This company in particular gave away their product for FREE at Kona, and the only stipulation for receiving it was that it be used in the race.
Kona equipment counts have now become a measuring stick for success among the businesses in the industry, since it is a sampling of the best athletes in that aspect of the sport, just like when a team in the Tour de France uses a certain product. Different independent groups are assigned with counting everything athletes use for the race which can be measured, tallied, seen and distinguished. Common things include bike frames brands, wheel brands, shoe brands, race kits, helmets, components on a bike, and much more. These counts begin at bike check-in, and continue thru the entire race.
The belief is among the athletes who see these counts, that these are the best athletes in the sport, so they must be great products too, right?
The problem with this thinking is flawed in many ways:
1. These athletes were great anyway. In the case of the company who gave their product away for FREE, if they are just getting the product in Kona, it had no affect whatsoever on their preparation, and so the result being from the product isn't just in question, it's wrong. Many just wanted a free piece of equipment, which could save them some dough. Heck, many might turn around and sell it, using the marketing of the company as it being the most used product at Kona, and say on their classified sales ad, "Only used once!"
2. Performance at Kona has more to do with talent, athlete background, effective preparation, heat tolerance, pacing, nutrition timing/execution, mental toughness, luck and conditions, than equipment. In fact, I would list equipment behind all those in terms of importance.
3. When a product is given away for free, then an athlete is probably more willing to accept the flaws, than if they had to pay for it. Think about this when it comes to elites, who rarely pay for items, just get what they need from the highest bidder. Sure, some might be in a position with multiple offers to say, "I like this company over that company," so they can be a bit more honest, but many just sell to the highest bidder, or in some cases, the only bidder.
4. Really what the Kona count shows us is not which products are best, but which companies are selling the most products among the faster population. This is more so a good measuring tool for their marketing, but at the same time adds to their marketing arsenal.
5. Many products are very individual-based. What I mean by this is that there are some products I used in my racing as an elite which wouldn't be advisable for many/most/all athletes. Bike fit is very individual, and different bikes will fit different bodies and flexibilities. Top finishers will run with racing flats, while someone walking the whole marathon has no need or might get injured with them. The examples could be listed here at length.
Bottom line, use your judgement, thinking for yourself. Read, ask, listen, touch, test and learn. You will learn what works for you, but don't be preaching to everyone that X-company is the best for everyone, and the best overall, (especially because of Kona counts), because that is just not the case.