’m in process of another flare-up… yay!), but I had a very successful training week despite a sick daughter, an injured other kiddo, myself feeling like garbage and a very (very) stressful few days at work.

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I had 23 miles of running this week…. first week coming off of the illness, so I am feeling pretty proud of that.

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To just get downpoured upon?

Well, it really felt like a relaxing vacay compared to the real world.  Funny how that’s often the case.

People say, “Well, maybe you wouldn’t be so stressed out if you weren’t running 10 miles before work.” Uhhhhh. No.  Running 10 miles before work is precisely what keeps me sane. When I am sick or injured and can’t run? That’s when people get hurt. 🙂

Okay, okay…

On to other things…

50 Women to Where? 12 Women Who?

As many of you know, I was appointed as one of the twelve inaugural Women For Tri Board members back in late January of this year. You can go here to read more about this, if you have no idea what I am talking about.

So when social media is exploding and calling for the Women for Tri board to do something, to answer the call about 50 Women to Kona, to say something/anything, well…  I get antsy, because we, as a Board, are doing lots of things.

AND, I can also say that 50 Women to Kona is NOT nearly the only issue on the Women for Tri agenda.

[I will explain 50 Women to Kona, below… for those who don’t know what this issue is…]

Furthermore, and most importantly, I can also only speak to what my thoughts and opinions about this issue are.  I cannot and should not and will not speak for the others on the board.  So, please, please do not take this post as me speaking for anyone else.

This is just me. Swim Bike Mom and my blog.

Now…

Yes, the Women for Tri initiative is looking at bringing women into the sport from all experience levels, walks of life and places.  We, as a board, are diving heavily into programs for education, networking, and social support that reaches all women in our sport–from newbies to middle-of-the-packers to (and I don’t like this term, for the record) so-called back-of-the-packers.

But… I have received many texts and messages about 50 Women to Kona.  Ah, social media. While I’ll be the first to admit that 99.9% of all my friends live inside my computer…  I will also admit, that after all the tweets and interaction, that I sort of felt like this:

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But I read everything. I looked at both sides.

And after it all, I do believe there is “right” side, an easy decision and a change to be made.

And I was loud-mouthed Swim Bike Mom before Women For Tri even existed… so here goes my eagerly anticipated post about 50 Women to Kona.

Pick this Up and Carry It

I was a competitive Olympic-style weightlifter from 1994 until early 2000.  And guess what? I was working my ass off in a sport that didn’t allow women into the Olympics …until 2000. Yep, I hoisted hundreds of pounds over my head and squatted until my knees nearly blew out—and for what?  So I could never even have the opportunity to go to the Olympics?

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(And in case you doubt my prior awesomeness… this was me ^^^ snatching 168 pounds at the Olympic Training Center…. for TWELVE reps. I was awesome… #backintheday. Ha!)

Anyway.

So they “let” women in.  By the time 2000 rolled around, I was about two slots too deep to qualify and my weight class was full with the awesomeness of Cheryl Haworth and others… so I didn’t have a real live shot without cutting 30 pounds off my already decently non-fat frame.

The funny thing was… I had the Olympic dream. But after they “let” women into the Olympics… suddenly, the sport BOOMED in rabid popularity. Lots of amazing women entered the field.

And then this “tiny” thing call CrossFit took the world by storm…

Huh. Interesting.  Allowing women the opportunity in weightlifting, to compete at one of the highest levels, actually increased participation? Sort of a NOVEL concept, really.

The Triathlon Debate

Many of you may not even know that this type of mattter is also an issue in our wonderful sport of triathlon.

You may not know because it’s 2015, and it’s weird and surprising to be begging for equality at this juncture.

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Either way, it requires comment, because it holds relevance for all of us–women, men, young folks and newbie triathletes alike.

Right now, the World Championships in Kona allows FIFTY professional MEN to race each year.

That means 50 male triathletes receive the opportunity to complete at Kona each year.  That means that 50 men have the opportunity to earn the highest honor of racing in Kona, thus opportunity for prize money and increased sponsorships and of course, a shot at the title of World Champion.  They have the opportunity to set their sights on the highest goal, knowing there are fifty slots available.

The World Championships allow only THIRTY-FIVE professional WOMEN to race.

That means that 15 fewer women have the same opportunities as the men, above. That’s the bottom-line fact.

2011 Ironman World Championship

As someone who will never race Kona without a lottery or legacy slot, why do I care about this issue?

Opportunity.

Without busting into song from the new Annie movie, I want to turn your attention to opportunity.  That’s all that is at issue here.  Through equality, opportunity is born.  And through opportunity, people grow and shine and kick ass.

Again, why do care about this issue?

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Well, because I have a six year old daughter–I want to tell her about the time that triathlon was the FOREFRONT in sports equality–having a World Championships where men and women had equal slots, raced the same course, under the same conditions and for equal prize money.

What other sport does that?!  NONE.  And what other sport allows the pros to race the same exact course, under the same conditions, as the age-groupers, the lottery winners, and the legacy athletes? NONE. Just OUR amazing sport. (And how amazing is THAT?)

I care not only because I am a woman, but because I am human.  And I care to see this amazing sport grow and be full of equal opportunities for all people who love it as much as I do.

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Even the Expert (my husband), who is about as scientific and straight-forward and someone I could see reasoning otherwise, said… “Are you kidding me? This is even an issue? Women should have equal slots, period. It’s 2015, not the damn dark ages.”

And I agreed with the man. (For once). 🙂

“The disparate treatment of professional women at the very highest levels of the sport has a trickle-down effect on women of all ages and abilities. How can anyone, let alone a female triathlete,  justify to her daughters, sisters and friends that “Anything is Possible” when opportunities for women are less possible than opportunities for men?” (Witsup.com / Source).

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“Grow the Sport from the Bottom, Not the Top!”

That’s actually (one of several) arguments against equal slots at Kona–that “we should grow triathlon from the bottom, not the top” and that age groupers and newbies don’t care about the pros.

First, I don’t think that’s true. I am crazy inspired by the Chrissies and Rinnys and Merediths (good name 😉 ) and Melissas out there.  I very much care about the pros and what they represent.

And I don’t think growing the sport from the bottom is the only answer.

Why can’t we grow from the top and the bottom?

And why does having equality at the top hurt the goal of inclusion? Hello. Having fifteen more women at Kona would be awesome and inspirational and show little girls and big girls and women what badassery is all about.  That, coupled with the grass-roots approach, is a special kind of magic–because you can go down to your local race and DREAM BIG about the opportunities that exists in the big wide world in our amazing sport.

From an initial starting point on equality,  “Prior to the passage of Title Nine in 1972, only 29,977 women participated in college sports. Over the next 35 years, women’s participation in college sports increased by 456%. Today, over forty years later, 45% of college athletes are women. Greater opportunities for collegiate athletes encouraged greater participation at all levels and particularly increased participation by girls in youth sports.” (Some Random Thursday / Source)

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I’m Scratching My Head.

Really, I am shocked at the opposition to this move. As the Expert-husband said, we are not living in the dark ages.  Hell, we aren’t even living in the 1970’s. And I am incredibly dumbfounded when women oppose it.  Really?  How can women oppose our own equality? Reasons about “earn it” and “suck it up” are not reasons. They are blind, prehistorical ways of thinking.

You don’t believe professional women should have the same number of slots at a race, on an equal course, with equal prize money, where they suffer as hard, have trained as intensely, and lay their heart and soul out there?

Really?

Nah, we’ll just cap that at 35.  Because if you grow the sport, then the slots will open up and fall down like manna from heaven.

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To me, adding 15 slots is about doing what is right and creating a change, and BEING the change that we all want to see in triathlon–and in women’s triathlon.

Creating opportunities gives people a way to rise to the occassion.

You can’t expect people to RISE UP and fill slots that DON’T EXIST.

I love the Ironman brand.

I have a friend who reminds me anytime there’s a debate about Ironman or non-Ironman brand, and I always fall on the M-dot side, “Yes, but you love Ironman.”

And admittedly, I do.  I was seriously in awe of the brand when I first entered into this sport–and I still feel something super special every time I show up at a race, 70.3 or full, and see that beautiful finish line. I think the races are incredibly staffed and volunteered and supported.

I have always been a fan, 100% of Ironman.

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I just want the WTC to add 15 slots to the Women’s Race in Kona.

15 slots. That’s it.  And I continue to love Ironman wholeheartedly like I always have.

Oh – and triathlon legend, Bob Babbitt loves Ironman too, and wrote: “Coming up with the Ironman Legacy Program so passionate Ironman lovers who could never qualify to get to Kona can now can get to race there, was brilliant. The creation and expansion of the Ironman 70.3 Series with its own World Championship has brought more people into our sport. Ironman has also partnered with Life Time Fitness to support their indoor triathlon events in their clubs that encourage brand new people to give triathlon a try. That has been huge for the growth of the sport. The fact that Ironman is putting up $5,085,000 in prize money in 2015 spotlights their commitment to the professional triathlete. Very few race organizations are even in the same zip code as the Ironman when it comes to prize money – which is equal for both men and women, by the way. Plus, Ironman funds the NBC show that showcases the Ironman World Championship each year and that show drives new eyeballs to our sport each fall which leads to brand new wetsuit and aero helmet wearing triathletes each spring.”  (Source)

At the same time, “Sport is all about opportunity…

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“…When it comes to male and female professional triathletes, the very best 50 men and the very best 50 women should be on the start line at the World Championship. Having fewer female pros than male pros at the starting line of the most important event in our sport is not only short sighted, it sends a bad message to women already in our sport and to young girls just getting started. More importantly, it’s just plain wrong.”  (Source)

A Re-Cap from the Women For Tri Board Meeting

As a part of our last business in our inaugural board meeting in Tampa, I was also  interested in listening to the the WTC and Ironman CEO, Andrew Messick’s point of view.

So we all sat, listening to Andrew give WTC’s side.  [By the way, I like Andrew as a person… I think he’s funny and smart and nice and I have nothing at all against him personally. So that needs to be said, because, well, it’s true as far as I am concerned. My interactions with him have been nothing but professional and courteous.]

Messick says this disparate slot count is a representation of the male-female proportion of professional triathletes racing on the Ironman circuit. His position has been that there are 50 pro men who are competitive enough to factor into the Kona race dynamic and have a legitimate shot at a top finish at the world championship. As an example, he cited pro Ronnie Schildknecht, who was at the bottom of the KPR standings heading into Kona last year but still finished 12th.

He says that the pro women’s field isn’t yet deep enough to justify 50 slots, and given the rigidly static number of available Kona qualifying slots, adding 15 to the pro women’s field would require taking those slots away from other people, potentially the pro men.”  (Source)

This was interesting to me, because… actually, the WTC can (it’s in their power) create 15 new slots.

Yes… they can.

They do not have to take them away from the men.

They can make them up. Just poof-like.  I mean, there has to be a vote, and all of that. But they can do it.

(And looks like there’s room right here on this lovely green space for 15 new bikes. Just saying.)

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——>——–>—–>—–^^^^^^^^

So after Andrew spoke, we then listened as an impassioned Hillary Biscay (pro female triathlete, who I have come to greatly admire and respect) gave the argument for equal slots for the women at Kona.

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“…board member and longtime pro triathlete Hillary Biscay provided a counterpoint to the discussion that was incredibly thoughtful, impassioned and reasoned. It’s an issue of equal opportunity—pure and simple—she said. Triathlon, which has historically championed gender equality in professional sport (men and women race together, there is equal prize purse money), can set an important and impactful precedent by giving athletes the same opportunity to compete on the sport’s most prominent stage.

What kind of message are we sending to existing and aspiring female triathletes—and young women everywhere—with a disparity that doesn’t give women an equal chance to rise to the challenge at triathlon’s highest level?” (Source)

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If it were up to me…

I would love to ADVISE that the WTC add 15 slots. But I don’t have the power to make any decisions.

Still, as a public, and (quote–not my words) “influential woman” in this sport, I want to be clear that I am very much a supporter of 50 slots for female professionals in Kona.

To say otherwise, to me, sends a polarizing message which not only impact our current triathlete population (pros, AG-ers, and newbies alike)–but could potentially harm those “dabbling” or looking at our sport with hope.   And I’m not down with that.

This sport gave (and gives) me so much hope. I hope that it continues to inspire in all the ways I know it can–in really, amazing and great ways…

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Thanks for reading. Listening. Tolerating. Depending on which side of the coin you are on. 🙂

Most of all, thank you for being you, and a part of this sport…and one of the many friends I have in my computer.

 **After the posting of this blog, Ironman released its official statement…

The statement, culminating in the fact that 2015 will not result in equal slots at Kona.  Go here to read the reasons.

Interestingly,  the article fails to acknowledge that professionals are not age groupers. The same logic doesn’t apply to age grouper and professionals. Professionals race for a living. Not having equal slots in the professional field is a “glass ceiling”–you’re giving women, who are working the same “job”, less opportunities than their male counterparts.

2015 may be decided… but 2016 has not been.  Keep on fighting the good fight.

#50WomentoKona #TriEqual #BeBraveBeThankful #JustKeepMovingForward #SwimBikeMom

Go here to learn more:  www.TriEqual.com

27 Comments

  • KBG

    March 22, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    LOVE LOVE LOVE!

    “Nah, we’ll just cap that at 35. Because if you grow the sport, then the slots will open up and fall down like manna from heaven.” — This may be the best line I’ve heard yet on the topic.

    Seriously, thought, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and for standing up for equality. #50womentokona

    Reply
  • Karen

    March 22, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    I know I am probably in the minority but I honestly don’t really follow any of the pros. I did triathlon because I enjoyed the personal challenge and while I knew a few of the big names, they didn’t impact my participation in the sport in either way. I guess that makes me a neutral party. With that said, it does seem kind of stupid, really. I mean I get that percentage-wise more men participate in ironman races than women but really – 15 slots. I am sure they give away 15 slots of charity or celebrities or who knows who else. Just open up the slots and end the argument over it. Would it really be that difficult?

    Reply
  • Caitlin

    March 22, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    I absolutely agree with 50 women to kona. Open those spots and we will rise to fill them, inspire others to fill them and foster the next generation to fill them. I too did not know this was an issue. I figured there were equal spots. I mean why not? When I did find out I was flabbergasted. Those 15 spots will not take away from the men. Did the wnba take away from the nba? Or women’s ice hockey take away from men’s ice hockey? Nope. But I’m preaching to the choir.

    Reply
  • Lucy

    March 22, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    Nice post and I hope something is done soon. I personally think it should be 40 for both genders as those in the 40-50 range often do very little to qualify (for instance, the 42nd qualifier last year only raced two fulls, neither of which he placed within the top 5 at, and won a fairly uncompetitive 70.3 in Europe.) There is also some truth to the competitive aspect, although I certainly agree that equal slots is good for image and inspiring young girls, as the old adage ‘set the bar low enough and everyone can jump over’. If you compare the 1st male and the 40th male, their finishing times are roughly 1 hour apart whereas comparing the 1st female and 30th female, their times are over 1:45 apart. Makes you think that if you were to go down to 50, would those women even feature at all.

    Reply
  • Jeff

    March 22, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    I have some concerns regarding this topic but NOT as it pertains to the amount of Pro slots the women get vs. the men. This is a no-brainer. Women should get the same amount, and I am not just saying this to be politically correct. However, why are we talking about increasing the slots from 15 to 50 when only 35 of the Male Pro Slots were used in 2014 and only 32 of the 35 Female Pro Slots were used by the women? Do we need more pro triathletes for both genders? So let me derail the train for a second and then come back to the gender topic……In 2014, the last place male and female pros finished almost 2 and 2.5 hours behind the winner, respectively. They were beaten by 395 and 128 Age Group Athletes, respectively. Now on to the money side of things. WTC spends approximately $5 Million in an ENTIRE SEASON when the Arnold Palmer Invitational purse is over $6.2 Million….FOR 1 EVENT. And you then stated that the WTC is achieves the televised NBC show….which is 2 hours long and occurs over a month after the actual race. So let’s get back to the concern….HOW DO WE INCREASE PROFESSIONAL FEMALE PARTICIPATION IN TRIATHLON….AND FEMALE PARTICIPATION OVERALL? The answer: TELEVISE THE ENTIRE EVENT! I know…it will cost a ton of money to get this event on TV, right? Bowling does it, Lacrosse does it, Beach Volleyball does it. These sports don’t even come close to the age group participation and the amount of investment we make to the sport of triathlon. How can WTC not sell advertising and sponsorship when the athlete and viewer: typically has high disposable income, spends money on over-priced nutrition and gear, has men and women competing together, includes ages from 18 to 80 and consists of athletes who have tens if not hundreds of family and friends who will watch?
    So to make sure I am clear here….God Bless you for taking on this debate. If there’s anyone who can achieve this, my wife says it’s the All Mighty Swim Bike Mom! I hope you bring equality to the Professional slots….let’s just make sure we know how they are going to get used!

    Reply
    • KBG

      March 23, 2015 at 4:54 am

      Televising the entire event (or at least doing it Tour de France style with a wrap up show on the same day day) is an EXCELLENT idea.

      With regard to the number of slots being used part of the problem is that individual qualifiers are locked in on July 31st and August 31st. If for some reason someone takes a slot and then gets injured (or does not heal up as expected — and we all know injuries can be common) there is no mechanism to replace the person. For example in 2014 Jesse Donovan had serious health issues and needed to drop out of Kona in September. There was no method to replace her in the race.

      With regard to finishing times when someone’s day goes bad (even a pro) it tends to go very bad. The better way to look at the field is to look at the fat part of the bell curve, not the outliers on what tends to be a very long tail.

      If you are interested in this type of analysis I would suggest Thorsten Radde’s excellent blog. He does some fantastic things with statistical analysis and triathlon — http://www.trirating.com/.

      Reply
  • Lauren @Lauren Runs

    March 22, 2015 at 9:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing your views! I hope that seeing more of the opinions from the Women For Tri Board will help to shed better publicity on the #50WomentoKona effort! I hope your training keeps up well for IMLP!

    Reply
  • Kate

    March 23, 2015 at 4:02 am

    I am old enough to have grown up pre-Title IX, when there were no girls’ sports in high school or college to speak of other than cheerleading. No running squads. Half-court basketball. (Still aggravated that I had to take home ec instead of shop.) Fifty years later, we’re still dinking with equality. Hard to believe. Why on earth is it so difficult to do the right thing?

    ~~ kate

    Reply
  • RunningOnEmpty

    March 23, 2015 at 7:40 am

    Hurrah Mere, you are exactly right.

    “But the men’s field is deeper than the women’s” – maybe, who cares? Give both genders equal slots.
    “But adding more slots for women will detract from opportunities for men” – no, it won’t, why would it? Give both genders equal slots.
    “But, it’s hard, we’d have to change the way we’re currently doing things” – how is this hard? Add one more bike rack to the pro’s transition area and you’re done. It’s not like WTC is paying these pros. This change would have 0 negative impact on that organization. Give both genders equal slots.

    Reply
  • Weatherman

    March 23, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Solomon would say to reduce the Men’s slots by 15 to 35 and give them to the age groupers, which would increase the prize money for both the men and woman pros who are deserving.

    Reply
    • KBG

      March 23, 2015 at 10:03 am

      Reducing the men’s slots actually doesn’t increase the prize money. WTC only pays the top 10 finishers at Kona prize money (which is an entirely different issue). Kona is a really big deal for the pros because many sponsors tie bonuses to qualifying for Kona (as a side note purses in triathlon are relatively small so many pros would not be able to exist without sponsorship dollars). Right now men have have a significantly greater opportunity to qualify for Kona (and earn those sponsor dollars) than women.

      Reply
  • Beth E.

    March 23, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    Thanks SO much for your perspective, Meredith, and for representing the “the age groupers” on the board.

    And stop saying you won’t get to Kona without a legacy or lottery spot. Never say never! 😉

    Reply
  • jon adamson

    March 23, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Keep talking equality , not equity. WTC is using equity , i.e. numbers and ratios. Equality mean just one thing, Being equal. It has nothing to do with ratios, percents , etc. USAT using equality when giving slots for their ITU world team. female and male get the same number of slots. Period. Even though there are more men racing than women. I believe in Equality. everything being equal. It doesn’t hurt the men. The course can hold 15 more people. End of discussion

    Reply
  • Robin

    March 24, 2015 at 6:51 am

    I agree there should be equal slots. However the sport needs to be built up from the ground up. The heart and soul of triathlons is and will always be the age groupers, not the pros. Most triathletes can tell you who won Kona, but ask who took 4th or who won IMTX, or any other race, almost all couldnt answer it (without google) The majority of the attention in the sport needs to be put into the grass roots programs helping it grow. While triathletes may watch the start to finish of Kona on TV, our market audience is so small that wont happen any time soon, unless we work hard with the grass roots programs to build it.

    Reply
  • Brenda

    March 24, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Meredith,
    Very well written (expected because all of your posts are) I belong to the Mullica Hill Women’s Triathlon Club, currently we have over 400 members this year – all women, are there any men’s tri clubs this size, we also have girls on the glow which promotes healthy body and mind images for young girls, so none of us are pro’s but we all support this sport and hopefully are creating a legacy for all of our daughter’s and for the sport.

    Reply
  • Emma Doucette

    March 24, 2015 at 11:21 pm

    “What other sport does that?! NONE. And what other sport allows the pros to race the same exact course, under the same conditions, as the age-groupers, the lottery winners, and the legacy athletes? NONE.”

    If triathlon can give equal spots to men and women, that would be great. But it wouldn’t be the first sport to do so. The Olympic Equestrian events (dressage, show jumping and three day eventing) have been equal for decades. Men and women just don’t compete over the same course for the same money, they compete against each other, over the same course, for the same money. These sports have huge viewership, sponsorship and prize money so perhaps triathlon can learn from them. It obviously hasn’t hurt them!

    Reply
  • Elena

    March 29, 2015 at 7:23 am

    No brainer – equal slots. If they can’t add 15 for women then take some from the men and give them both 42 or whatever so it’s still the same number of overall pros.

    I also saw Hilary resigned her position on the board and it appears to be related to this very issue.

    Reply
  • David

    March 31, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    Thank you, Meredith, for this terrific article, and your good work for all of us via the Women for Tri board.

    Seriously, it’s 2015. WTC could make a lot of allies by adding 15 slots and focusing on other issues.

    Have a great season!

    Reply
  • Din

    October 14, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    Great article! I totally do not get why there is still such a difference in this very young and modern sports. I was in Kona and was surprised that during the pre-race press conference everyone was raving about the fact that 27 or 28% (can’t remember exactly) of all participants are women. That’s more than last year though; but I would expect much much more.

    Reply

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