Triathlons have become staple events in the calendar year across the globe. As many of our customers are triathletes we thought we'd have a quick look back at the history of the endurance event.
Unlike the origins of the first Marathon from the ancient Greek legend, taught to schoolchildren across the world, about the messenger who runs from the Battle of Marathon to let Athens know that the Persians have been defeated, triathlons originated in the 20thcentury.
The first triathlons were organised before the word was coined. They were called "the 3 sports", "the race of the experts", or "the race that touches everything". But referring to them in English is misleading as the first country to combine such trials was France. So they were first known as, respectively, "Les trois sports", "La Course des Débrouillards" and "La course des Touche à Tout". The exact date has been lost in time but the first triptych of endurance events took place in the early 1920s in towns such as Poissy, Meulan and Joinville le Pont. By 1927 there was a "Les Trois Sports" in Marseilles where competitors undertook a 3km run, a 12km bike ride and crossed the river Marne without a break. Seven years later La Rochelle held their own version of the trial consisting of an approx. 200m canal swim, a 12km cycle and a 1200m run.
It took another four decades for the combination of the three events to manifest elsewhere and it did so on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. It was in San Deigo in 1970s there was an event called the Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon which was composed of a 4.5 miles run and a 200-300 yards swim. In 1974 on Wednesday September 25th it saw the inclusion of a third cycling leg which balanced out the running and swimming. The American triathlon was born. Competitors had to complete a 6 mile run, 5 mile cycle and 500 yards swim. The winner on that day was Bill Philipps and the only reason we mention the man who came in 35th, John Collins a U.S. Navy Commander, is because he was to play a pivotal role in the next development of the endurance race.
Late one evening at an awards ceremony in Hawaii in 1978 Collins was involved in a debate about who was the fittest athlete, runners or swimmers. Collins had read in a recent copy of Sports Illustrated that the Belgian cyclist, Eddy Merckx (at the time he had the highest recorded "oxygen uptake" of any athlete) was considered the fittest sportsman alive and threw that into the mix. They could not agree and what transpired was the suggestion that they combine the three biggest running, swimming and cycling events on the Island to find out who was the fittest. So was born the first Ironman which fused Waikiki Roughwater Swim of 2.4 miles, the Around-Oahu Bike Race at 115 miles and the Honolulu Marathon the of 26.219 miles.
On February 18, 1978, fifteen men set of on that historic endurance teas. Out of them twelve completed the race and coming in at 11 hours, 46 minutes, 58 seconds