Since Triathlon originates from the beginning of the 20th century and since it gained it’s popularity much later, in the mid-1970s, it is safe to say it’s a pretty modern sport. Looking at this facts, many people would say that it hasn’t got much of a history, and that is partly true. Its history is not particularly deep, but on the other hand, it is full of various interesting facts for loyal fans or future participants. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Les Trois Sports
Yes, the first event that can be connected to the modern-day triathlon was held in France. The period was 1920’s and the name was ‛Les Trois Sports’, which you can find if you get your hands on the French newspaper published at that time. Same as now, it consisted of the three events. First you had to conquer a 3 kilometers running distance than you had to ride your bike an additional 12 (some say even 20) kilometers and in the end, you needed to include all of your body’s muscles for a swim across the Marne Channel. And all that was held in sequential order like today, without any breaks in between. Besides these carefully organized events, that first tournament was only a trial one and no one took it quite seriously. But this type of race was something completely new and its popularity grew rapidly fast, turning it into a phenomenon that survived until today. The French turned it into a publicized race and it took a few decades to become an international attraction.
Of course, next stop was America. This multi-sport found its place in San Diego, California in the late 1960s. But it can not be said that it was much influenced by the French phenomenon because the Americans used it at first as a training programme as an alternative to tracking training designed to prepare them for the marathon. So it can be said that ‛modern’ triathlon history starts with the San Diego Track Club, located in San Diego Mission Bay. It was conceived by members of the club Don Shanahan and Jack Johnstone and, since it was a training it began no-competitively, but with a growth of popularity it quickly turned into the competition. The first competitive event was held on September 25th, 1974 and it had 46 competitors who had to face 10-kilometer run, 8-kilometer bike race, and a 500-meter swim.
Although the origin comes from France and since in America it started as a training, many people consider that the first official tournament was held in Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii. It was held in 1978 and it was called the ‛Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon’ and that name is fully justified by the proportions of tasks put in front of its contestants. Gordon Haller, the winner of this championship, remembers his amazement when he realized that all the tasks had to be completed in the course of only one day. He did complete them, but it took him astonishing 11 hours, 46 minutes and 58 seconds. The reason for this can be found in the approximately 4 kilometers of an open ocean swim (The Waikiki Rough Water Swim) followed by 180 kilometers (!) of bicycle ride (The Oahu Bike Race) with 42 kilometers of a marathon run (The Honolulu Marathon) as a cherry on the top. It is obvious that the challenge was close to impossible and that’s why only 15 people have gathered the courage to apply. When you discover that those people were the best athletes in the world at that time and that three of them couldn’t finish the race, you can see why it was called ‛Iron Man’ (although we must also mention the women – Julie Moss who crawled to the finished line after her legs failed her and Kathleen McCartney who used the situation to outdistance her.)
The road to the Olympics
Okay, back to America. In 1982 this rapidly developing sport lead to the funding of the United States Triathlon Association (USTA) and the American Triathlon Association (ATA), which shortly merged into one and became Triathlon Federation/USA. This organization hosted about 1,500 events in its first year which lead to the integration of the triathlon race in the Olympic Games. Of course, they needed to satisfy specific regulations of Olympic Committee which established the three tasks as 1,5-kilometer swimming, 40-kilometer cycling race and 10 kilometers of running. This has made the event easier (especially compared to the ‛Iron Man’) and therefore it attracted much more contestants. Especially today when you can easily acquire highly equipped bikes and special diving suits.
For all these reasons triathlon continues to grow even today, in participation and in popularity. There are triathlon clubs emerging at every corner and it has become a very popular recreation method with thousands of races all over the world. It is adjusted to all lifestyles and ages and the further development is expected. For a sport with such a short history it’s not bad at all, right?