THE organisers of the successful Waterways Ireland TriAthlone event - which this year doubled as the Irish National Championships - have defended elements of the race's organisation in the wake of public criticism by this year's main race winner, Bryan McCrystal.
On his personal blog, McCrystal, from Dundalk, described Athlone as "a top venue for a race", and also praised the atmosphere generated along the course.
However, when reflecting upon his win in this year's race, McCrystal highlighted several aspects of the race that he disagreed with.
Firstly, the former Leeds Utd youth team player said that Athlone should not be hosting the National Championships. He also said the National Championships should not be using the 'wave-format' used in the Athlone race, whereby each 'wave' of competitors starts the race determined by age category. He said such a format makes it impossible for competitors such as himself to establish how well they're doing during the course of the action.
"For the record I made it known that this race shouldn't be the nationals. It is a great race but not one for the nationals. One wave - ready, steady, go, (that is the) only option. I wanted to voice this before the race rather than after. People would say it was sour grapes (if he hadn't won), but luckily this didn't turn out to be the case," McCrystal said on his blog at www.bryanmccrystal.com.
He also bemoaned the lack of a prize-giving ceremony at the end of the race.
"When winning a national title, it should be celebrated, and I should have had that opportunity to take it all in and enjoy the post-race atmosphere," McCrystal said.
Reacting to McCrystal's comments, race director Liam Heavin said the organising committee is always receptive of constructive criticism, and constantly review their own efforts and methods, in order to further enhance the race experience. But he also defended TriAthlone's position on some of McCrystal's points.
"Unfortunately, there's absolutely nothing TriAthlone can do in relation to the lack of a prize-giving process," said Heavin, who was also instrumental in attracting the prestigious European Triathlon Championships to Athlone in 2010.
"The presentation of prizes to winners from the National Championships takes place annually at the Triathlon Ireland Awards' Dinner. That's always been the case. There's nothing we can do about that. I take his (McCrystal's) point but we literally don't have any medals to give out, therefore such issues need to be raised with Triathlon Ireland," he added.
Heavin's defence continued with an explanation for the 'wave' element of the race.
"These championships are the Irish Age-Group Championships and is basically an 'amateur' race, whereby people of all standards, whether a so-called Elite athlete or more inexperienced participant, have the opportunity to compete in the National Championships. Every entrant should have the same chance as those regarded as 'Elite' triathletes, because this is a non-drafting age-group championships. Athletes are set off (from the start) in their appropriate age-group categories and in a fair manner. We cannot handpick people and put them in a singular wave because they're classed, either by themselves or by other people, as 'Elite' athletes.
"Again, it's more an issue for Triathlon Ireland, and their regulations and statutes. Of course, everyone, including Bryan McCrystal, is entitled to their opinion, and we believe criticism should be taken positively and used to enhance the race experience in the future.
"The primary reason Athlone was picked for the National Olympic Distance Championships this year, and the National Sprint Distance Championships in three other years, is because of its scale and ability to host such large races. I assume it won't be in Athlone next year," said Heavin.
More volunteers needed
Heavin was more concerned by the lack of race volunteers for this year's event. He said the race requires in the region of 180 unpaid volunteers, but this year fell short of the 100-mark.
"We had roughly a 60 per cent no-show rate for volunteers," he said.
"It was the biggest negative of this year's event. We have some plans to hopefully remedy this in the future," added Liam.
For 2012, Athlone hosted the Irish National Standard (Olympic) Distance Championships, in addition to the first ever Irish National Paratriathlon Championships.
Finalised results were only rubber-stamped by Triathlon Ireland last week, while prize-money was also sent out, with an apology issued for a delay in this respect on TriAthlone's official website.
McChrystal also said on his blog that he will be donating his winner's prizemoney to the 'Kare4Kasey' charity, a trust fund established to raise funds to send Kasey Kelly to Boston for life-saving treatment for a malignant brain tumour.