Is super league triathlon gamification of top sport?


This weekend I was fascinated with triathlon super league racing. Triathlon is already a tough sport, even without additional challenges. If you have ever tried the trio of swimming, cycling and running, you know transitions are challenging and can turn your legs into jelly. Traditionally each leg is relatively long and placing well in each event and coming out of transitions cleanly is key as well as pacing your effort across the disciplines to reach the destination.

Each race format allows you to gain some kind of “mastery”. Racers don’t only have to aim to finish high, they also have to race fast enough to not be eliminated. In each race, they can use a booster in the form of a shortened course. You can only use it once in any one race.

To me, this looked like adding gamification to top sports. It is as if the challenge of triathlon wasn’t already hard and competitive enough in its own right. I wonder if it was the competitive spirit of racers that drove them to think up this new format or whether it was rather a way of making it more interesting to follow. Triathlons, just like marathons and other endurance events, tend to be less popular to watch. I have to say I kept watching this format to see how it plays out, but also out of fascination with human athletic achievement.

Here are the levels of mastery aka the various races over a two-day period:

Master of versatility

Throwing the traditional swim-bike-run sequence out the window the Triple Mix shuffles the disciplines over three stages. Tactics for survival are fierce and athletes are eliminated from the race if they fall more than 90 seconds behind. Mistakes in this format are costly and the fight to stay in the race will be the focus.

STAGE 1 – 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 2KM Run (10-minute break), 

STAGE 2 – 2KM Run- 5KM Bike- 300M Swim (10-minute break),

STAGE 3 – 5KM Bike- 300M Swim- 2KM Run

Master of tenacity

The Eliminator tests the resilience, stamina and velocity of the athletes in a pressure-cooker format where field position proves key over timing. Athletes must finish high enough to not be eliminated whilst managing their effort against fatigue. Three stages of traditional swim-bike-run whereby athletes need to hold their ground and watch their backs in each stage to be eventually crowned as the most tenacious and tough athlete on the Super League Circuit.

STAGE 1 – 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 2KM Run (10-minute break)

STAGE 2 – (Top 15 finishers from Stage 1) 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 2KM Run (10-minute break)

STAGE 3 – (Top 10 finishers from Stage 2) 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 2KM Run

Master of persistence

The Equalizer starts with an individual time trial in one of the three disciplines, racers only find out on the day. The times taken here will set the scene and provide gaps for Stage 2. Athletes who post good individual times in Stage 1 will be fighting hard to stay away from a charging main field over the SWIM-BIKE-RUN-SWIM-BIKE-RUN of Stage 2. Fastpack swimmers, bikers and runners will be battling to come through the field while those with a time advantage give their all to stay out front.

STAGE 1: Individual Time Trial

STAGE 2: Enduro Style Racing 300M Swim – 5KM Bike – 2KM Run – 300M Swim – 5KM Bike – 2KM Run
Master of tactical racing
The Sprint Enduro splits into two stages, stage one is a SPRINT swim-bike-run format to determine the TOP 5 athletes from 2 heats selected by lucky draw to automatically qualify for Stage 2. The next 2 fastest athletes from the heats will also go through to Stage 2, giving the top 12 athletes a chance to race it out in a shortened Enduro style format of Swim-Bike-Run x2. Tactics for survival are fierce because if an athlete falls more than 90 seconds behind at the timing checkpoint in any discipline then they will immediately be removed.

STAGE 1: The Sprint

1. The field will be split into 2 groups by lucky draw

2. 300M Swim – 5KM Bike – 2KM Run

3. Rest until Stage 2

STAGE 2: Enduro Style Racing

1. 12 athletes as a mass group start

2. 300M Swim – 5KM Bike – 2KM Run – 300M Swim – 5KM Bike – 2KM Run
Master of endurance
The Enduro is considered the most brutal format of all. Requiring endurance and tactics, The Enduro is a non-stop burst of swim-bike-run-swim-bike-run-swim-bike-run without any break. The added element of speed is tied into the race demands of The Enduro, with the two slowest athletes at the end of each discipline being eliminated immediately. The winner is the first athlete across the finish line upon completion of the entire race sequence.
STAGE 1 – 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 1.6KM Run- 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 1.6KM Run- 300M Swim- 5KM Bike- 1.6KM Run (non-stop)
I found it fascinating to follow and definitely questioned if this is still good for athletes. From a competition perspective, the elimination challenge definitely adds the drive and pressure to perform better. Smart tactical racing was still possible. From a competitive gamification design perspective, it gives good ideas on adding more challenge both from mixing it up and from adding in elminination as a risk. The booster will help keep more people in the game or give the leaders an advantage.

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