How does a triathlete ‘Go Pro?’ – Triathlete

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All-day training in scenic locations. Featured as the face of major brands. Receive free products. Compete at an elite level, internationally, to earn a living. Sounds amazing, right?

Having the ability to race as an elite athlete is an incredible opportunity. But, as most professional triathletes will attest, being a pro isn’t always right, even if their social media feeds may present the opposite. Obtaining your elite triathlon license, or what is commonly referred to in our sport as a “professional card”, does not necessarily guarantee that you will earn a living or make money in the sport. However, it will allow you to race against the best in the world.

What does it take to be a good pro? A new study has broken down the numbers of the top elite triathletes.

How to Get an Elite License in the United States

How does a triathlete become a professional? The answer is different depending on where you live and what type of event you attend – without drafting or legal drafting.

USA Triathlon elite qualification is based on a number of criteria. The most common method is to finish in the top three in the amateur field of a qualifying race, which means racing with a corresponding professional field and a purse of $20,000 or more. Another way to qualify is to finish within 8% of the winning elite time in three USAT-sanctioned events, in a year, that offer a prize pool of $5,000 or more. A third method is to finish in the top 10 overall at the Age Group Triathlon World Championships or top 10 overall amateur ranking at the Ironman World Championships.

The minimum age for elite athletes is 15 years old. However, people between the ages of 16 and 19 can participate in the USAT Junior Elite Series. There is also an elite collegiate license available for NCAA athletes who do not want to jeopardize their eligibility by competing for prize money.

Once an athlete meets the elite qualification criteria and applies for a license, he or she will retain eligibility for three years. Athletes must renew their license annually and can extend their eligibility by submitting a race result where they finish less than 8% of the winner’s time at a sanctioned event with a minimum purse of $5,000. When an elite license expires, if the criteria for renewal are not met, or if an athlete chooses not to renew as an elite, then they are no longer eligible to race in the elite domain and may resume racing in the amateur group or field age group.

In 2019, USAT registered 477 active elite licenses. In 2020 the number dropped slightly to 460 and in 2021 the number was 471.

Different elite triathlete policies in different countries

Whether competing in non-draft events with Ironman, Challenge or Clash, or competing in legal events on the World Triathlon Circuit, athletes must present proof of elite status from their National Federation, and each country and federation has different rules for winning this elite. status. In general, it tends to be a little more difficult to get an elite license overseas than in America.

For example, in Australia, an athlete can obtain an elite license in three categories: Open, Long Course and Multisport (Non-drafting), or U23 Development (Drafting). The qualification requirements for these categories are high. Some examples include being selected to the U23 team (drafting) or World Junior Championship; win the age group race in an Ironman, Ironman 70.3 or Challenge event; or place in the top five age groups overall and be within 5% of the fastest age group overall time at various World Championship races.

Triathlon Canada requires elite athletes to maintain an International Competition Card (ICC) in order to represent Canada at World Triathlon sanctioned events. This process includes a mandatory medical examination for clearance to race and compliance with anti-doping policies and various Code of Conduct policies. Qualification criteria for long distances include different methods like being an overall Canadian champion or being within 1% of the time of the winning finisher; a top-three finish at the World Long Distance Triathlon Championships; or qualify to compete in the pro class of the Ironman or Ironman 70.3 World Championships in the points classification.

The elite long distance criteria for British triathlon could be the toughest to achieve and includes options like being the overall age group winner at the Ironman World Championship, 70.3 World Championships or Challenge Championship, or being the first athlete to finish on the podium (who is not already an elite) and being within 4% of the time of the overall winner in some races. Famous, Lucy Charles-Barclay has already been refused an elite license by British Triathlon.

Ironman and World Triathlon

Both Ironman and World Triathlon require an athlete to have an elite license or recognition from the athlete’s home country.

A major difference is that Ironman is a private racing company, not a governing body. As with most racing organizations, Ironman requires athletes to have an elite license issued by their respective national federation. This then allows an athlete to sign up and get an Ironman pro membership, which costs $900/year and includes entry to any Ironman race. Athletes must also submit to doping controls. While any athlete (pro or amateur) may be subject to in-competition or out-of-competition testing, Ironman-registered pros must submit documentation acknowledging their close contacts and agreement to doping protocols. Ironman also operates its own doping testing pool which relies on its professional members.

As the governing body of the sport, World Triathlon protocols are slightly different. Everything is done through the national federation, and an elite athlete is required to represent his country. This means that an athlete cannot simply register for a race, as with Ironman or Challenge, but must submit entries through their governing body. The athlete’s federation then submits entries for races like Continental Cups, World Cups and the Triathlon World Championship Series.

World triathlon races, in general, are allowed in the repechage, with an emphasis on WTCS races and the Olympics. Most countries have separate draft pathways to earning an elite license, many of which focus on junior and athlete development.

RELATED: In numbers: who makes a good professional triathlete?

Make money as a professional triathlete

Having an elite triathlon license does not guarantee income in the sport. It simply allows an athlete to participate in races with scholarships. The reality is that for the majority of elite triathletes, the cost of equipment, training, training, and travel far outweighs the prize money or sponsorship dollars that are earned. Many pros have full-time or part-time jobs that provide extra income. This supplements triathlon revenue generated from prize money, sponsorship dollars, appearance fees, bonuses, social media following, coaching, speaking, clinics and writing.

Most professional races offer cash prizes. Often the biggest chunk goes to the winner and the amount awarded drops dramatically as the rankings go down. For example, from February to July 2022, Ironman has 35 races with professional purses on the program ranging from $15,000 at 70.3 Dubai to $100,000 at Ironman Lake Placid and $750,000 at the Ironman World Championship in St. George. . At first glance, that may seem like a lot of money, but consider the breakdown. The winner of a race with $15,000 in prize money will win $2,500; fifth place receives only $500; and the sixth receives nothing. The winner of a $100,000 race receives $15,000; the fifth gets $4,000; and the tenth gets $1,000. Even at the Ironman World Championship, winning gets you $125,000 (although that doesn’t count sponsor bonuses, which in Kona can be more than double actual podium earnings), and world 15th only gets $3,000. $, probably less than they spent to get to the starting line.

Adding PTO

With the advent of the Pro Triathlete Organization (PTO) and a number of new racing formats, such as the Super League, there are other ways for elites to earn money. The PTO has added a global ranking system that ranks elite triathletes with no drafting. These rankings determine year-end bonuses and qualification for other PTO events, such as the new US and Canadian Opens.

The PTO leaderboard calculates a score for any large, long race, and these scores are based on a system that uses an “adjusted ideal time” after a race is completed to account for all course changes and conditions. For the purposes of calculating year-end bonuses, athletes are then ranked according to the average number of points they have achieved for their best three races over a 12-month period.

Read a full analysis of how ranking works.

This system has allowed the PTO to pay out $6 million to more than 200 professionals over the past two years, including the well-funded Collins Cup. The most recent year-end bonus of $2 million was paid out to athletes in late December based on their ranking. Interestingly, for the top 20 long distance pros, 70% of all their earnings last year came from the PTO. Additionally, 18 professionals earned over $100,000 in 2021.

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