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The Olympics start this Friday and the opening ceremonies will quickly be followed by every swim-bike-runners’ favorite event: the Olympic triathlon races. Plus, this year the new mixed team relay adds an exciting tri element you won’t want to miss.
With the time difference, the early starts in Japan (6:30 a.m. local time) mean prime-time viewing for the U.S. Just remember to set your alarm and line up your DVR (or respective streaming service) so you catch all the action. Here’s how and who to watch.
How to watch the Olympic triathlon races
Men’s individual triathlon race: Sunday, July 25, 5:30 p.m. ET
Women’s individual triathlon race: Monday, July 26, 5:30 p.m. ET
UPDATE: The women’s race has been pushed back 15 minutes to allow for a strong band of rain from an ongoing tropical storm to pass.
Mixed relay: Friday, July 30, 6:30 p.m. ET
In the U.S., NBC and its subsidiaries own the rights to all Olympics coverage (which means there’s no other way to watch it except through NBC and NBC affiliates; your World Triathlon subscription won’t do you any good this week). All three Olympic triathlon races are scheduled to be aired on the USA Network and streamed on NBCOlympics.com and on the NBC Sports app. The NBC streaming links for the triathlon events are here. Highlights may be aired on NBC primetime and on NBC’s Peacock streaming service.
You can also join the Triathlete conversation. During the race, we’ll be sharing live updates on Twitter and Instagram. #Tokyo2020 And before and after each of the races, we’ll be co-hosting pre-and post-race live commentary with USA Triathlon on the USA Triathlon Facebook page. (Check out the Facebook events here, here, and here.)
READ MORE: Who and What to Watch for in Tokyo
The Olympic triathlon events & course
Olympic racing (previously known as International Triathlon Union or ITU-style racing) is draft-legal and fast. Draft-legal means that athletes can draft or be close together on the bike—leading to large groups, much like in pro cycling races, such as the Tour de France. Because drafting is so important, positioning and strategy are key. You’ll see athletes fight to make certain packs as they exit the water and then battle to be near the front as they come into T2 and head out for the run. This can lead to dramatic changes and fast-paced races.
The two biggest things to know about Olympic triathlon this year are: 1. the mixed relay is a brand new addition to the Olympic schedule, and countries are trying to win medals across both individual and relay events; 2. the COVID-19 protocols are making this Games unique in a way never seen before, and no one’s entirely sure how these restrictions will affect the athletes.
The course, itself, is flat, technical, and hot. Athletes will dive into the warm Tokyo Bay from Odaiba Park, across from the Rainbow Bridge, and swim two laps for 1500m total. They’ll then cover an eight-lap, 40K, technical bike course around the park, before heading out for a four-lap, 10K run along the edge of the water.
Who to watch
The men’s race will dive in first, and it’s a hard one to predict because of close times and changes during this COVID non-season. American Morgan Pearson and young Brit Alex Yee have both been stellar in spring races, with fast runs to close the deal. But they’ll be up against favorites like Frenchman Vincent Luis, who was unbeatable the last time there was a full season, Norwegian Kristian Blummenfelt, and Spain’s Mario Mola. Add in previous medalists Jonny Brownlee and Javier Gomez, Canadian Tyler Mislawchuk, who won the test event here in 2019, and New Zealand’s super sprinter Hayden Wilde, and it’s hard to know what will happen. You can see the full men’s start list here.
In the women’s race there have been a few more clear frontrunners, but with so many athletes not racing last year it’s hard to say what shape they’re in. Bermuda’s Flora Duffy has to be considered the favorite, but she’s followed closely by the British duo of Jessica Learmonth and Georgia Taylor-Brown. The big question is what kind of shape American Katie Zaferes will be in. The world champion struggled in races earlier this year, as she dealt with the sudden death of her father, but has said she feels stronger now after getting in a solid block of training. American Summer Rappaport will also be looking to run her way to a podium, and the young U.S. up-and-comer Taylor Knibb will try to get into a bike breakaway for a surprise medal. And don’t forget about Rio silver medalist Nicola Spirig, who has been laying low but always performs when the pressure’s on. You can see the full women’s start list here.
Mixed relay predictions will depend heavily on how athletes look during the individual races, and who gets some extra rest. Some teams are choosing to target one race over the other, so we won’t know for sure until after the first races. But, whatever the results earlier in the week, it’s hard not to favor the French. When it comes to the relay, they’ve have been dominant the last few years. The British and American teams believe they can upset the French squad, and the Australians have put together an Olympic roster focused on the relay. With two men and two women, each racing a mini-tri that takes around 20 minutes before tagging off to their teammate, it’s an event designed for drama and speed. Schedule right in Friday evening primetime viewing in the U.S.