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Top 7 Single Sport Performances by Pro Triathletes

With Lucy Charles-Barclay’s recent speedy swim, we look back at other pro triathletes who have slayed their speciality sport after taking up tri.

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In 2021, Lucy Charles-Barclay swam an astonishing 16:46.26 1500m at the British Olympic Trials, but she’s not the first pro triathlete to post a jaw-dropping single-sport performance during or after their career. Sure, plenty of triathletes were amazing single-sport athletes before they went tri, but it takes a unique athlete to retain that dominance after entering multisport. Without further ado, we rank the top seven pro triathlete single-sport performances:

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Lucy Charles-Barclay

Event: GB Olympic Swimming Trials
Result: 16:46 1500 LCM
Year: 2021

Photo: Nils Nilsen/Getty Images

We watched Lucy Charles hop into the British Olympic swimming trials in a new event for women at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo: 1500m freestyle. Lucy qualified for the Olympic trials with a time 17:24, which she swam in 2019. To prepare for this unique opportunity, she put in a five-week swim focus, while still maintaining her bike and run training. Her PR for the event is 16:35, which she swam in 2013 when she was a full-time swimmer, and yet as a now-triathlete she only swam 11 seconds slower at the British trials last month. She was out touched for the win by just 0.16 seconds, and she raced it in true Lucy form—from the front and daring others to go with her. British Swimming would have required a 16:05 to be considered for the Olympic team, so sadly we won’t see Lucy compete in the Olympics in swimming. However, her performance is incredibly impressive as a full-time long-course triathlete. Lucy’s specialty is iron-distance racing and to see her still have all the ability and skills to compete at world class level in a much shorter swimming event was pretty mind-blowing. By sheer virtue of the long-course tri to “short-course tri” event crossover, she gets the nod for number one.

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Carol Montgomery

Event: 10K track Olympic Qualifying time
Result: 32:11
Year: 1999/2000

It is difficult to find exactly when Carol ran her blistering 32:11 qualifying time for the 2000 Olympics, but in doing so she easily hit Canada’s 32:30 10K “A standard.” Carol was the original Gwen Jorgensen in ITU racing, consistently running 33 minutes off the bike—which very few women were doing at the time. To have qualified for two events at a single Olympic Games, both triathlon and track (10K) is still unheard of today.  While we have athletes like Gwen and now Beth Potter who have each focused on an individual sport in a given Olympic cycle, we’ve yet to see another triathlete do both at once. No one has matched this accomplishment 20+ years later. Unfortunately, Carol crashed in the triathlon event at the 2000 Olympics and was unable to race the 10K on the track in Sydney.

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Tyler Butterfield

Event: Lake Biwa Marathon
Result: 2:21:47
Year: 2019

Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Tyler began running some very fast marathons in preparation to qualify and eventually place 12th at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. He comes from an incredibly rich endurance sport background: His mother ran 2:38 to place fourth at the ‘85 Boston Marathon and his father is a decorated professional triathlete who competed and placed in the top 10 in Kona in the ‘80s. Tyler is no stranger to excelling in individual sport performances, as he raced as a professional cyclist for a number of years too before eventually returning to triathlon. Tyler’s triathlon resume is long: He was the youngest competitor at the Athens Olympics and has won multiple non-draft events across many distances. And his marathon training paid off, as he had some particular fast run performances off the bike since that run focus. Most memorably, running a 2:38 marathon off the bike to win Ironman Cozumel in 2019.

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Steffen Justus

Event: Frankfurt Marathon & Aichach Half Marathon
Result: 2:18:44 & 1:05:01, respectively
Year: 2009

Photo: Cameron Spencer/ Getty Images

Many U.S.-based readers may read this stat and ask, “Who?” Steffen was an incredibly talented ITU athlete whose peak years were around 2008-2012. His accomplishments tend to be overshadowed by a slew of other incredible talented German short-course male triathletes at the time: Daniel Unger, Maik Petzold, Jan Frodeno, and Christian Prochnow, just to name a few. (It is also interesting to note that Steffen’s father competed at the Olympics for Germany on the track in the 1500m at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.) Steffen ran both of the above incredibly fast times at the height of his ITU triathlon career, giving even more weight to some very fast PRs in longer running events.

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Alistair Brownlee

Event: Payton Jordan Invitational 10K
Result: 28:32
Year: 2013

Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

On the heels of his impressive gold medal performance at the London Olympic Games, it was exciting to see Alistair enter a pure track race. The triathlon community was buzzing with predictions for how fast he might go. At the time Brownlee was interested in running the 10K on the track at the Commonwealth Games, but England created a surprisingly challenging A standard of 27:50 and B standard of 28:10. Considering this was Alistair having a bit of fun and pushing the boundaries of his run speed, it was and still is a very impressive time. (Let’s not forget this was done pre-carbon-plated shoes!)

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Beth Potter

Event: 5K road
Result: 14:41 (road 5K world record)
Year: 2021

Photo: Martin Rickett/Getty Images

Beth Potter comes from an unbelievable running pedigree—competing at the 2016 Olympic Games for Britain in track. In 2017, she announced she would be transitioning to tri and joined the elite British training squad out of Leeds. Beth’s been building in her triathlon results since 2017, and most notably won her first ITU World Cup in 2020. Since the British women’s Olympic triathlon team has already been selected for Tokyo, it’s not completely surprising that we are seeing Beth put a little focus back into her running….by setting a world record. 14:41 for 5k on the road is incredibly impressive, but especially so considering she’s mastering two other sports at the same time. We’ll be excited to watch Beth’s progression into the 2024 Olympics—perhaps she’ll do what no other triathlete has done since Carol Montgomery and compete in two sports at a single Olympic Games.

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Lionel Sanders

Event: 1 hour cycling
Result: Canadian record 51.304km for an hour
Year: 2020

Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

The pandemic brought a slew of challenges, but it also presented some unique opportunities for pro triathletes to tackle their own personal goals. Lionel was no exception. The one-hour record gained popularity after Jens Voigt broke the world record in 2014 as the final performance in his cycling career. It gained further popularity in the triathlon community when Evelyn Steven’s set the one-hour record in Colorado Springs under coach Neal Henderson, who has coached many professional triathletes. Lionel went 0.2km FURTHER than Jens Voigt—giving a lot of context to how impressive Lionel’s Canadian record performance was. The one-hour world record has been broken multiple times since Jens set it in 2014, and the current record is 55.089km, set in 2019.

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Honorable mentions:

  1. Mario Mola: (2020) 13:41 5K
  2. Lisa Norden: 2019 Swedish road racing champion, competed at the 2020 World Cycling Championships