It's been a stellar year for Gustav Iden and Lucy Charles-Barclay on the race course and a bumper one for their bank accounts off it. The versatile duo end 2021 as the #1 ranked triathletes by the Professional Triathlete Organization--and whether you're a fan of the nascent PTO rankings system or not, there can be few quibbles that both deserve the accolade.
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Their feats are made even more remarkable when considering the pair have both raced World Triathlon Series and Super League races, and in Iden's case, the Olympic Games too--none of which counted for PTO ranking points.
The #1 ranking means they each collect $100,000 from the $2 million bonus pool, which Iden can add to the $100,000 he received for winning the PTO Championship in Daytona in December 2020 (also incorporated into the 2021 standings), the $80,000 he won as the second-highest ranked male appearing at the Collins Cup, plus (although not PTO money) another $50,000 for retaining his Ironman 70.3 crown. Not a bad year.
Charles-Barclay didn't do too poorly either. The 28-year-old didn't travel to Daytona, but was PTO-ranked #4 at the time of Collins Cup selection, allowing her pick up another $60,000 in appearance fees, and she took home $50,000 for landing her first Ironman 70.3 world title.
Farther down the list
How did these two end up on top--and with the bonuses that come with it? A quick primer: The 2021 rankings are determined from triathletes' three best results from the past 13 months at races longer than the Olympic distance. The finishing time for any given race is graded against an Adjusted Ideal Time (AIT), set retrospectively using an algorithm that factors in historic times on the course and conditions on the day, including competitor performances.
That system meant Iden scored 111.34 points at the Collins Cup, 110.18 at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St. George, and 107.23 on his debut Ironman in Florida--to finish with an average of 109.62. Charles-Barclay's races at the Ironman 70.3 worlds, Collins Cup, and Ironman 70.3 European championship in Elsinore contributed to her average of 107.65.
The Brits' performances also knocked four-time Ironman World Champion Daniela Ryf off the top spot. Having headed the rankings in 2020, Ryf finishes the year ranked #2 and receives $90,000 for it. The Swiss actually benefited from the way in which the AIT system doesn't place emphasis on the stature of the event (simply on the performance), because even with an 11th-place finish in the 70.3 Worlds in September and finishing as the second slowest women when sick at the Collins Cup, Ryf could still pick up big points from dominating performances over the 70.3 distance in St George in May and in Dubai, and a win at Ironman Tulsa.
In third place is Germany's Laura Philipp ($80,000), fourth USA’s Taylor Knibb ($70,000), and in fifth Germany's still reigning Ironman champion Anne Haug ($60,000). The next top-ranked US woman was Skye Moench in seventh ($45,000), with 18 other U.S. females receiving at least a $2,000 paycheck for being in the top 100.
Out of all of them, Knibb's success was a true smash 'n grab raid. While most of the women in the top 10 prioritize non-drafting long-course racing, the former junior and U23 world champion started the year with eyes only on short-course racing. Yet, her decision to race an impromptu 70.3 on a road bike for some post-Tokyo fun at the start of August turned out to be a highly profitable one. That second place at Boulder turned selectors Mark Allen and Karen Smyers' heads to give her a wildcard for the Collins Cup three weeks later, where she defeated Ryf and set the fastest time. It also qualified her for the Ironman 70.3 worlds, where she came third. With all three races counting for the PTO rankings, she went from being unranked to fourth in just seven weeks--and earned the $70,000 end-of-year bonus in the process. Plus, she still had time to win the World Triathlon championship finale in Edmonton, too.
On the men's side, Germany's Jan Frodeno also relinquished his #1 position, but still finished the year ranked #2 ahead of Canadian Lionel Sanders, the U.S.’s Sam Long, and fellow countryman Patrick Lange.
If you're wondering why Iden's compatriot Kristian Blummenfelt isn't up there after clocking the fastest-ever Ironman time of 7:21:11 last month, it's less to do with that race in Cozumel and more because of the mechanical issue he suffered at 70.3 Worlds, where he eventually finished 26th. Having raced Clash Daytona on the final weekend of 2021 racing, Blummenfelt met the requisite three races to get onto the rankings, but his score of 41.77 from Utah dragged down his average. (And, as mentioned above, the Olympic gold and World Triathlon championship win didn’t count in the PTO rankings.) The Olympic champion finished the year in 36th place in the rankings.
For the record, Blummenfelt's Ironman Cozumel performance scored him 109.29 points and was judged the best iron-distance performance of the year by the PTO, but ruled only the ninth best performance ever (under its AIT high scores system--having done away with its list of fastest times after the brouhaha). If you’re wondering, Frodeno holds the top four spots in the best performances list, with his 2016 win in Challenge Roth deemed the best iron-distance performance ever.
Back to the rankings: Long was the best-placed U.S. man, his top scoring performance coming from that memorable 5km sprint finish (if that's not an oxymoron) with Sanders at 70.3 St George in May. Ben Kanute and Rudy von Berg also make the top 10 in eighth and 10th, and there are 10 other U.S. men on the top 100 money list.
Will rankings system change now?
The is the first year the PTO rankings have played out as intended, with the prize pot being awarded after the final race of the year. The system was introduced in 2020, but paid out early in March as a gesture of goodwill when the pandemic decimated the racing calendar and the earning potential of many pros.
The rankings weren’t always easy to follow, and made trickier because until August they were tied to Collins Cup qualification, meaning historic results from 2019 and early 2020 counted. The system then switched post-Collins Cup to only include results from December 2020 onwards. It meant anyone flying high in July by virtue of impressive 2019 results, could have dropped off considerably.
The big question is whether it will change for 2022? The biggest criticisms being that the award of points is retrospective, opaque, and focuses too much on time when the DNA of triathlon is all about head-to-head racing. There are also concerns about results counting from smaller local races that may not have enough scrutiny, and that the Collins Cup was included in the rankings when only 36 triathletes had the opportunity to race. In its defense, the system was devised to give all athletes equal opportunity when a global pandemic has restricted travel.
Alternative suggestions have centered on moving away from the AIT-based system and towards a focus on finishing place, with races tiered so more points are available at higher profile or larger prize money events.
It's possible that scores for select events, such as the new PTO Canadian and U.S. Opens, will be boosted, and there might be a bonus for the best full-distance performances, as determined via their system. The Collins Cup looks likely to retain its existing format, with Collins Cup qualifying running from January 2021 through July 2022. This would mean that big hitters, such as Iden and Charles-Barclay, who already have three solid races in the bank are virtually assured of returning to the Collins Cup. Depending on how the year-end 2022 rankings are ultimately decided, that would also mean either a dual rankings system or one that must pivot again as it did this summer. Just in case people were already confused.
But proposals for change must be discussed and ratified by the athlete board, which is made up of Alistair Brownlee Paula Findlay, Skye Moench, and two newly elected board members (voting has taken place, but results not yet announced). They'd then evaluate potential changes with PTO chairman Charles Adamo before making a final decision. At time of publication, this hadn't yet happened. However, given that it's mid-December and the first pro race is in Chile on the first weekend in January, they might want to get a wriggle on.
You can see the full end-of-year rankings at protriathletes.org.