History of triathlon

Over the past 40 years, triathlon has evolved from loosely-organized competitions (that were considered to be offbeat training exercises for runners) to a well-organized “triathlon distance” World Cup circuit. In the U.S., more than 2 million unique Americans compete in about 4,500 multi-sport races each year, figures that have grown exponentially in just the past decade, in large part thanks to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. The first known swim, bike, run triathlons were held at San Diego’s Mission Bay in 1974. Organized by members of the San Diego Track Club, the events were held on summer evenings and were intended as no more than light-hearted breaks from the normal grind of training for marathons and 10km runs. One athlete who raced at the first Mission Bay Triathlon, John Collins, was influential in the further development of the sport. Collins, a U.S. Navy officer, took the triathlon concept to Hawaii and used it several years later to combine three of Oahu’s endurance events, the Waikiki Rough Water Swim, the Around-Oahu Bike Ride, and the Honolulu Marathon, into one race: Ironman. Only 12 men completed the first Ironman race held in January 1978. In 1979, 13 men and one woman crossed the finish line. But a Sports Illustrated article by Barry McDermott in May 1979 helped increase the 1980 field into the hundreds and brought television coverage to Hawaii for the first of an unbroken string of annual network broadcasts. In 1982, the last year no qualifying was needed to compete at Ironman, the dramatic footage of Julie Moss crawling on her hands and knees to a second-place finish at Ironman triggered an explosion of interest. The United States Triathlon Association (later USA Triathlon), triathlon’s national governing body, and the United States Triathlon Series, the first national racing series, were both founded in 1982. The first World Championships took place in August 1989, and then in 1994, triathlon was named to the Olympic program as a medal sport for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

The basics

The Ironman may be triathlon’s most recognizable event, but the Olympic distance or Olympic format is the sport’s most popular. The 1.5km swim (.93 miles), 40km (bike (24.85 miles), and 10km run (6.21 miles) is triathlon’s international standard and the format used at the Triathlon World Championships and the Olympics. A competitor will be judged as “finished” the moment any part of the torso, not including the head, neck, shoulders, arms, hips or legs, reaches the perpendicular line extending from the leading edge of the finish-line. This rule was of particular importance at the 2012 London Games, when Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig and Sweden’s Lisa Norden were approaching the end of the race together. The two crossed the finish line at nearly the same time and a photo review was required to determine the winner, an astonishing fact considering the race lasted nearly two hours. When judges reviewed the photo finish, they determined Spirig had won by less than six inches.