The financial district of Central London is a fitting location for the Super League triathlon to make its debut in the British Capital.

A fitting location as it’s clear that the dream that Triathlon royalty Chris McCormack has been instrumental in bringing to life has required a huge amount of investment. Triathlon has often been perceived as difficult to watch, long and often little dull, with no sense of urgency and real time excitement from a fans perspective. If you have vested interest, a loved one or friend, perhaps not so, but can triathlon be captured and presented in such a way that the casual non-fan can be absorbed and enthralled? 

Based on the spectacle on the West India Quay, it’s an emphatic YES! And so to the racing! 

The London SLT

The London course featured a 300m swim in the Quay, right in the shadow of Canary Wharf and the shiny new Crossrail station, and a tight, technical and multi-surface (more on that later), loop around the Museum of the Docklands buildings and the local service roads that served as both bike and run course.

With beautiful, very-unbritish sunshine throughout the day, it was a hot affair! The Ladies event ran first, followed 90 mins later by the men with 3 back-to-back races in both standard and very-unstandard triathlon formats. Each SLT destination features a different race structure, for London it was TRIPLE MIX.

The race – how it works

3 races in total designed to reward the most complete athlete across the 3 disciplines, Round 1 saw a standard Swim (300m), Bike (4km), Run (1.6km) structure. Just minutes after the last athlete completes round 1, it’s back to work, but this time throwing the order in the mixer, Run, Bike, Swim! The idea is to disrupt the stronger single sport athletes, as a strong swim wasn’t enough to get you clear. Success in rounds 1 and 2 rewarded athletes with a ‘short chute’ pass, allowing certain athletes to cut a section of the final run, potentially changing the game, and the final result. The third and final deciding round’s structure was Bike, Swim, Run, with the highest cumulative points scored across the 3 races crowned the Winner of the day.

Who was competing?

Featuring huge depth in both men and womens fields, it was a who’s who of rivalries, with the women’s race featuring GB powerhouses, Non Stanford, Vicky Holland, Jess Learmouth, Beth Potter, Sophie Coldwell and Tokyo Olympic SIlver Medalist Georgia Taylor-Brown, battling the World’s very best best short course ladies, including former series winner Katie Zaferes, American Taylor Spivey, Cassandre Beaugrand of France and Dutch duo Rachel Klamer and Maya Kingma. The men’s side was no less impressive, with Tokyo medalist Alex Yee, Jonny Brownlee and Gordon Benson flying the home flag, up against triathlon luminaries like 2x World Champion Vincent Luis, Tokyo Bronze Medalist Hayden Wilde, Mario Mola, Matty Hauser and the Aussie contingent Aaron Royle and Jacob Birtwistle.

With the short swim far too brief to allow any breaks, it was on the bike and run sections where splits would appear. The inconsistent surface would provide a huge challenge all day, with the clatter of chains on stays reverberating across the course as bikes went from deep cobbles, to chipseal, to carpet, to the finest pot-hole strewn London highways. That there were no major offs or crashes is amazing, although GTB did take a tumble on the way into transition, but that was a slight lapse of concentration on a busy course more than anything. She dusted herself off and got back to racing immediately, showing a real focus and commitment. 

Crowds 3 deep across the whole event space, cheered and encouraged the athletes with huge enthusiasm for the whole day. For a relatively unknown outside of triathlon race series, SLT London was an absolute masterclass in event production. Huge screens, extensive branding, knowledgeable commentators and a spectator friendly course made the event THE standout spectator (rather than participation) triathlon event I have ever attended.

SLT London Event Summary

If I had to be critical about anything of the event, the sheer speed of the athletes, and the consecutive nature of the races meant it was sometimes a little tricky to follow exactly who was in the lead at any one time. The commentators and huge LED displays helped, but if you were entirely new to the sport, I imagine it could have all been a little bewildering.

It’s clear the Formula One model that the SLT organisation used as a rough template is working. Coupled with a new team based format and an ever-increasing public awareness of triathlon, particularly mixed-relay formats so successfully used at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the recent Tokyo Olympics, triathlon as spectator experience, rather than a participation event, is at an all-time high. The sense of drama and conflict invoked by SLT’s innovative race structures makes the final product engaging, exciting, and ultimately fulfilling for both consumer and athlete.

2021 continues to challenge us all, so the very fact that the Superleague triathlon team have managed to put together a 4 race series across 2 continents is frankly astounding. That they are achieving on successive weekends even more so. Factor in the size and scale of each production, and it’s off-the-charts bonkers.

Have the SLT team succeeded in revolutionising short course racing? It’s early days, but never bet against Macca…