The triathlon is one of the most compelling and grueling competitions in all of sports; it combines three popular aerobic fitness activities – running, cycling, and swimming – into a uniquely challenging endurance gauntlet, pushing competitors to exhibit multifaceted athletic prowess. Throughout its history, this exciting multisport event has risen from a niche community into one of the most widespread sports of its kind, spawning a variety of competitions ranging from small opens and Ironman races to the Olympic Games

The triathlon began as a radical competitive idea spawned by the San Diego Track Club in 1974. Club members saw an opportunity to challenge local endurance athletes in an interesting, multi-part new way that would serve as an alternative to high-impact track training. This idea culminated in the first triathlon competition on September 25th, 1974, which included a 10 km run, a 500 m swim, and an 8 km cycle. This event welcomed 46 participants, who spread word of their experience and gave way to a variety of subsequent events, including the first Ironman race in February 1978.   

From here, the event’s popularity only grew, with the International Triathlon Union (ITU – now known as World Triathlon) forming in 1989 and establishing four official triathlon distances: sprint, long course, ultra, and Olympic. The latter, in particular, has played a major role in bolstering global interest in the triathlon; the first Olympic event took place as part of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and the event went on to be a featured part of the 2004 Olympiad held in Athens, Greece. 

For Olympic events, the race always follows a swim-bike-run sequence – distances of 1.5 km (0.93 miles), 40 km (25 miles), and 10 km (6.2 miles), respectively. Mixed team relays, on the other hand, compete across a 300 km (330 yards) swim, an 8 km (5 miles) cycle, and a 2 km (1.2 miles) run. Currently, the Olympic record in the individual event belongs to Great Britain’s Alistair Brownlee, who completed the Rio Olympics course in one hour, 45 minutes, and one second. 

Such feats of aerobic dominance have kept the triathlon front of mind for Olympic sports fans, captivating spectators on the global stage every four years. In turn, the sport’s already passionate community has expanded, paving the way for new generations of multiskilled athletes to try their hand at this distinctly rewarding challenge.