During 2020 the PTO has charged ahead towards professionalising triathlon. Ahead of the PTO 2020 Championship, we look back at a landmark year.

The Professional Triathletes Organisation is just one month away from hosting its inaugural PTO Championship at Challenge Daytona, a race that will combine PTO ranked stars and wildcard selections to bring the best athletes in triathlon together for an epic showdown – and throw in the prize money to match.

It’s the culmination of a year of determined work from the PTO and the first real opportunity for the organisation to get out there and show itself – while also creating a calling card for quality, saleable TV production through the unique location and incredible field.

The PTO 2020 Championship is, therefore, a crucial steppingstone towards the organisation’s goal of creating a unified voice for professional triathlon, a challenge that won’t come easy.

A huge task

Earlier this year, six-time Ironman World Champion, Dave Scott, gave his thoughts on the PTO in an editorial entitled Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Organisation.

“Forty years ago, our generation of professionals failed the sport by its inability to unite together,” he wrote. “Now the PTO looks to see what they can achieve together for the greater good of all who love the sport. It is a joy to see them united and my hope is they remain united in these difficult times. The survival of professional triathlon may very well depend on it.”

Dave Scott - Commeth The Hour, Commeth The Organisation
Dave Scott sees the arrival of the PTO as a make-or-break moment for pro triathlon. (Photo: PTO)

Scott’s words paint a pivotal moment for triathlon without sugar coating the consequences should the PTO fail, just as others have failed in the past. It’s a pressured mantle but one the organisation seems eager to earn as evidenced in its actions throughout this challenging year.

In short, with every move it’s making in 2020, the PTO is showing both serious commitment and intent towards its goal of making triathlon into a truly professional sport.

That’s professional in all aspects of the word – from giving pro athletes the limelight and platform they deserve to elevating triathlon itself to a level on par with more established, mainstream sports.

Working towards this goal is no better exemplified than bringing in former ATP president Chris Kermode as PTO vice president, someone with direct experience of the power united athletes can wield to the benefit of the sport.

Money matters

Of course, a big part of professionalising triathlon will come down to money and the opportunities it alone can provide.

Even here though, the PTO’s mandate to put athletes first never faltered as it sought a partner. In the announcement of Sir Michael Moritz’s Crankstart Investments coming aboard in January 2020, the PTO proved it possible to find a sympathetic partner with a shared vision for the sport.

The other side of the coin is how money can affect the athletes themselves. Just a whiff of the potential to increase prize money so that it befits some of the planet’s hardest working sportspeople is surely a way to spark hope and galvanise unity in the pro triathlon ranks.

Meanwhile, the resources to tell athlete stories could make all the difference when it comes to audience engagement with competitors.

Beyond expectations

It’s not all about money though – it’s also down to pure passion, dedication and perhaps a little optimism. All these things the PTO’s board and staff appear to have in such abundance that the organisation has begun to flourish in spite of, or perhaps even been spurred on by, the effects of COVID-19.

Time after time throughout 2020, the PTO has shown steadfast support to its professional triathlete members. The early pay-out of the 2020 Bonus Pool in March, increased by $500,000 to $2.5m, is a great example of how the organisation has more often than not gone beyond expectations, rather than just meeting them.

The same could be said of supporting local pro races on a global level. To date, the PTO has provided over $220,000 in prize money to events in the UK, USA, Canada, France, Spain, Germany, Australia and South Africa.

Giving significant prize purses to races that wouldn’t otherwise have them, such as Britain’s Outlaw X middle-distance event, gave domestic pro athletes the chance to make money, enriched the experience for age groupers and raised the profile of the events for organisers.

The PTO’s announcement of an additional $150,000 for the PTO 2020 Championship, putting the total at $1,150,000, and guaranteeing no athlete would go away empty-handed is just the latest move which combines that passion to surpass expectations with the organisation’s resources.

Proving grounds

The result of all its 2020 endeavours? A growing body of proof that the PTO can live up to its promises, creating instant buy-in from a new generation of athletes and surely bringing even the most cynical veteran around to the idea that this time, with this organisation and these people, a real difference could be made to professional triathlon.

Lionel Sanders and Pablo Gonzalez Dapena at Challenge Daytona 2019
If we get anything close to the duel between Lionel Sanders and Pablo Gonzalez Dapena this year, we’ll be in for a treat. (Photo: Talbox Cox)

It’s that unity that will be so crucial in creating a singular voice for professional triathletes to elicit real change in the sport. With the PTO backing things, and its inaugural championship event just around the corner at Challenge Daytona, the organisation’s first big opportunity is almost within grasp.

Whoever arises in Daytona to claim a $100,000 winner’s paycheck, the PTO has the chance of a bigger victory – proving triathlon can be a truly professional sport with compelling characters and athletic drama that create a lasting emotional connection with audiences.

We’ll find out in a few short weeks if the PTO can pull it off, but to borrow the organisation’s own mantra, while we breathe, we hope.

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