"Handicapping" IRONMAN Athletes

Several years ago a professional golfer named Casey Martin filed a discrimination lawsuit against the PGA Tour, which wouldn't allow him to ride in a cart despite a debilitating leg ailment because tour rules mandated that all golfers walk the course. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and Martin won the right to ride in a cart. I got to thinking about this case and realized that the court got it wrong. Not the decision, which I applaud, but the reasoning. The problem wasn't that Martin was being discriminated against because of his disability. The problem was that all the other players on tour had an unfair advantage.

It wasn't just that they had two good legs, which was bad enough. Some of them were more skillful, too, which clearly put other players at a disadvantage. A few were stronger, which allowed them to hit the ball farther, others had a softer touch around the greens, and some of them were very savvy shot-makers which, when you get right down to it, is just plain cheating. How the hell could an overweight, clumsy and dumb golfer possibly hope to compete against advantages like that? (Not that I'm bitter about not being on the tour.)

So what does all of this have to do with Ironman? Just this: Year after year we bite our tongues and watch helplessly as faster, stronger, tougher athletes sweep the field, brutishly flicking aside less talented competitors as though they had no right whatsoever to happiness, self-esteem and vendor-sponsored junkets to exotic race venues. And this from an event that prides itself on inclusion and multi-national diversity?

Horses are treated better than this. If a thoroughbred is too fast, weights are slipped under the saddle to ensure a more level playing field, thus sparing the slower beasts a reserved seat at the glue factory.

And that gave me an idea: What if Ironman athletes were handicapped the same way as race horses? Not with weights, necessarily, but with things specifically designed to blunt the effect of their particular strengths?

For the 2007 Ford Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, here are my suggestion for ensuring that this prestigious event affords an equal opportunity to all participants.

Michellie Jones She's simply too fast. You might think her huge margin of victory last year was inspiring, but the truth is, it was unfair "race-ism." For 2007, she should have a drogue parachute attached to the back of her running togs. If one of those things can slow down the Space Shuttle after landing, maybe it will put enough drag on Michellie to give the others a fighting chance.

Natascha Badmann This grinning bundle of dynamite simply has way too much positive attitude. In an age when we're finally becoming more enlightened about various forms of mental illness, Natascha's perennially sunny disposition is a blatant kick in the teeth to the chronically depressed trying to drag themselves around the course without opening a vein. What we need to do is ratchet down that Pollyanna-ish optimism by planting at least one guaranteed bring-down on the course. My suggestion is that when she slows down to make the turnaround at Hawi she gets handed a telegram reading "Your dog just ate your cat."

Faris Al-Sultan Just watch this guy run sometime. He's so serene and unflappable it seems he wouldn't lose half a step if a meteor landed ten feet away. And that gives me an idea. Before the race Faris will be informed that someone is going to toss a chunk of lava at his head twice during the bike leg. As soon as he's out of T1, the first chunk gets hurled at his noggin. And the second chunk? It never gets thrown, despite hundreds of spectators along the route idly tossing rocks up and down in their hands. With no idea when that second assault is coming, by Mile 5 Faris will be about as calm as Miss Teen South Carolina explaining why Americans can't find their own country on a map. (Click here if you don't get the reference.)

Belinda Granger The challenge with someone as high-energy as Belinda is to dial it down to a level comparable to that of her competitors. One way would be to have her do an Ironman right before the Ironman but that's a little impractical, so we need a way to get her half-nodding off right on the course. The simplest solution is to clamp to her head an iPod loaded up with home movies from fanatic Endless Pool-owners, the complete collection of unedited Fidel Castro speeches (in the original Spanish) and videos of USAT marshals going over the drafting rules in pre-race meetings.

Peter Reid You might have heard it said that the mental aspect is half the game. Well, for Peter, it's 100%. Rumor has it that he can tear open GU packets just by looking at them. That level of focus is admirable for a trainee in a Shao-lin temple but deplorably selfish in an Ironman. While Peter is visualizing his inner Zen master or the sound of one hand clapping, the rest of the field is visualizing mai tais at Huggo's and oil massages from Pamela Anderson. Which is why Peter's mental toughness is about as fair as a rocket backpack in the pole vault. Recommended field-leveler if he competes this year? Fifty milligrams of Prozac at every aid station.

Normann Stadler "You can't win Ironman on the bike" goes the long-standing bromide. And that was only proper and fitting until this Grand Teuton came along and upset the apple cart, pretty much ruining it for the runners-of-the-mill in the sport. Not exactly cricket and hardly PC, so what we're going to do is make a slight equipment change for the defending champ. To see what he's going to be pedaling on the lava fields in 2007, click here.