Events

A Brief History of Triathlon at the Olympics

2020 will be a historic year for our sport.

It’s an Olympic year, and 2020 stands to be a historic one for triathlon. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will mark the first time that Mixed Relay will be a part of the program. The men will compete on July 27, the women will compete on July 28, and the Mixed Relay will take place on Aug. 1. We’re getting excited to bring you coverage of the qualification process and the lead-up to the big event. For now, let’s take a look at triathlon’s (relatively brief) history at the Olympics.

1982

The U.S. Triathlon Series launches, then after some experimenting, settles on a 1.5K swim, 40K bike, and 10K run format, all standard distances in their respective sports.

Tri-Fed is set up in the United States as the sport’s first national governing body (it later becomes USAT).

1983

A British-Canadian triathlete named Les McDonald organizes Canada’s first national governing body, the British Columbia Triathlon Federation.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Juan Antonio Samaranch sees a USTS event on TV and decides the sport must be in the Olympics. He calls McDonald.

1987

McDonald helps form the sport’s first international governing body, Triathlon Federation International, the first step toward earning Olympic recognition.

1989

After much debate and quarreling— and an attempt to have triathlon join the Modern Pentathlon Union to expedite its Olympics inclusion—the International Triathlon Union (ITU) is formed with its headquarters in Vancouver.

1994

Triathlon is voted into the Olympic Games at the IOC Congress in Paris.

2000

Triathlon at the olympics

Triathlon debuts at the 2000 Sydney Games, using a draft-legal format after much debate about the difficulties of policing a non-drafting race and making the sport TV-ready; it had to have clear winners, with no post-race drafting penalties that could change the podium. Canada’s Simon Whitfield and Switzerland’s Brigitte McMahon are the first gold medalists.

2004

Triathlon at the olympics
Photo: Frank Wechsel/ Triathlon.org

Hamish Carter (NZL) and Kate Allen (AUT) win the gold medals. Susan Williams becomes the first U.S. triathlete to win an Olympic medal after finishing third in Athens, Greece.

2008

Photo: Frank Wechsel/ Triathlon.org

Jan Frodeno (GER) and Emma Snowsill (AUS) win the gold medals in Beijing.

2012

Photo: Delly Carr/ Triathlon.org

Alistair Brownlee (GBR) and Nicola Spirig (SUI) win their first Olympic gold medals in London. American Sarah True (née Groff) comes in fourth, just 10 seconds off the podium.

2016

Photo: Delly Carr/ Triathlon.org

Gwen Jorgensen wins gold in Rio de Janeiro, the first Olympic win for the U.S., and the second American medal ever, so far… Brownlee becomes the first triathlete to win back-to-back gold medals.

2017

The ITU announces a new addition to the regular Olympic-distance event that will take place at the Tokyo Games in 2020: the mixed relay. A team of four athletes from the same nation will each race a supersprint tri—a 300-meter swim, a 7.4K bike, and a 2K run—before handing off to the next teammate, alternating female/male/female/male.