Triathlon struggling to retain interest of young girls
Despite the success of Dame Flora Duffy, national triathlon coach Neil de Ste Croix admits there is a real challenge in trying to ensure girls remain in the sport through to senior level.
From an outside perspective, female representation in the sport appears to be in a healthy state led by Bermuda’s first Olympic gold medal winner and record four-times world champion Duffy, while compatriot Erica Hawley is also competing at the highest level among the professional ranks.
However, while the island enjoys major age-group success from the likes of Maddie Durkin, Louise Wells and Karen Smith within the Ironman discipline, De Ste Croix revealed that there remains a worrying trend of dwindling numbers among teenagers.
“Overall the number of women in triathlon is pretty healthy, particularly in the youth groups, which is really encouraging,” he said.
“However, around the age of 13 to 14 we lose a lot of young women who drop out. It is definitely an area where we have some difficulty and we see more girls move away from the sport than boys.
“Obviously, from my point of view it would be great to see athletes continue all the way through the age groups, but unfortunately it is not the case.
“As an association we try to give people as much opportunity as possible and even have programmes to try and help athletes with the cost of the sport such as with the bikes. We do as much as we can and are open to everyone, but it can be difficult to keep people in the sport.
“Part of the issue I think is that athletes in those early teenage years start to specialise in other sports and that’s when they decide what to focus on.
“If they are a strong runner then they might focus on that, then there is a situation where training programmes don’t align and so they have to make a choice.
“We also have large numbers of young athletes move abroad and so you lose them until they come back and may or not may not still be in the sport.”
As well as losing female athletes, De Ste Croix also highlighted the impact of the bridge created from grassroots through to elite level.
“When you look through the age groups there is definitely a gap,” he said. “Ideally you want athletes to continue through all the ages so that every age group has someone to look up to in that next group.
“However, it’s just not the case. Even at the elite level we have a gap between Flora and Erica of about ten years and after that you are looking at athletes such as Fenella Wightman, who is much younger.
“We are trying to bridge those gaps in the age groups, but unfortunately with such a small pool of athletes there may always be an issue because we just don’t have the numbers in Bermuda.”
Sentiments about losing young women from the sport at a certain age were echoed by Christine Dailey, who won the Athora 8K run last week, as she reflected on the intimidating nature of having to undertake three disciplines within triathlon.
“Bermuda has a great triathlon programme, but we have an issue where a lot of young athletes go overseas, perhaps don’t keep up the sport and then if they do come back you have to almost start all over again” said Dailey, who claimed victory in the women’s individual sprint division of the inaugural Cambridge Beaches Triathlon this month.
“As a sport it can be intimidating in the regard of having to do three disciplines. I was nervous about the bike because it’s not one of my strengths.”
Despite its challenging nature, Dailey has implored females of all ages to take up the sport.
“Of course it would be great to have more females get into and stay in the sport,” she added. “It can be a great sport to get into because it can be incredibly rewarding.
“I think we are seeing a lot of women focusing on their fitness and so if there are athletes who enjoy any of the three disciplines, they should give triathlon a go.
“Women are definitely concerned about staying fit and so hopefully we will see more and more participating in triathlon.”
There is hope for the future as one young athlete aiming to make her way in the sport is Sofia LeClerc, who won a gold medal in the mixed relay at the Carifta Triathlon and Aquathlon Championships this year.
She seems determined to remain in the sport that she first tried when she was just 6 years old.
“My dad participated in those races and when I was very little I would cheer on the sidelines,” she said.
“Then I got to the age where I could try my own and well that brought me here. My first triathlon was with Iron kids when I was 6 years old.
“I love seeing woman do triathlons because there aren’t many, so seeing them race is amazing. I really enjoy watching Flora’s races, and I like being with my team-mates.
“I love triathlons and I love the three sports a lot so I would love to one day compete with the pros.”