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A brief history of Triathlon

Feb 22, 2021
Triathlon Blog

Have you ever wondered: "where on earth did this whole triathlon thing start?"

Well, even if you haven't here is a brief history of triathlon, and I think you will be a little shocked at quite how recent this sport actually is. 

It was back in 1878 that the Bicycling Touring Club was formed, which is now Cycling UK. 

It was 2700 years ago that running (a dash from one end of the stadium to the other) was recorded, and this was in the Olympics.

Whereas swimming was first included in the modern Olympics as a competitive sport in 1896. 

So it may come as a surprise to you that the inception of triathlon, putting all three sports together, didn't happen until very recently. 

It was only in the 1970's in San Diego that the first ever triathlon occurred, as an alternative to hard track training sessions. The first one ever recorded was a 10k run, 8k bike and 500m swim!! 

The sport quickly gained popularity and in 1982 the International Triathlon Union ITU was formed and a 'standard' distance was established of 1500m swim, 40k bike and 10k run. This still remains the Standard distance today, and the distance that is used in the Olympics, and in most of the ITU World Cup races today.

However, even the first World Cup circuit wasn't established until 1991, so it is still a very new sport. Triathlon was first introduced into the Olympics in Sydney (2000). It has remained an Olympic sport ever since, and in 2012 Great Britain got to experience it on home turf in London's Hyde Park.  

Ironman, which some of you may have heard of, is a brand and this is a slightly different type of triathlon, with its own rules, races and World Championships. (although they widely accept the ITU rulings now). 

Ironman was established in 1975. A couple called Judy and John Collins, who moved to Hawaii from California, had participated in the San Diego triathlon, as mentioned before. For longer distance enthusiasts they wondered if they could design a tri/challenge that took in 2 of Hawaii's famous endurance events; the Waikiki Roughwater Swim and the Honolulu Marathon. After much deliberation they decided to use a bike route that was a favourite of the local bike club.

They would call it 'Around the Island Triathlon' and John said "whoever finishes first, we will call them the Iron Man" and had a little figure made of iron as the winners trophy. 

Little did they know that race would be the start of literally thousands of Ironman races in the coming years, under the Ironman brand, all over the world. The distance: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile (marathon) run. All in one day, one after the other. It's widely accepted as one of the most grueling endurance sports on the planet. Although I may now argue that lockdown has beaten that!

Their dream for people to return to Hawaii year after year to compete in this triathlon, covering 140.6 miles, was realised. It became the destination for the Ironman World Championships, and moved from Oahu to Hawaii's Big Island to a beautiful little town called Kona, pictured above with GB's very own Kona Queen Chrissie Wellington.

The more recent version of Ironman is their 70.3 races, which are also featured all over the world, and consist of half the distance of an Ironman event (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) totaling 70.3 miles and hence the name. These races are open to everyone too. If you qualify for the World Champs in 70.3 the destination changes each year, depending on which country/city wins the bid to host it. 

The sport of triathlon in general has exploded onto the scene, with thousands of races held each year around the world. These races vary from small, locally organised races, sometimes by a local tri club, to challenges that take you over iconic terrain, big city triathlons, and qualifiers for European and World Championships. 

In another blog we will discuss HOW you choose a race, now there is so much choice, as it can be overwhelming!  

One thing is for sure, we are all very happy triathlon was invented and I know  you will all be a big part of it's future. Exciting times ahead!!

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Have a great day ...