Increasingly sport is being viewed as an entertainment concept, and in recent years we have seen many sports experiment with changes to bring added levels of excitement to fans.
In Australia we’ve seen Cricket Australia introduce the Big Bash, the AFL experimented with AFLX, rugby league has a nines format and for rugby union, sevens is now an Olympic sport and the Aussie Pearls are the reigning Olympic champions.
But our major sports are not the only ones experimenting.
In January this year Courtney Hancock won the inaugural Iron X crown at Mooloolaba Beach.
A traditional Ironwoman event is challenging enough, but Iron X added a series of other obstacles into the mix.
The event included all the traditional Ironwoman disciplines – those being board, surf ski and surf swimming – but incorporated into the surf swim were two underwater challenges and stand-up paddleboarding. There were only a few competitors who had done stand-up paddle-boarding before in a competitive context, so it meant learning a whole new craft.
After the water elements there were two battlegrounds on the land. The first one included eight tyre flips and then a net wall.
For Hancock, that net wall posed its own challenges.
“A couple of days before the event, I had a practice run through the course and I got to the top of the net wall and froze up there because I am so afraid of heights,” she says. “I couldn’t get back down the first time, so I had a lot to overcome in just 48 hours.”
The second battleground included the rings, which are challenging enough in normal circumstances, but after competitors come out of the water, their hands are slippery. A fall off the rings meant a penalty of a 200-metre soft sand run. After the rings came a bear crawl underneath a net, then over a wall and back into the water before doing it all over again.
It was certainly different to previous events Hancock had competed in.
“I think it was so different and much more challenging than normal because usually when we come out of the water, we do a soft sand run and then get back in the water. These new obstacles really changed things,” she says.
With this crown Hancock becomes Australia’s greatest all-round ocean female athlete. She has achieved all there is to achieve in surf sports, including victories at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships and Coolangatta Gold as well as her Ironwoman titles.
Hancock competed in the Coolangatta Gold for the first time back in 2006, and as she has grown up, the sport has grown up with her.
“The sport has gone through stages,” she says. “When I first started racing the Coolangatta Gold women in the sport were being paid equal to the men in every event except the Coolangatta Gold and that was because we were racing only half the distance.”
“For a couple of years we were only doing the short course. It was fine for me for a little while because I was only young and still developing. But a couple of years later I finished runner-up in the Coolangatta Gold and started thinking about what competing in the opens might look like.”
At one point Hancock thought she may not be able to make the distance, but since then the men and women now do the same course at the Coolangatta Gold and Hancock went on to win the event three times, the first time at age 21, fulfilling her lifelong ambition.
While Hancock may have achieved all there is to achieve in her sport and is closer to the end of her career than its beginning, she is very confident in the next generation of women coming through.
“We need to grow role models, like [2020 Ironwoman] Lana Rogers,” she says. “She speaks well, is passionate and very determined. She will lead the next generation moving forward and that’s what you want to see. Those role models will help our sport grow.
“One of my favourite things about being an athlete is the youngsters that come up to you before an event excited to see you. These are the next generation and we need positive role models to guide them.”
She is also exceptionally grateful for the ability to participate in her sport for so many years.
“You can have all the medals and the titles but the best thing it has ever done for me is that it has made me the best person I can be. It has made me kind, it has made me appreciative and knowing that everyone needs connection in their life.”
As for the Iron X, it sounds like that event is here to stay. While it was not brought in to challenge the Ironwoman series or to lessen the tradition surrounding the event, for Hancock it presents a really exciting opportunity for the sport.
“This event can inject freshness, energy and new life into our sport. Sport is entertainment, so this is a great opportunity to build out sort.
“Our sport is tough. We have some of the fittest athletes in the world competing. This is just another way of showcasing the athleticism of our athletes and giving the public something they can engage with.”