We think so. Having been in the sport from the early eighties, when triathlon was still a new sport and speedos were the order of the day during a swim leg, we tend to argue “most definitely”.
When triathlon first started up some 40 odd years ago, most of the athletes competing back in those days were pretty good swimmers. When I say good swimmers, I don’t necessarily mean fast but possibly more “competent”. Wetsuits were an un-known entity back in the day. Costume on, dive in and start swimming. As simple as that! The Triathlon Wetsuit started to gain some popularity early on as the sport started growing in numbers and more events were being staged in colder climes like Europe for example. The idea then was to allow wetsuits at triathlon events to keep the cold at bay. The triathletes back then were more than capable of swimming without the suits of course, it was simply to keep them from freezing to death when the competition venues offered up lakes, rivers and seas that were less than ideal to stay warm.
As the sport started to grow, more and more athletes came to the party and the number of events increased globally. Of course the wetsuit manufacturer jumped on board with this and started developing wetsuits to make you faster in the water while at the same time, giving you some buoyancy and keeping you slightly warmer. It must be said that with 1mm arms in some of the suits these days, the “keeping you warm” bit is not the end game for these guys. Making you fast and buoyant is.
So along with the scientifically designed wetsuits, more and more athletes from different backgrounds started taking up triathlon and it started to grow in mass across the globe. The majority of athletes new to the sport of triathlon were often from a cycling and running background. The un-official average now would suggest most newbies to the sport would list the swim discipline as their weakness. Most cannot swim in the open water without the aid of a wetsuit and if conditions on race day are anything but ideal, they struggle to complete the 1st discipline.
The officials and some EO’s have recognised this fact and often, you will find that a wetsuit swim is allowed, even when the water temperature is above the legal limit. This approach ensures that the swimmers are perceived as safer in the water (a wetsuit is almost like a life-jacket of sorts). The triathlete then gets used to this and does not ever swim in the open water without the use of a wetsuit. He or She also only goes and swims in the open water when conditions are perfect. They are then never really challenged in the swim department and this stagnates their improvement in this discipline.
So many swim legs at races are cancelled these days because the event organiser has to worry about what might happen to his weakest swimmer as opposed to back in the day, when most of the swimmers were in fact competent enough and could almost swim in any conditions. A fear of litigation if something goes wrong with one of the swimmers during the 1st leg is a real concern to the EO. Based on a general observational average (not verified we might add) that most age group triathletes these days might battle with the swim, this is a cause for concern and a decision is often -then taken to scrap the swim entirely if they feel the weaker guys and girls might struggle with the swim discipline in the conditions that are presented on race day.
What we are finding is that the general triathlon fraternity has accepted that the bulk of swimmers at age group triathlon events these days are not that swim proficient and as such, this needs to be taking into account when determining whether the triathletes will swim or not in the conditions that present themselves at race start.
The age group triathlete then becomes comfortable with this scenario and far too often than not, don’t even bother to improve their swim proficiency without the use of a wetsuit and/or in less than ideal open water swim conditions.
The end result? The general age group swim standard starts to drop and this then assures that more and more events in the future, will have their swim disciplines cancelled because the officials and EO’s are fearful of what might happen to the weaker swimmers. When the weaker swimmers outnumber the stronger swimmers, the chances of a swim cancellation are far more likely.
Based on what is happening right now in the sport. We are well on course to see many more swims disciplines at Triathlon Events cancelled in the future