Striving For Perfection As The SLT Arena Games Hits A New High

Column by Super League Triathlon CEO Michael D’hulst

If ever proof was needed that where you stage an event has a massive impact on its overall quality then it was delivered for the SLT Arena Games Powered by Zwift in London.

The Aquatics Centre at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was such a stunning venue. It had a real wow factor and you could almost feel what it would be like with a big crowd as it revived memories of the 2012 Olympics.

I was delighted with the event. The amount of media attention and interest both inside and outside the triathlon community was huge, and the initial viewing figures and feedback from broadcasters such as the BBC in the UK and Sport1 in Germany suggest it was a truly massive event for triathlon.

We are now focusing on following this up in Rotterdam, which is only just over a week away on April 18. It is going to be superb to go back to the venue where the SLT Arena Games started.

The Arena Games is a great product but still needs a few tweaks. I am a perfectionist and going through the broadcast there are some things I feel need to be better, and also a bit of experimentation to see what works.

Sophie Coldwell SLT Arena Games Super League Triathlon London

We are lucky at Super League that we have the freedom to give things a go. If they work then that is great. If not we fine-tune it further. Either way we keep innovating and pushing the boundaries to create a perfect event for athletes and audiences.

One obvious change for London was that we cut out the barefoot running to give kudos to transition. Super League celebrates transition as the fourth discipline and by allowing athletes not to wear shoes on the run we basically took out transition. I think this change really worked.

For Rotterdam we want to optimise the broadcast storytelling, focus on chaptering the different stages, with strong starts and finishes, and we will improve the bike. It will now finish with an uphill cobbled section on Zwift rather than it being flat. We will also shorten the bike section from 4km to 3km, which gives us a bit more time in the two hour broadcast window to speak about the racing. It is going to be exciting to see how those changes play out.

Jonathan Brownlee SLT Arena Games London Super League Triathlon

As many people know, I am a big fan of triathlon and inspirational stories of professional athletes pursuing their big dreams, and one of the biggest joys for me with Super League has been discovering new talent and giving them a platform to shine.

There has been talk about Beth Potter for a while. She won a European title in 2019 which was obviously significant, but in terms of a global audience, I think she would regard her victory at the SLT Arena Games, beating both Lucy Charles-Barclay and Georgia Taylor-Brown, as her breakthrough race. That she then went on to break the 5km world record on the road a week later is testament to just how incredible an athlete she is.

I can’t help but wonder if she will follow a similar pathway in triathlon to Vincent Luis. He had been a big talent for a long time, but his first really big win on a global stage was at Super League Triathlon. He has since gone on to totally dominate the men’s field, and is a deserved favourite for the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Hayden Wilde is another to come through Super League and thrive in these innovative, sharp formats.

It was also great to see Lucy Charles-Barclay race in London. She is an amazing athlete and super versatile and I wasn’t surprised she did well in the SLT Arena Games with her great swim and smart racing. She always positioned herself very well and that put her as a contender for the overall win.

In the men’s race I was obviously passionate to see Marten Van Riel, a fellow countryman, win it. Marten is a strong swimmer and very accomplished on Zwift.

Alex Yee bumping Jonny Brownlee off the podium for third place was also a sign of a young generation ready to break through. If you look at Alex Yee in every stage he had the best bike and run numbers and is just inches away from winning titles. His big breakthrough is close.

Alex Yee SLT Arena Games London Super League Triathlon

Super League’s formats help to unearth this new, young talent and gives them a global platform on which to perform.

It is interesting to see that World Triathlon is now jumping on the format and launching its version of the Eliminator. We have seen the fans react and I think it indeed poses some questions around the relationship between governing bodies and private organisations, which you can see in other sports as well. 

In my view the best way forward is with a collaborative approach. It has been that way because we have an MOU with World Triathlon and we are bound by a similar set of ideals – gender equal, a clean sport etc – and we also collaborate closely to ensure the event calendar is balanced for the athletes and non-conflicting.

Now it’s about extending this collaborative approach to not compete against each other because the sport still needs multiple players in order to grow. To do that we all have to work together to drive commercial success from which the entire ecosystem of triathlon will directly benefit.

In life you are always stronger when you work with somebody else rather than against them. Our sport will struggle to withstand that, and if we are to reach the potential I believe triathlon has, it needs multiple organisations thriving and driving growth and audience in their areas, be it super short course racing, Olympic or long distance. If we drive competition against each other and try to outdo one another then the sport will ultimately pay the price.

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