Recalled: The History of Triathlon in the Commonwealth Games
Olympic medalists will fight for Commonwealth medals this weekend. A quick look back at the big moments in the Friendly Games.
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Held every four years (with the exception of a hiatus during World War II) the Commonwealth Games first launched in 1930 as a way to boost goodwill among the British Empire. Originally known as the British Empire Games, the very first event had just 11 countries represented. Today, the global spectacle, which kicks off from Birmingham, England on Friday, July 29, features 4,600 athletes from across 72 nations and territories. Among them? Some of the world’s top triathletes and paratriathletes, including 2020 Olympic gold medalist—and 2018 Commonwealth Games champ—Flora Duffy, as well as Alex Yee and Hayden Wilde, who finished second and third, respectively, in Tokyo. Here’s some history of triathlon in the Commie Games.
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1990: Triathlon makes an appearance in Auckland
While triathlon won’t be officially added as a “core sport” to the Commonwealth Games until 2002, it’s contested as a demo event in 1990, when Auckland, New Zealand hosted. Legendary Kiwi athletes Erin Baker and Rick Wells win on home turf.
2002: Canada rules as triathlon returns
Triathlon makes its official debut two years after the sport is added to the Olympics. Manchester, England hosts the event with the course held at Salford Quays in front of 70,000 spectators in a steady rain. The bike course features loops throughout downtown Manchester and the run takes competitors past the famed Manchester United football arena. Canada’s Simon Whitfield, the 2000 Olympic gold medalist, wins the men’s race in a sprint finish over Australia’s Miles Stewart and New Zealand’s Hamish Carter—a remarkable performance given that the then-27-year-old fractured both wrists and broke his collarbone in a car crash 16 weeks earlier.
The women’s winner, 35-year-old Canadian Carol Montgomery, has an equally tough road to get to the top of the Commonwealth Games podium. Earlier in the year, she had a second surgery to correct a blocked artery in her leg, and also injured her foot and damaged her bike in the days leading up to the race. (She had a pain-blocking injection the night before just to get her to the starting line.) Montgomery, who also represented Canada on the track at the 2000 Olympics, outruns a 24-year-old Leanda Cave, then representing Wales, who is the lone U.K. athlete on the podium in Manchester.
2006: Oceania on top in Melbourne
With the Commonwealth Games in Australia, the hometown athletes show up for the March event in the seaside suburb of St. Kilda. Aussie and Kiwi athletes dominate the podium, snapping up all six medals in the men’s and women’s event. Australian Brad Kahlefeldt beats out New Zealand’s Bevan Docherty and world champ Peter Robinson of Australia, while Australian Emma Snowsill (and eventual 2008 Olympic champion) comes out on top over two Kiwis, Samantha Warriner and Andrea Hewitt.
2014: Mixed relay debuts
After being shut out from the Commonwealth Games podium in the first two Games (there wasn’t a triathlon at the 2010 Games), English athletes arrive ready to perform in 2014. The race, held in Strathclyde Country Park on the outskirts of Glasgow, sees athletes representing the English flag take four of the six spots on the podium. The Brownlee brothers, led by a dominating winning performance by Alistair, go one-two in the dramatic men’s race, which is marked by a crash on the bike course from early leader Henri Schoeman of South Africa, who does not finish.
Jodie Simpson earns her first Commonwealth Games medal, nipping Canada’s Kirsten Sweetland by five seconds, with another English athlete, Vicky Holland, rounding out the podium. Later, Simpson and Holland pair up with the Brownlees to win the first-ever gold medal in the Mixed Relay event, which makes its debut that year.
2018: Duffy dazzles & paratriathlon added
Flora Duffy earns the distinction of winning the very first gold medal of the 2018 Commonwealth Games, held on Australia’s Gold Coast (it’s also Bermuda’s first-ever medal in triathlon at the Games). Duffy, who finished 8th in both the 2006 and 2014 Commonwealth Games, dominates over England’s Jessica Learmonth in the sprint race, winning by 43 seconds.
In the men’s race, Schoeman redeems his 2014 DNF by winning in Glasgow, earning South Africa’s second Commie Games medal, following up on Richard Murray’s 2014 bronze. Jacob Birtwhistle, the men’s runner-up, goes on to help secure a gold medal in the mixed relay for Australia, where he’s joined by Gillian Backhouse, Ashleigh Gentle, and Matthew Hauser.
The 2018 Games also marks the debut of paratriathlon. England takes the top spot in both the men’s (Joe Townsend) and women’s (Jade Jones) races.
Birmingham 2022 will offer five medal events in triathlon across individual, para, and mixed team relay races. Both the men’s and women’s individual races will go off on Friday, July 29 at 6 a.m ET. The mixed team relays and paratri races will be contested on Sunday, July 31. In the U.S., recap coverage will be streamed on the Olympic Channel, airing daily from 6 p.m. ET.