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PTO World Rankings - Is there a better way?

The PTO world rankings are a brilliant innovation for long distance triathlon, they go a long way towards making the sport more fan friendly and create an opportunity to legitimise the sport in various commercial and political circles. However, the current system appears to cause more confusion and frustration for most athletes and fans than it rightfully should. World rankings should be simple, fool proof and bullet proof to criticism. Without wanting to discredit the incredible work that Thorsten (TriRating.Com) and the PTO team must be doing to calculate the rankings currently, there must undoubtedly be an easier and more transparent way to quantify results and calculate world rankings. Athletes and fans alike need to know from the outset how many points each race and each position is worth, without having to account for an Adjusted Ideal Time.

The Current System - Adjusted Ideal Time

The current points system for the PTO World Rankings awards points to athletes based on their difference to an Adjusted Ideal Time. What does this mean? The PTO calculate an Ideal Time for a race, allow for adjustments on the day based on various factors, and then award points based on each athlete’s time in comparison to the AIT. An athlete who finishes in the same time as the AIT will be awarded 100 points, athletes faster than the AIT will get over 100 points and athletes slower than the AIT will get fewer points, both being directly proportional to how far ahead or behind they are compared to the AIT. Athletes are then ranked based on the average score from their three best races in the calendar year. Whilst this is undoubtedly a brilliant way to quantify and objectively analyse race results, I don’t think it is the right way to calculate World Rankings.

Athlete Thoughts on AIT

Many athletes have expressed their opinions on the AIT, whilst most have praised the PTO for instilling the notion of a world rankings, lots of professional athletes are rightly asking questions about the lack of consistency and transparency in how the rankings work.

I’m starting to get my head around the way the rankings work and how courses are rated,” says Laura Siddall (PTO Ranked 45), “The hardest thing is that there is no transparency and athletes don't know before the race what they are aiming for”.

“I know that in Triathlon there is no easy way to match up races, courses and athletes in a ranking, but I do think there is an opportunity to discuss the current system and its pros and cons compared to other potential solutions” adds Laura.

Another British Triathlete, Fenella Langridge (ranked PTO 20), sheds light on the notion of racing for time versus racing for position, “As a professional you hardly ever race for time, you race for position. Sometimes it seems that even breaking course records doesn’t contribute to your points tally.” Both are valid points as prize money is based on position for professionals, and how can you justify an AIT being faster than a course record if no one has ever gone that fast before on that course?

Ruth Astle, recent winner of Ironman Mallorca (ranked PTO 32), contributes to the debate with the following thoughts, “It doesn’t make sense that a winner of one Ironman can score less points than the 2nd and 3rd ranked athletes of another Ironman, we need more clarity on how the points are calculated. Currently, it doesn’t make sense how it can be so different for different races. Similarly, it doesn’t make sense that the Men’s AIT can be adjusted by so much less than the Women’s AIT for the same course in the same conditions on the same day.” (This was the case in Mallorca 2021).

“Bonuses are awarded at the end of the year based on your rankings,” continues Fenella Langridge, “therefore you want to do races that get you the most points, but at the moment how you do that is unknown”.

An Alternative Way Forward

It is acknowledged that AIT is a great method for quantifying and comparing performances, but for the credibility and longevity of the sport I think it’s important that the PTO consider another way forward for creating their world rankings. Taking a similar approach to the ATP or the ITU, the PTO would be able to create more transparency and credibility for their rankings.

One potential option for classifying races and awarding points could be to inspire the system from the ATP model of Grand Slams with various levels of events below that. This could look like the below:

  • 5 Grand Slams (Kona, Roth, 70.3 Worlds, ITU LD Worlds, Challenge Championship)

  • Continental Championships (1x Ironman and 1x 70.3 per continent)

  • PTO Series 1.1 (Various high-level races with large prize money purses)

  • PTO Series 1.2 (Various high-level races with smaller prize money purses)

  • PTO Series 2.1 (All other ‘small’ long distance races with minimal prize money)

This simple classification process for professional races would permit athletes to easily identify which races will award the most points and by extension the most prize money. The PTO would hold the responsibility to classify races based on previous seasons and would be able to communicate the classifications ahead of the year so that athletes can plan their seasons accordingly.

Other benefits of a system like this would be to create pathways for up-and-coming pros, allowing them to race smaller races learning to race and to win, but also rewarding them heavily if they choose to race a higher-level event. (Finishing 10th at a Continental Championship is objectively a better performance than winning a lower-level local professional race, and this should be reflected in rankings points). How points are awarded at each race could emulate the way the ITU system works. The winner of the race is awarded X points, and each subsequent position is awarded 7% less points until you reach zero. Obviously, X would highest for the Grand Slams and lowest for the PTO Series 2.1- The yearly rankings could run on a rolling 365-day basis, with athletes counting their 5 highest scoring races in those previous 365 days towards their ranking.

It would be interesting to get a group of experts together to discuss the pros and cons of various systems,” says Laura Siddall, “whilst I don’t have the answers myself, I do know that the current system has some flaws that need to be addressed.”

Whilst I don’t profess to have the ultimate answer for the PTO to create a bullet proof world rankings system, I strongly believe that the current system needs modifying and that the ideas outlined in this article could provide a baseline for a new way forward. Clearly a large number of triathletes are frustrated at the current system, three athletes were interviewed for this article, but it doesn’t take much time to find some Instagram posts or Tweets from other pros questioning how the system works. The PTO has a responsibility towards the sport of Triathlon, to its athletes and to their fans to create a reliable and transparent ranking system to ensure the future prosperity of the sport.

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