History of the Triathlon

history of triathlons

The Triathlon, the Ultimate Race

A triathlon is a multi-stage, long distance race usually consisting of three components: swimming, bicycling, and running over various distances. It is a high-endurance three-sport competition, considered by many one of the most difficult single-day sporting events, and requires a considerable amount of strength, stamina, training, and dedication to complete.

The Origins

The “world’s hardest race” has its roots in 1920s France. This race was variously called “Les Trois Sports” (Three Sports), “La Course des Débrouillards” (The Race of the Resourcefull), and “La Course des Touche á Tout” (The Race that Touches Everything). The race consisted of a 3 kilometer run followed by a 12 kilometer bike ride and then a swim across the channel Marne. To this day, the race is held annually in France.

The 1970’s Bring the Modern Triathlon

The 1970’s saw to the development of the modern triathlon. Two members of the San Diego Track Club, Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan, came up with the idea, and, behind the Track Club, put the race into effect. The race was held on September 25th, 1974, in Mission Bay, San Diego, California; there were 46 aspiring Ironmen who participated in the race.

The Ironman

The major international organizations run four main different types of tri sport races, from the “Sprint Distance” to the “Ultra Distance” races. The first modern ultra-distance race was the Ironman race in Hawaii. The three components of the Ironman were a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride and then a full marathon (26.2 miles). Many of the first participants were those involved in the debate over whether runners were more fit than swimmers or if the opposite was true; it was also pointed out that perhaps cyclists were more fit, as it was a cyclist who had the highest maximum oxygen uptake of any athlete ever recorded. United States Navy Commander John Collins suggested the dispute should be settled through a race consisting of each sport; “Whoever finishes first,” he stated, “we will call him the Ironman.” Fifteen men started the race, and it was a man by the name of Gordan Haller who became the world’s first Ironman, finishing the race in an outstanding 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 58 seconds.

Popular Organizations

Today, there are many organizations offering these tri sport races to any triathlete who thinks they have what it takes to join the elite few who can truly call themselves Triathletes. The international organization overseeing these races is the International Triathlon Union, started in 1989 with the intent of putting the race in the Olympics, a goal that was accomplished in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, where triathletes met to compete in the Olympics for the first time ever.

The official Ironman, the Ironman 70.3 (half of the regular Ironman distance), and the 5150 Olympic distance races are sanctioned and organized by the private World Triathlon Corporation. Every year, in October, they hold the Ironman championship in Hawaii. Legally, only races held by the WTC can be called “Ironman” or “Iron” races.

There are many other organizations, small scale and large scale alike, which hold many different types of tri sport competitions all around the world to people of all ages.

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