London 2012 Olympic Games: History of Triathlon

by Merryn Sherwood on 02 Aug, 2012 05:11 • Español

Just ahead of the fourth edition of the triathlon competition at the Olympic Games, it’s time for a quick look to the past three editions to relive the memorable moments and also look at the changes to the sport since Beijing.

The Upsets
While the Brownlee brothers are almost unbackable favourites in London, the fact of the triathlon competition at the Olympic Games is that more often than not – the favourites have not won Olympic gold. In Sydney, a Simon was expected to win but it was Canada’s Simon Whitfield and not Great Britain’s Simon Lessing. In the women’s race, while Brigitte McMahon had finished on the podium in the test event, Australia’s Michellie Jones was the huge favourite – but it was McMahon that triumphed on the day. It was a similar case for the women’s race in Athens, where Austria’s Kate Allen surprised Australia’s Loretta Harrop, overtaking her in the final kilometre to take gold. In Beijing, it was the men’s race again that offered surprises, with Germany’s Jan Frodeno outsprinting Whitfield and Bevan Docherty to the line – for what was incredibly, his first ITU win.

The Redemption
New Zealand’s Hamish Carter was one of the favourites heading into the inaugural Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, but heading into Athens there was others also on the radar, including Greg Bennett. But Carter helped to drive a bike breakaway on the tough Athens course, and then ran away from teammate Bevan Docherty and Switzerland’s Sven Riederer to claim gold and seal his Sydney redemption.

The Legends
Emma Snowsill and Vanessa Fernandes entered the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games as two of the most successful athletes in the history of the sport. Snowsill had three ITU World Championships and Fernandes 20 ITU World Cup wins. What they were both missing was an Olympic Gold medal. The battle between the two then emerged, but a breathtaking run from Snowsill led her to a win by more than a minute, the biggest margin yet in Olympic history. While all other margins have been a matter of seconds, Snowsill eventually won by 1 minute and 7 seconds.

The History
Australia is the overall most successful nation in ITU history, so it’s no surprise they are also the most successful nation in the event at the Olympics. So far, an Australian woman has always finished on the podium at the Olympics. As well as Snowsill’s gold Australian women have collected two silver medals and one bronze. However the Australian men are yet to win a medal. Next on the overall tally are New Zealand and Switzerland, who have three medals each, each with one gold, then Canada and Germany have two medals. Both of Canada’s medals belong to Whitfield. Austria, the Czech Republic and the USA currently have one medal each. Great Britain have never won a medal in the triathlon event at the Olympics.

What’s New
There are a few major changes in the sport since Beijing. The first is a major rule change, with the introduction of a Penalty Box. Penalties may be given during the race for minor infringements such as equipment outside the designated box in transition, or early or late dismount from the bike.  Before, athletes were shown a red card in transition and had to stop on the spot for the appropriate time, now time penalties incurred during the race must be served in a designated box on course. For a full list of infringements, see the ITU Rules at
The second is that in 2009, the ITU World Triathlon Series was introduced, creating a series of world championship races rather than a single-day world championship. The series sees the world’s top triathletes competing head-to-head for rankings points that determine the overall ITU world champion, with media and fans able to watch from everywhere with a live international broadcast feed available from every event. The series has so far been staged in 14 of the world’s biggest cities, Beijing, Budapest, Gold Coast, Hamburg, Kitzbuehel, Lausanne, London, Madrid, San Diego, Seoul, Sydney, Tongyeong, Washington, Yokohama, and there are also races in Stockholm and Auckland this year. A total of $2.06 million USD will be available for elite athletes racing the 2012 ITU World Triathlon Series, the first time since the series started that the prize pool has topped two million.

Record NOCs
London will see more countries represented in the triathlon competition than ever before. London has 39 different National Olympic Committees represented, while in Beijing there were 36 NOCs that had qualified positions.  Prior to that, there were 33 in Athens 2004 and 34 in Sydney 2000, although in those Olympics, there were 50 women and 50 men on the start lists as opposed to 55 now. Among the 39 NOCs this year, five have qualified a spot for the first time in the history of triathlon at the Olympic Games, including: Ecuador, Mauritius, Monaco, Republic of Korea, and Slovenia.

The triathlon competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games gets underway when the women race at 9am on Saturday August 4, folllowed by the men on Tuesday August 7.

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