The triathlon is a competition in which the athletes perform three endurance challenges, one right after the other. In the most common form of the sport, the athletes swim, bike, and run in that order. The distances vary from Sprint distance (swim 0.47 miles, bike 12 miles, and run 3.1 miles) to Ironman (swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles). In the Olympics, athletes use the Standard distance and swim 0.93 miles, cycle 25 miles, and run 6.2 miles.
The Beginning of the Triathlon
The word “triathlon” was first applied to a swim/cycle/run event in 1974, and it described a race held in San Diego, California. 1977 saw the debut of the first long-distance triathlon, the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon. Competitors had to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles.
In 1989, the International Triathlon Union (ITU) was established. It’s a governing body that regulates the triathlon and related sports like the winter triathlon (cross-country skiing, mountain biking or speed skating, and running). One of its primary jobs at the time was to get the triathlon recognized as an Olympic sport. It also organizes and sanctions international triathlon championships like the Triathlon World Cup and the World Triathlon Series.
On The Way To The Olympics
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) follow a set of criteria when deciding on which sports to add to the Olympics. To be added to the Olympics, a sport must have an international governing body regulating it. The sport also needs to be prevalent throughout the world.
In 1991, Les McDonald, who was then President of the ITU, met with representatives from the IOC to discuss adding the triathlon to the Olympics. During the meeting representatives of the IOC the ITU additional requirements for a sport to be added to the Olympics. It needed to be a good spectator sport that would attract television viewers, and it could be no longer than two hours. Those requirements ruled out the Ironman length triathlon.
McDonald would need support from at least 75 of the 110 countries that were then represented in the IOC. He would also need approval from the international federations of swimming (FINA), track and field (IAAF), and cycling (UCI). McDonald secured the required permission from these groups and the ITU was duly and officially recognized as an international sports federation in April 1991.
At The Olympics
In 1994, the International Olympic Committee decided to add the triathlon to the Olympic Program on a provisional or trial basis. The sport would be added to the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. After the Games, the IOC would decide whether or not to leave it on the program. Men’s and women’s teams would be fielded.
At Sydney, 52 men and 48 women representing 34 countries competed in the first Olympic triathlon that was held at the Sydney Opera House. By the time of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, 110 athletes from 37 countries were competing in the triathlon. An equal number of men and women took part.
Each country’s National Olympic Committee chooses the triathletes who will compete. The winners of the five regional qualifying tournaments all get spots. So do winners of the most recent Triathlon World Championships. Most of the rest go to athletes based on their 14 best results competing in international events over the past two years. The host country always gets at least one spot.