Kiwi Nathan Fa'avae recently wrote a great letter about the possibility of racing in a country vs. country format at the Adventure Racing World Championship. A few of my thoughts are below.
When Nathan talks, we should all listed. Nathan is not only one of the best adventure racers ever, but he is a good person, and honest guy, and someone who speaks from the heart. I’ve been lucky to race around the world against Nathan, and he has often helped me and my team (most notably helping us with a crucial kayak repair literally moments before the start of a race last year in China), and we have enjoyed many laughs together.
Philosophically, I absolutely love the idea of competing with the stars and stripes on my back in a race to bring a World Championship home to my country. Nathan is right--winning a race for the country would truly mean so much more. I have moved away from a primary focus on adventure racing over the past few years (my domestic racing has been running and mountain biking, and I have continued to compete in international adventure races where prize money and world class competition exist), but if a legitimate system and solid funding existed to enable the best adventure racers in America to come together on a National Team to represent the country at the Adventure Racing World Championship, I would be strongly encouraged to funnel training and racing efforts in this direction. I have often dreamed of competing for Team USA, and doing so in an Adventure Racing World Championship against Team France, Team New Zealand, Team Australia, Team Brazil, Team China, Team Sweden, and the others would be something worth putting all other racing on hold for. When push comes to shove, I think I, like many other athletes, would be just a bit more motivated in training and in racing if I knew I was competing with my country behind me.
So, how does this happen? It’s definitely easier said than done.
Here are a few thoughts.
- Selecting a Team USA (or Teams USA; each country could possibly send two or three teams to represent it) would be interesting. The best four athletes do not necessarily make the best team, and a team that has a chance of winning a world championship must have raced together, many times, in order to be ready to win. Where running, biking, and other sports can select athletes based on individual results, this is not necessarily true in adventure racing.
- Funding is the biggest barrier. In order to race as Team USA on the international stage, funding from “USA” (whatever that means, and I don’t think Uncle Sam is going to sponsor the team) must exist. Ideally, that would include travel, entry, and athlete support (even a monthly stipend to allow athletes to really train and advance in the sport) on a year-round basis. Is real funding for “Team USA” even a remote reality? I don’t know. Would companies put significant money into a team called “Team USA”? Maybe; I think bike manufacturers, for example, pay to have their bikes ridden by Team USA, though I don’t know the details of such arrangements. Could there be a “Team USA Sponsored by Tecnu” or “Team USA Sponsored by Tecnu, Hoka, Giant, and Walmart”? Sounds funny, but it all costs a lot of money, and companies might require such naming rights to buy in.
- The impact on current multi-national teams is also a significant concern. Team Thule is composed of athletes from different countries who have dedicated their lives to being the best in the world and advancing the sport. They are incredible athletes and great people, and breaking up teams like this would be a bummer. Team Tehcnu has also raced with multi-national rosters. Though I can’t speak for them, I think this may happen in some cases simply because enough top American racers were not available for a given race or season of racing. Some of my most fulfilling racing experiencing have been in competing with Kiwis, Canadians, Aussies, Swedes, Frenchmen, and others. At the international races, one really does get a sense of being part of a big family, and racing with people from other countries really is fulfilling. Some of the best adventure racers in the world do not easily fall into a certain nationality because they live in one country but were born elsewhere. If your close friends, the people who you know will get you through thick and thin, the people you want to race with in what should be the biggest race of the year, happen to be from another country, shouldn’t you be able to compete alongside them? I think that’s a legitimate question, particularly in the minds of currently-existing multi-national teams. Also, I'm sure Team Tecnu chooses non-American athletes like Bob Miller because they are such strong athletes. Bob is an example of the type of great teammate and experienced racer who could hop in and race with any team around, and it would be a bummer if he was left out of a World Champs because Canada could not fund a team.
- The availability of enough top American racers in fielding one or more teams to beat the Kiwis, Aussies, French, and Swedish is a concern. I hate to say it, but there are more world class adventure racers in the tiny town of Nelson, New Zealand and its immediately surrounding countryside than there currently are in all of America. I’m not exaggerating, and if you’ve raced at a top international event, you know it’s true. Fielding one or more top national teams to represent the USA would require organizational development of upcoming athletes, mentorship by older athletes (as Nathan mentions, that’s in their blood in NZ), and, most significantly, the funding to allow people to devote time to these endeavors. Getting there is not impossible, but it’s not simple. Many of the best adventure racers are athletes who can also choose to compete and make a bit of money in other sports, like ultra running, mountain biking, and/or triathlon. I hate to keep coming back to money, but funneling such athletes towards adventure racing will require funding from either Team USA, corporate sponsor(s), or both. All of those world class adventure racers in Nelson can be friends, train together, and synergistically advance the sport for their country, even if they race against each other at some of the events. The US does the same thing with the Olympic Development Center and other such programs for various sports, and growing a program to beat the Kiwis might require such a specified program, especially since adventure racers in the US are spread over such a vast area as compared to New Zealand.
- Other not-quite-mainstream sporting organizations have created or attempted to create a Team USA, and adventure racing might look to them for positive and negative examples. The US Mountain Running Team, for example, sends a squad to the World Championship each year, and the US has done very well there. I think the team is able to provide funding to get athletes there. As mentioned, adventure racing is much more expensive, and a single race with solo athletes would not be a good way to select the best team(s) of four. For a variety of reasons, it’s not that simple in adventure racing.
- On the one hand, racing as Team USA may cut off sponsorship from companies. On the other, a World Champs consisting of country vs. country would make for awesome TV around the world if the networks bought in. And I think money chases TV coverage, so maybe that’s a route to take. Anyone out there work for NBC? Internet video could be another avenue.
So, should the AR World Series race directors shift immediately to a requirement for single-nationality teams? The choice is not simple. If a requirement for single-nationality teams is imposed, the directors might consider providing advance notice of one or two years to allow less-prepared countries, like America (and probably most countries beyond New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, and France), to be ready to legitimately race for a World Championship and to maybe even, somehow, devise a funding structure to make national teams a reality. This could even allow some athletes to apply for multiple-citizenship, if it’s that important to them. I mention the countries above because I think they could possibly be closer to at least fielding one or more strong, single-nation teams (though I could be wrong about that), not necessarily because I think they have the financial support of a national organization in place.
Plus, Team USA would have to start paddling like crazy--immediately--to be able to hack it on the water without any ringers from overseas!
I’m only joking...kind of.
I’m curious about your thoughts and ramifications/potential for a national team for other countries.
Endurance athlete and coachwww.travismacy.com
|Two Americans, a Kiwi who now lives in Sweden, and an Australian legend. Three "generations," arguably, of adventure racers. We were a good team, and we had fun.|