Ironman start change is for the best

The mass swim start – the image of all those swimmers waiting in Mirror Lake and then exploding into the water at once, turning the placid surface into a roiling whitewater – has riveted viewers since the very first Ironman Lake Placid in 1999.

In the days after that premiere, the Lake Placid News led its weekly issue with an aerial photo of the mass start and the headline, “What a sight!” Exclamation points are rare in our newspapers’ headlines; this one was well deserved.

So as spectators, we can’t help but feel a sense of loss that the mass start will be missing from this Sunday’s 15th annual Ironman Lake Placid. Instead, the triathletes will line up on land and run into the lake, with microchips on their ankles indicating their exact start times to the race timekeepers.

Really, though, this new way is for the best, mainly because it’s safer.

With 2,000 to 3,000 swimmers kicking off at once, we can only imagine the crush of bodies and how easy it would have been to be trapped underwater. Even if it was only for a moment or two it would have been terrifying, dangerous and unnecessarily harmful to athletes’ times. Goodness knows it’s hard enough to do this triathlon without starting by getting banged around and nearly drowned. When you think about it, it’s amazing that no triathlete has died here.

Therefore, we’re glad the Ironman organizers decided not to put the athletes at risk for the spectators’ benefit.

After all, it’s 7 in the morning – not prime spectating time. Also, we have more than enough other excellent opportunities to watch this race.

Actually, of all the many Ironman triathlons all over the world, ours is particularly spectator-friendly. Think about it: You can watch the swim from all around Mirror Lake, right in the heart of the village. Then the bike and run courses through Jay and Wilmington loop back through Lake Placid several times – meaning you can stay in town and still have plenty of chances to see the action. Many Ironman races have one long course rather than multiple laps.

Finally, there’s the finish line on the Olympic Speedskating Oval – the same fabled track that Jack Shea and Eric Heiden won all their gold medals on. Just as it began, the Ironman ends in the heart of the village. You could park your car, see the beginning, see multiple laps, see the end and go shopping downtown in between, without even having to walk that much.

The mass start will enter the halls of memory as a something that was glorious and exciting, but best left behind.