Over the past 25 years, the sport of triathlon has grown from a fun cross-training fad for a select few to a serious sport where hundreds of thousands competitors race in events around the world. All that growth lead to the sport of triathlon debuting as an Olympic event in the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. Although there was an event in the 1904 Olympic Games called a triathlon, it referred to the long jump, shot put, and 100-yard dash events. The first modern use of the word triathlon - as a swim, bike, run event - was in a newsletter announcing the Mission Bay Triathlon, set for Sept. 25, 1974. Organized by Don Shanahan and Jack Johnstone of the San Diego (Calif.) Track Club, the race consisted of a 5.3 mile run, a 5 mile bike and a 600 yard swim, broken up into numerous segments. It began at the crossway to Fiesta Island at 5:45 p.m. and finished late into the night, as car headlights were necessary for the last swim. Of the 46 athletes that completed the race, Bill Phillips, 44 years old and an exercise physiologist from San Diego State University, defeated Greg Gillaspie by more than a minute. Dave Mitchell placed third, followed by Jim Young. Gillaspie and Young were members of the Navy. Eileen Waters won the women's division. What began as a summer event with the intention as being no more than light-hearted breaks in the normal grind of training for 10Ks and marathons turned into what we know the sport today, thanks to one of those 46 finishers at the Mission Bay Triathlon. John Collins, a U.S. Naval Officer who became very influential in the sport's development, took the triathlon concept to Hawaii, and used it several years later to combine three of Oahu's endurance events - the Waikiki Rough Water Swim, the Around Oahu Bike Ride and the Honolulu Marathon - into one race: the Ironman. Only 12 men completed the first Ironman, held January 1978. In 1979, 13 men and one woman crossed the finish line. But a Sports Illustrated article by Barry McDermott in May 1979 increased the 1980 field into the hundreds and brought ABC's Wide World of Sports to Hawaii for the first of an unbroken string of annual network broadcasts through 1990. In 1982, the last year qualifying was not needed to compete at Ironman, the dramatic footage of Julie Moss crawling on her hands and knees to a second-place finish triggered an explosion of interest. The same year witnessed the birth of Triathlon Magazine, the sport's first national publication; the founding of the U.S. Triathlon Association (later named USA Triathlon), triathlon's national governing body; and the U.S. Triathlon Series, the first national racing series. In the past eight years, NBC's Ironman broadcasts have won six sports Emmyâ€™s. The 1980s was a decade that saw phenomenal growth in the sport, as prize money began to be offered at races, allowing top triathletes to pursue their sport as full-time professional endeavors. By 1983, triathlon was included as a word in the ninth edition of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. In 1985, before Nike's "Bo Knows" cross training ad campaigns hit mainstream, the apparel company was sponsoring triathlete, Joann Ernst. Mark Allen, also featured in Nike campaigns, promoted Kellogg's cereals as well. The sport took a huge step toward the future, when in 1989, after several failed attempts, triathlon formed an international governing body. There were 25 nations on hand to represent the founding congress of the International Triathlon Union in Avignon, France. The focus of the ITU was to gain acceptance by the International Olympic Committee and have triathlon accepted on the Olympic
program. The first step in that process would be to create a World Triathlon Championship. That race took place four months later in Avignon with mark Allen of the United States and Erin Baker of New Zealand winning the inaugural event. The Ironman is currently triathlon's most recognizable event, but the Olympic Distance of a 1.5K (.9 mi.) swim, 40K (24.8 mi.) bike and 10K (6.2 mi.) run is the international standard. In 1991, the IOC recognized the ITU as the sole governing body for the sport. In 1993, the Pan American Games approved the addition of triathlon for competition at the 1995 Pan Am Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Triathlon competed in the Goodwill Games for the first time in 1994 in St. Petersburg, Russia. In October of that same year, triathlon was named to the Olympic program as a medal sport at the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Australia. Currently, there are an estimated over two million triathletes worldwide, 200,000 of those in the United States. Athletes include actor/comedian Robin Williams, actor Tom Cruise, singer Alanis Morrisette, cyclist Lance Armstrong, New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, NFL all-star receiver Butch Johnson and 1996 Miss USA Ali Landry. Secret service agents, nuns and astronauts are among the various backgrounds triathletes hail from. There are thousands of events staged each year across the globe. USA Triathlon sanctioned 574 in 1998 and is nearing 700 for the 1999 season, an increase of 122 percent. There are kids as young as seven to adults as young as 82 competing in IronKids and age-group races. More than 90 countries compete in triathlon. Triathletes are now regularly featured in metropolitan newspapers and magazines, while races are being feature on live television in countries such as Australia, where its triathletes are seen as heroes, equivalent to how children in the United States look up to Michael Jordan.
Published on Mar 17, 2014