Triathlon as a sport is still relatively new, having its roots in France in the 1920s. Competitors participated in a race called “Les trois sports” – translated literally to “Three Sports” – which consisted of crossing the channel Marne, a 12K bike ride and a 3K run. In 1934, the race was consisted of crossing the channel, a 10K bike ride and a 1200 meter run.
Triathlons in America
Triathlons in America can be traced to Southern California in the 1970s. The first Mission Bay Triathlon was held on September 25, 1974 in San Diego. This is the date that most hold to be the official “birthday” of the modern triathlon. There were 46 people that showed up to compete in the multisport event consisting of a 500-yard swim, a 5-mile bike ride, and a 6-mile run.
Beginning of the Ironman
As the sport started to catch on more and more, the beginnings of the most famous triathlon in the world began to unfold in Hawaii. Three separate events – the Waikiki Rough Water Swim (2.4 miles), The Oahu Bike Race (112 miles) and The Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles) – were combined in 1978 to form the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. Of the 15 competitors who started the race, only 12 of them crossed the finish line. By the early 1982, ABC’s Wide World of Sports was broadcasting the Hawaii Ironman and nearly 600 people entered the race. That number ballooned to nearly 3000 in 2006.
As triathlon continued to grow in popularity, official rules committees began to form. Today, there are multiple governing bodies for the sport of triathlon, each sanctioning and supporting different length races. The most prominent of which are USA Triathlon (USAT), The International Triathlon Union (ITU), and the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), which licenses the Ironman series of races.
USA Triathlon (USAT)
USA Triathlon (USAT) is the national governing body for triathlon, duathlon, aquathlon and winter triathlon, of which it sanctions more than 2000 races each year. The USAT formed in 1982 when the U.S. Triathlon Association and the American Triathlon Association merged. Original membership was only about 1500. In just 25 years, membership has grown to more than 100,000 making it the largest multisport organization in the world.
More information about the USAT can be found here.
International Triathlon Union (ITU)
The International Triathlon Union (ITU) was founded in 1989 in Avignon, France, the site of the first official world championships. The primary race of the ITU is the Olympic distance race. The ITU sanctions and organizes a World Cup series of these races every year, culminating in an annual World Championship for elite pro-triathletes, junior pro-triathletes and amateur athletes in 5-year age-groups.
More information about the ITU can be found here.
World Triathlon Corporation (WTC)
The World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) was founded in 1990 and organizes, licenses, and promotes the Ironman Triathlon Series, culminating each year with the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon World Championships. Although the Ironman races are not recognized by the ITU as official world championships, the Hawaii Ironman race is considered by most to be the most prestigious event in the world.
More information about the WTC and Ironman Triathlons can be found here.