Not many sports force their athletes to change shoes while the clock runs. Not many sports start in water and finish on land. Not many sports are triathlon. In the Pan Am Games, men and women complete a 1,500-metre open-water swim, a 40-kilometre road cycling course and a 10-kilometre run. For an event contested over 51.5 total kilometres, it’s also amazingly action-packed, especially in the transitions from swim to bike and from bike to run where competitors hurriedly switch from one discipline to the next trying to gain time on the field. First across the finish line wins.
Canada’s best-known triathlete, Simon Whitfield, burst onto the scene at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg in 1999, winning a bronze medal. The next year he blew away the field by taking home the gold medal in the sport’s Olympic debut in Sydney.
Each element of triathlon — swimming, cycling and running — has its own unique history. The history of modern triathlon as a sport, however, is fairly recent. In 1974, the first modern swim/bike/run event took place in San Diego, California. The sport’s popularity built over the next decade and is now one of the fastest growing sports in the world.
How it works
In Olympic distance triathlon (versus the longer ironman and half-ironman distances), competitors swim 1,500 metres, ride 40 kilometres and then finish off with a 10-kilometre run. Athletes begin en masse with the swim, transition out of their wetsuits after the swim, hop on their bikes, transition out of cycling gear and into the last leg —the running portion — of the race. A test of endurance and stamina, first across the finish line wins.
An extension of the bike’s handlebars that puts the athlete in a more aerodynamic position.
The changeover from swim to bike and bike to run.
The time it takes the athlete to switch from one element to the next. Speed is of the essence as a slow transition time can make or break a race.