USAT and Your Age – A Controversy

Triathlon MarkingThe following is post from by Marion Webb, I thought it was interesting article on age stamping.

When it comes to body marking, getting my actual age temporarily tattooed on my calf along with my race number on my upper arms the day off the event seems as normal to me now as setting up my transition area, battling nerves and the recurring urge to use the restroom.

Yet, a recent discussion among friends about the use of actual age on race day and general use of body marking raised some controversy that demanded real answers.
To get to the skinny, I called the authority on USAT-sanctioned race rules: Meet Mr. Charlie Crawford, commissioner of officials for USA Triathlon, the national governing body, which sets the rules designed “to maintain consistency and order from race to race across the country.”

What I’ve learned from Mr. Crawford was both enlightening and surprising.
The biggest surprise (to me): Having your age on your calf is not a rule and never has been a rule.
That’s right—After seven years of racing with my age prominently displayed on my calf and telling myself that getting older isn’t so bad, always admiring older athletes (now my age) whose toned and lean physiques seemed to defy gravity, belie their true age, and often, God’s given speed.
I certainly understand having mixed emotions about the full public disclosure of one’s age, but considered it a fair exchange for knowing those competing in my age group as well.
Turns out some people, especially women, really resent making their age public knowledge.
“We used to recommend to not use the age of the athlete (to race directors),” said Mr. Crawford. “We asked them to stop doing that, because of sensitivity to older athletes who didn’t like their ages tattooed on their bodies.”
In November 2005, USA Triathlon adopted a new rule that all age group athletes must participate and compete in the age group division corresponding to the athlete’s age on Dec. 31 of the year of the event. This means that your age race will be the same for all sanctioned events for the entire calendar year.
Behind the rule change, said Crawford, was a large number of complaints from USAT members who qualified for an event in one age division, but then raced another event later in the year in another age division.
The new rule makes USAT consistent with ITU (International Triathlon Union), the world governing of triathlon, which had already used the birth year as the determining factor for age division.
The USAT age rule change took effect in 2006; in 2007, USAT started printing the birth year age on its membership cards.
However, on the race course, confusion about age prevails.
That’s because at many races, volunteers with markers at hand still ask racers about their current age on race day, not their birth year age.
Hence, if a man is 29 years old on race day, but turns 30 by Dec. 31, and the volunteer marks 29 on his calf, racers in the 25-29 age division would presume that he races in their age group when in reality he’s racing in the 30-34 age division. In other words, when someone is on the cusp of changing age groups, whether it’s 29 or 34, other racers are left guessing.
One solution to that problem would be to bodymark racers with letters instead of their age, said Mr. Crawford. He exemplified that the first age group division 15-19 would be marked as “A”; the following 20-24 age-group division as “B”; people aged 25-29 as “C” and so on.
“If someone is racing another J, you know that this person is in your age group,” Mr. Crawford noted.
That would give racers some privacy, but other issues remain.
An even bigger issue with marking one’s age on the calf is that it can lead to serious problems when a volunteer confuses the race number (which, by the way, is mandatory for body marking according to USAT rules) with your age.
The race number allows officials on the race course to identify racers who aren’t playing by the rules, and in cases where someone needs medical attention or is seriously injured can be critical.
“When you see someone cut the buoys, a swim marshal will look at the number to give you a penalty (in wetsuit swims, they’ll look at the number on your cap) and when someone is unconscious, it tells us who you are” Mr. Crawford said.
Sadly, he said, it’s not uncommon for volunteers to get your age or race number wrong. I guess I’ll pay more attention to that now.
Mr. Crawford recommends marking the back off both hands and the swim cap with your race number. Regarding marking your age on your body, that’s up to the race organizers, though Mr. Crawford doesn’t endorse the practice.
He agreed that body marking your actual age can create ambiguity on the race course. And that’s discounting some racers who wipe off their age on their calves for whatever reason, and the rising trend of wearing compression stockings, which is perfectly legal, but doesn’t require age marking (though, I’m sure the makers wouldn’t mind selling us pairs according to size and odd and even numbers).
When I told Mr. Crawford that when I am passed by someone in my age group, I will think twice about going harder (when I feel like I have enough in the tank), he had a quick rebuttal.
“Triathlon is a game of individual endurance—The idea is to go as fast as you can and get the best possible time.”
I can see his point, but isn’t it human nature to dig deeper as the competition heats up?
So does it matter, if some triathletes race with their age “under cover” and others “fully unveiled”? Would it be better for the sport and all of us, if we did away with the age display altogether? Surely, race directors have an opinion on this matter. I’ll talk to a few and keep you posted soon. Meanwhile, feel free to comment on which practice you would prefer and why. May be we’ll get some race directors to check in with you and me….
By Marion Webb

Tell us your thoughts:

  • What are  your thoughts on having your age stamped on your leg?
  • Should the practice be stopped?
  • Does it add to your sense of competitiveness when you see someone older or younger is ahead of you?

3 Replies to “USAT and Your Age – A Controversy”

  1. I like having the age stamped. Most volunteers ask me what my age is/will be on December 31. I think for those who wear compression socks, they should have the number on the back of the quads.

    Having the age on the legs does add a sense of competitiveness. I love it when I pass someone younger than me! And if someone older than me passes me, I congratulate them in my mind and commit to train harder so I can beat them next time or be as good as them when I’m they’re age.

    For those women that are self-conscious about their age, I think they need to get over it! Be proud of the years you’ve lived and remember that age is just a number. You don’t have to grow up! 🙂

  2. I don’t see a problem with the numbers on the legs. I like knowing if people around me are in my division so I can push myself harder to get a better position. I’ve never understood some women’s problems with people knowing their real age. If you want to race in age groups then it ends up on the website anyway, albeit in a 5 year range. I think the letter idea is pretty useless, just explain to the body markers what age you are looking for and what they should be asking…should be pretty simple.

  3. Growing old is mandatory, growing up … optional! I totally agree with Missee and Brady! With so many categories (defined by age BTW … except for elite, Clydes and Athenas) it totally helps to have a way to recognize who I am racing against.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *