The History of Triathlon

Triathlon is a relatively new sport, having evolved from running enthusiasts who both swam and cycled for the purpose of cross-training. In fact it wasn't until Australia hosted the Olympics games in Sydney in 2000 that the world first saw Triathlon represented as an Olympic sport. Australian's have achieved excellence in the sport of triathlon and duathlon with numerous world champions both past and present. Currently, the world champions of triathlon's Ironman distance event in both male and female categories are Australians, so we have much to be proud of in this sport.

Triathlon Beginnings

The first triathlon reportedly took place in the USA in 1974. It was held on Mission Bay in San Diego with 46 participants on a weekday summer's evening. This triathlon started with a run, followed by the bike leg, and ended with a swim. This triathlon and the next 3 races were coordinated by enthusiasts Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan. A few variations of the triathlon were trialled over the next few years with some races starting with the cycling, then swimming and then running.

One of the original participants in that first triathlon at Misson Bay, was later responsible for the creation of the Ironman endurance triathlon concept, which first took place in Hawaii in 1978, with 12 finishers (all male). It was that first Hawaiin Ironman race that created the rise of triathlon as a sport phenomena. In the 1980's the sport boomed, and Ironman events gained worldwide media attention. Television broadcasts showing athletes pushing the boundaries of human endurance sparked further interest in this new multisport concept.

In 1989 the ITU, the international governing body for triathlon was formed with representation by 25 nations with the aim to see triathlon accepted as an Olympic sport. This was not realised for another 11 years, however in the meantime, the ITU created an international standard for triathlon, which is the 1.5k swim, 40k bike and 10k run called the Olympic Distance, but also a short course of half the distance which became known as the Sprint Distance.

Before reaching the Olympic arena, triathlon appeared at the 1994 Goodwill Games in St Petersburg, Russia, and in the 1995 Pan American Games, Argentina. And finally, the world saw triathlon as an Olympic medal sport at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney Australia. So Australia played a very important role in the rise of today's triathlon profile as a major sport.

Today, the sport of triathlon is growing at a rapid pace. Triathlon clubs abound in every major city of Australia, and right throughout the world thousands of races are held. It seems, we all just love a challenge!

Triathlon in Australia

Currently, Australian’s are the reigning world Ironman triathlon champions – in both female and male categories. Australian’s have also been world champions at Ironman 70.3 distance, and ITU Long Distance (Olympic Distance).

Craig Alexander, Mirinda Carfrae, Richie Cunningham, Rebekah Keat, Chris (Macca) McCormack, and Greg Welch are our Australian heroes of the sport, having achieved podium rankings throughout world triathlon championships across the various distances. In fact, Greg Welch (born Sydney 1966) is acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest triathletes having won “The Grand Slam”, which includes the ITU Triathlon Worlds, the Ironman Worlds, the Duathlon Worlds, and the Olympic Distance world championships. He was also the first non-American male winner of Ironman Hawaii. He has now retired, after nine open heart surgeries but currently works as an advisor, coach and commentator with the World Triathlon Corporation.


For more names, see our article Australia's Top Triathletes

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Created: March 2011
Revised: August 2011
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Australian Triathletes, Australian Triathlon, Triathlon Australia, Triathlon Champions, World Champion Triathletes, Craig Alexander, Chris Mccormack, Pete Jacobs, Mirinda Carfrae, Greg Welch, Triathlon Grand Slam