Race numbers in triathlon, why ?

Spurred on by a recent letter to the March issue in 220 Triathlon magazine I wrote the following to the editors. I'm sure it will be too long for them to publish in its entirety, so here it is in full.


The anonymous e-mailer in the March 2004 issue isn't the only one that worries about race numbers, but everyone worries too much!

The 220 picture in response to the letter ably illustrates the point. Elites athletes simply don't need numbers. There are few enough of them in most races that everyone knows who they are. They all wear timing chips as can be seen in your picture, yet these are the athletes the Race Organisers want most to wear the numbers! Why ? Because the number contains the sponsor name and logo. Most triathlon magazine pictures etc. are of elite athletes and any sponsor logo display is eye-ball time to sell back to the sponsor.

Yet the elites are the worst at displaying their numbers. Why? Because personally they care about their sponsors, not the race organisers. Why can you not fold your number ? Because it obscures the sponsor name, only in very rare examples does it make it harder to read the number.


220 has excelled itself with the March 2004 issue, on the cover are two GB Age Group team members, who both have perfect numbers, and who ever SBS are will be marginally pleased, but would have been delighted if the picture was of Peter Robertson and his number was as clear.
Look at the ITU website for pictures of World Champ Robertson
and what do you see.... not the sponsors name on his race number.

So, what does this mean for the average age grouper. Wear your numbers! We need them to give you split times, except in most small races where calling out your number as you pass is actually easier than reading your number. Sure, at big races where 15-20 come out of the water at the same time it isn't helpful to have them all screaming at the timekeeper. On the other hand did you ever find a timekeeper that could read 15-20 numbers at the same time ?

Then there is the issue of penalties and cheating. If you are given a 2-minute penalty for drafting we need to be able to take your number. If we need to DQ you for swearing at us when we give you a 2-minute penalty for drafting, we need your number. If you don't have a readable number, or no number at all don't even dream that you'll get away with it, we will hunt you down in transition or out on the course and make sure you get your just desserts. No one expects the race referee!

So, why do we need race numbers ? Dunno really, especially as most organisers still write on arms and legs. Everyone does them, so you should do them. This upholds the standards and fairness that all triathletes strive to achieve. But don't do this by spending more than 3-quid on a race belt; don't pin it so safely to your kit that it rips the kit; If you are a small female competitor do feel free to fold your rear number before pinning it to your swimsuit;

If you get a 2-minute penalty for not displaying your number correctly then smile and relax. After all, how many times have you been told triathlon is a competition with yourself, how you do, how much you improve. Just deduct the 2-minute penalty when you tell anyone how you did!

Oh, I just thought of it. Numbers are needed so that friends and family who are not familiar with triathlon will be able to recognise you when hundreds of similarly dressed triathletes go charging past, it gives them the ability to have a laugh at your breasts and/or lunchbox bouncing up and down, honest they will! Now that's something to really worry about ;-)
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