Saanich triathlete Sara Gross was the top women’s finisher at Brasil Ironman in Florianopolis in 2014. Gross is now turning her gender-crushing work to academia

Ironman athlete flexing academic muscle on gender equality

Ironman triathlete Sara Gross is launching a four-part written series on gender equality in triathlon and how it relates to other sports

One of Saanich’s most elite athletes wants to literally re-write the history books.

Triathlete Sara Gross, a two-time Ironman winner in 2014 (Florianopolis, Brazil and Mount Tremblant, Que.) is flexing her academic muscle with a doctorate in women’s history from the University of Edinburgh.

In addition to her gruelling training schedule, Gross is launching into a four-part series on gender equality in triathlon, and how it relates to other sports, which will be posted on her blog,

“It’s interesting what I’ve found: that triathlon is often considered the leader for sports gender equality,” Gross said. “But (triathlon) still has gender equality issues that need to be pushed, especially if it’s going be a leader.”

Her first post, Triathlon: A Sport of Gender Equality?, caught the attention of others in her triathlon community. But the controversial subject is far from new, and her work is in support of the current “50 at Kona” movement, which seeks an equal number of pro spots for men and women at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, HI.

“Triathlon has a strong history of gender equality, so in my third post I’ll talk about the advantages of being a sport of equality: What’s the point of this, and why do we want this equality?,” Gross said.

When Gross looked at the lopsided inequalities other women’s sports, it became clear to her how further ahead triathlon really is.

“At the end of the Ironman season, the top 35 women and 50 men in the pro points standings qualify for Kona,” Gross said. “There’s a lot of pro men who aren’t in favour of the numbers difference.”

Ironman CEO Andrew Messick told reporters in a 2014 press conference that Ironman would be looking into equal spots at the Kona event for this season.

“The women we talked to were not at all focused on the number, they just wanted it to be the same,” he said. “They didn’t particularly care if it was 55 and 55, or 40 and 40, or 30 and 30. They just thought that as a matter of fundamental fairness that the number should be the same. So we’re going to look at that for 2015, but that might result in fewer men.”

Gross is also advocating for race improvements see wishes to see at Ironman events, though they won’t keep her from competing.

Overcrowding of men catching up to the pro women in the bike portion of Ironman races, in particular, is a problem.

“In Brazil you have 2,000 fit (age group) men, many of them more than capable of keeping up with the pro women,” she said. The problem with that overcrowding means athletes can use one another’s slipstreams to gain valuable seconds while cycling, which is illegal under Ironman rules.


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