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Six Times Triathlon Weirdly Got Mainstream Attention

Our little sport doesn’t always make the news, but when it does you can be sure it’ll be for something wacky.

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Let’s be real: although we spend a lot of time thinking about swim-bike-run, for most people triathlon barely registers on the radar. “What sport are you talking about?? That one in Hawaii?” After all, triathlon is a funny niche sport that doesn’t get much mainstream recognition. That’s why we get so excited when something even remotely triathlon-related gets a passing mention on ESPN or CNN.

But every now and then, our little sport does make it to the big time. Sometimes, it’s because of remarkable feats or inspiring stories. Most of the time, though, it’s because, well, triathletes are weird. Don’t believe us? Here are six triathlon stories that went viral in mainstream news.

Triathlete takes a swim in Louisiana flood waters near his home

Year: 2016

The summer #Gwensanity hit its peak at the Rio Olympics was the same summer that Louisiana experienced intense rains that led to flooding. One resident, a triathlete by the name of Jo Guidry, merged both by diving into the murky flood waters outside his home in full triathlon gear. His Facebook video, titled “Watching the Olympics and living in South Louisiana,” quickly went viral, and has been viewed over 3 million times as a result of being picked up by multiple national news outlets.

Watching the Olympics + living in South Louisiana

Posted by Jordan Michael Guidry on Friday, August 12, 2016

Max Fennell appears on Lebron James reality TV competition

Year: 2019

Max Fennell, the most interesting man in triathlon, was briefly the talk of the reality television world after his appearance on Million Dollar Mile, the Lebron James-produced competition inspired by American Gladiators. The objective: run through a 1-mile obstacle course faster than the elite athletes you’re matched against (including Fennell, whose show nickname was “The Machine”) in pursuit of a $1 million prize. As it turns out, Fennell’s speed on the race course translated well into blocking competitors from the big money, too.

America Ferrera debuts Triathlete mag cover on The Late Show

Year: 2017

When actress America Ferrera appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” she brought along a little show-and-tell: a copy of the June 2017 issue of Triathlete, where she was featured on the cover. The best part of the appearance, however, was when a baffled Colbert tried to make sense of why anyone would do such a sport: “Is it one of those things where it’s so great when it’s over that you feel good? Like, ‘Keep punching me in the face, it feels so wonderful when you stop?’”

Swim. Bike. Cheat?

Year: 2016

The New York Times story on triathlete Julie Miller had it all: scandal, intrigue, and a whole lot of WTF? The curious case began when Miller won her age group at Ironman Canada in 2015, after a slew of age-group wins at multiple events around the world. Other athletes began to take note of the unusual circumstances surrounding her wins—namely, that no one ever really saw her on the course until the finish line. The NYT investigation uncovered evidence that Miller was cutting the course, and the bizarre twists and turns had everyone talking for weeks.

Triathlete banned from restaurant after eating 100 plates of sushi

Year: 2018

Let this be a warning: Don’t advertise “all-you-can-eat” unless you really mean it, because triathletes can eat a lot. Case in point: German triathlete Jaroslav Bobrowski, who reportedly ate 100 dishes of sushi as part of a $26 buffet deal at a Landshut, Germany restaurant. This upset the restaurant owner, who banned Bobrowski for life and kicked off a global discussion about who was in the wrong. (We’re on Team Triathlete, obviously. Clearly it was long run day.)

That time The Guardian called Tim O’Donnell an idiot

Year: 2020

“What an idiot!” the headline proclaimed above a picture of two of triathlon’s biggest stars: four-time world champion Mirinda Carfrae and 2019 runner-up Tim O’Donnell. The reason for the name-calling? Carfrae was chasing down a win in the first-ever Ironman VR Pro Challenge women’s virtual race when O’Donnell, her husband, tripped over the power cord and severed her connection to the race. When Carfrae re-established her video feed, she was holding up a sign that said “It’s Tim’s fault!” O’Donnell had a sign of his own, too: “My bad!” The story took off for its relatability—at the time, the world was adjusting to the technological challenges of a global pandemic, and most had an idiot story or two to share themselves.