In the prior post I suggested that Lionel Sanders is a B List level pro athlete.. then it occurred to me, maybe I was generous. Let’s think about this for a second…
Who would be on the A List of pro triathletes (specifically focusing on Ironman distance triathlon, leaving ITU accomplishments aside for the moment)?
You would definitely have to have Mark Allen, Dave Scott, Paula Newby Fraser, Natasha Badmann and Chrissie Wellington on the list. Craig Alexander, Mirinda Carfrae, and of course Daniela Ryf would need to be on the list. All of these athletes won in Kona at least 3 times. Athletes such as Canadian Lori Bowden could be on the list as a 2x winner in Kona, but considering she was on the podium for 7 consecutive years… thats gotta count too. Would this years Patrick Lange be on the list… considering his back to back wins, plus the course record, plus the first sub8 hour time at Ironman Worlds, I would bet he would be on the list too.
Jan Frodeno, Chris ‘Macca’ McCormack, Peter Reid, Tim DeBoom, Normann Stadler, Scott Tinley, Erin Baker, the Puntous twins, and Fernanda Keller along with others could be A Listers, but more likely B Listers (again, just looking at IM WC results). If we add on the contributions that someone like Scott Tinley made to the sport, well then we are into an entire different categorization system.
Point being… yes, Sanders may be an A List athlete in Canada, but internationally… B List may have been generous, especially if ‘other’ contributions to the sport (e.g. ITU wins) are taken into consideration. Sanders make be a C or D List athlete, making those who I compared him to D, E or F list pros.
Why go through all this trouble?
Because I believe its important that aspiring athletes appreciate that making it to the top of anything, including sport, is not a straight line from unknown to family dinner table first name recognition status. For those on the A List, their years of consistent success was on top of many many years racing at lesser known events, and on top of many many years of training. But this is not what sells in the sports media…
And, this is not what the sports media does… it doesn’t respect that the development of an individual to the point that they achieve A List status and more importantly develop to the point of being able to maintain such status is a long long journey. Instead the sports media is always trying to find the ‘next great one’ and commentators and coaches alike are always trying to link themselves to the hopeful ‘next great one’ so that they hopefully gain fame and perhaps some fortune as a result of ‘discovering’ the talent.
What is not disclosed or discussed is how many athletes this destroys – first psychologically, and then physiologically. But, hey … who cares is the attitude. Blow one athlete up, there is always another one coming up that we can try again with.
Case in point, the story of Canada’s first top swimmer: Elaine Tanner. Not familiar with the story. Click here to read a post summarizing it, but in short… at 17 and returning from the Mexico City ’68 Olympics with 3 of the 5 medals the entire Canadian Olympic team won… all that the sports media wanted to know (in order to sell sell sell) was why did Tanner fail? You see, the expectation was that Tanner would return home with gold, not medals of any other colour. Can you imagine being 17 and being considered a national failure, a disgrace?
Athletes, learn the lesson and learn it good… the sports media will chew you up, and spit you out. They only see you as an opportunity to further their own agenda, to serve themselves, to profit themselves; there is no goodwill towards you, you are just the story of the moment. If you get lost in thinking that you are something or someone because your name was mentioned, your picture published… well, when you have your first setback, you may not be prepared for how ruthless the media can be on the other side. If you aren’t prepared, then in all likelihood the treatment you receive – like Tanner – could be career ending.
Athletes, be cautious of those who are eager to blow you up to A List status. They are not doing it to serve you, but to serve themselves, their own agenda. If you want a long pro career, don’t be in a rush to get into the spotlight, and don’t seek those who rush to get you into the spotlight. It will likely be the worst goal you have ever set for yourself.
Athletes, you need to build a support system that will be there all the time… not just when the wind is behind your back and you are climbing the ranks as you climb on top of podium after podium. In all careers there are setbacks, obstacles, tough times, challenges… those who came across eager to celebrate you on the way up, are not likely to be there when times change, and they may very well become those who want to pull you down.
Athletes, you need a support system if you are going to see your journey to the end… pick your team wisely, for it is upon their shoulders you will stand on when succeeding, and upon their shoulders you will be carried in difficult times.
Make sure those around you have good shoulders.