Ask A Ref: Why Do I Have To Wear A Shirt In Ironman Events?

Why do I have to wear a shirt during U.S. Ironman events when I can race topless in non-Ironman events?

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Q: Why do I have to wear a shirt during U.S. Ironman events when I can race topless in non-Ironman events?

A: The short answer is that because Ironman events take place all over the world, and the majority of them adhere to International Triathlon Union (ITU) rules, which require shirts to be worn during competition, Ironman requires shirts to be worn during its U.S. events for consistency.

Why do the ITU and other sports’ international governing bodies require shirts to be worn in competition? I don’t actually know the reason. I asked quite a few people “in the know,” and the most common theory is that it might have to do with the need for national federations and their elite athletes to identify the country they are representing as well as sponsors. It might also have something to do with common courtesy—not everyone is keen on seeing hairy men strutting shirtless around town.

I lean in favor of requiring shirts for the following reasons:

Some of my peers, male and female, like to race as naked as possible because they take pleasure in flaunting the fruits of their labor. And while I appreciate the human body as much as anyone, I don’t find topless men (or women for that matter) to be attractive when riding and running with the pedal to the metal. I like to leave a little to the imagination, and I find racing outfits to be more flattering than nakedness when racing.

With the above point in mind, and considering that my body has occasionally been referred to as “scrawny” and “weasel-like,” my reasons for racing shirtless as a pro were strictly performance-related. I raced primarily sprint- and Olympic-distance triathlons, in which seconds counted. Not having to put on a shirt saved valuable time in transition. That said, and despite the fact that I’m far from modest, I did not lose sleep over being required to wear a shirt while racing.

If you’re a man, I doubt that you look as good with your shirt off as you think you do.

Anti-discrimination: Women aren’t allowed to race topless. (It’s admittedly odd considering that in many places abroad, and in stark contrast to laws/rules in the U.S., women are not required to wear tops in public places such as beaches, pools and—much to my surprise—hotel Jacuzzis.)

Some athletes feel that they’re cooler and therefore faster racing topless. I’ve never seen a definitive scientific study that proves this, and never really paid it any mind, since we all had shirts on.

The bottom line is that wearing a shirt while racing is the civilized thing to do and we’re all in the same boat.

So as my dad was fond of saying, “Keep your shirt on!”

More “Ask A Ref.”

For more than two decades Riccitello was one of the world’s top triathletes. He is now the head referee for Ironman and a multisport coach ( in Tucson, Ariz. Have a question for Jimmy? Email it to

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