World Triathlon Profile
World Triathlon is the international governing body for the sport of triathlon. It was founded under its former name, the International Triathlon Union (ITU), on 1 April, 1989 and was officially renamed as World Triathlon in October 2020.
The first ever ITU congress was held in Avignon, France, with 30 national federations attending in the French city, where plans were made for triathlon’s first ever world championships and the official Olympic distances – which stand to this day, were set (1.5km swim, 40km bike and 10km run).
Recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Paralympic Committee (IPC), World Triathlon is currently headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland. World Triathlon says it is a non-profit-making organisation and committed to developing and promoting the sport of triathlon, paratriathlon and related multisports.
Current World Triathlon President Marisol Casado was elected to the position in November 2008. One of World Triathlon’s founding members in 1989, Casado has worked in several positions at the organisation, including treasurer and executive board member. She is also former President of the European Triathlon Union (ETU). The Spaniard was a keen athlete in her youth, competing in running, hockey and triathlon. In 1984, Casado competed in Spain’s first organised triathlon, Guadalajara, and won the race.
World Triathlon runs events in standard triathlon, mixed relay triathlon, long distance triathlon, aquathon, duathlon, aquabike, winter triathlon, cross triathlon and cross duathlon. The World Triathlon Rankings determine a triathlete’s eligibility to enter World Triathlon events, including the World Triathlon Championship Series. It is still the only organisation that can award the title of World Triathlon Champion.
172 national federations and five continental confederations are part of World Triathlon. World Triathlon members attend a congress every year – normally coinciding with the World Triathlon Grand Final – with elections held every four years.
World Triathlon Series (now WTCS)
The World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) is World Triathlon’s headline competition which sees the best triathletes in the world compete against in a bid to become world champion, based upon points accumulated through the season.
The standard race involves a 1.5km swim, 40km cycle and 10km run, whereas the sprint format is a 750m swim, 20km cycle and finishes with a 5km run. In 2021, a new format was introduced at WTCS Montreal. The super-sprint ‘Eliminator’ format was introduced over super sprint 300m / 7.2km / 2km distances, with athlete qualifying (avoiding elimination) through a series of heats prior to the final. The races are held in different cities around the globe and the Series culminates in the WTCS Grand Final.
The first single-race world championship was held in the same year as ITU’s establishment – 1989 – with American and six-time IRONMAN champion Mark Allen winning the first edition. New Zealand’s Erin Baker was the inaugural women’s world champion.
In 2008, the ITU then opted to change the format of the ITU World Championship, replacing a single race with a series of races leading to a grand final every year. The first ever ITU World Championship Series was set for 2009.
Spaniard Javier Gómez has won the most men’s championship titles (five), winning in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2015. In the women’s championship, Flora Duffy of Bermuda matched the three World Championship titles of Emma Snowsill, winning in 2016, 2017 and 2021. Snowsill – the 2008 Olympic gold medallist – secured her wins in 2003, 2005 and 2006.
In 2009 the ITU introduced a new race format to the World Championship listing by adding mixed relay events to the triathlon calendar. Combining individual sport with team spirit, the mixed relay sees international teams of four compete against one another in female-male-female-male order. Each athlete completes a super-sprint triathlon before tagging off to their teammate.
At the inaugural 2009 Mixed Relay World Championships, Switzerland – comprising Magali Messmer, Lukas Salvisberg, Daniela Ryf and Ruedi Wild – beat Australia and Canada to win the first ever gold medal in Iowa, USA. Since 2013, the mixed relay has been hosted in Hamburg, Germany. In 2019, the Team Mixed Relay Series, a new competition which includes four races every year was introduced – with Abu Dhabi, Nottingham, Hamburg and Edmonton chosen for the first series.
France is the most successful country in the mixed relay, winning the World Championship in 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Olympics and other major Games
The first Olympic Games triathlon took place at the Sydney Games in 2000, with Simon Whitfield and Brigitte McMahon winning gold in the men’s and women’s events. The distances in the Olympics are 1.5km swim, 40km bike and 10km run.
British triathlete Alistair Brownlee has won the most gold medals with victory at London 2012 and Rio 2016. Alistair’s younger brother Jonny won silver in the Brazilian city, meaning the Brownlees made history by becoming the first brothers to win gold and silver in the same event at an Olympic Games. Jonny is also the most decorated athlete in Olympic triathlon history after claiming a Mixed Relay gold in Tokyo, completing his set of medals, having also won bronze in London.
The first paratriathlon events took place at the Rio 2016 Paralympics with three races in men and women events. The mixed relay event made its debut at Tokyo 2020 where Great Britain won the inaugural gold medal at the Odaiba Marine Park in a thrilling race ahead of the United States and France.
Triathlon became a core sport in the Commonwealth Games in 2002, having been a demonstration event back in 1990 in Auckland. There are five triathlon events in the Commonwealth Games, the men’s, women’s, men’s paratriathlon, women’s paratriathlon and mixed team relay.
World Triathlon Cup
World Triathlon Cup races take place around the world every year and are organised by World Triathlon, alongside its World Triathlon Championship Series. The first World Cup took place in 1991, with Leandro Macedo becoming the men’s champion and Karen Smyers named as the women’s champion. After introducing the World Triathlon Series in 2008, World Triathlon reorganised its top-level competitions.
The World Triathlon Championship Series now represents the ‘premier league’ of elite racing, with World Triathlon Cup events now representing the second tier of the status ladder with fewer ranking points on offer and lower prize money.
Paratriathlon offers elite athletes with a physical disability the opportunity to compete over sprint paratriathlon distances – 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km at all World Triathlon events.
Paratriathlon made its debut at the Paralympics at Rio in 2016 and returned for the 2020 Tokyo Games. The six categories are: PTWC (wheelchair); PTS2 (severe physical impairment); PTS3 (significant physical impairment); PTS4 (moderate physical impairment); PTS5 (mild physical impairment); PTVI (visually impaired). Team USA is the most successful team in the Paralympics, winning nine medals so far, five of them gold.
World Triathlon continues to promote the sport and the governing body runs the World Triathlon Para Series and World Triathlon Para Cup – annual races throughout the year which are hosted around the world. World Triathlon follows the six Paralympics categories for their Para Series and Para World Cup.
Long Distance Triathlon
Following the traditional triathlon format of swim-bike-run, long distance triathlon usually doubles or triples the distance of standard triathlon races – putting an athlete’s stamina and endurance to the test. In long-distance triathlons, elite races can last up to seven hours. A key difference of long-distance triathlon is that athletes are not allowed to draft on the bike (riding in an opponent’s slipstream).
The World Triathlon Long Distance Championships have been held annually since 1994 with Dutchman Rob Barel and Isabelle Mouthon-Michellys of France winning the men’s and women’s championships in Nice, France. The swim, bike and run distances can vary at the Long Distance Championships, though 3km swim / 120km bike / 30km run has often been the format in recent years.
A duathlon consists of running and cycling and can be contested on all terrains, but usually on tarmac in run-bike-run format. Typically, a sprint distance would include a 5km run, 20km bike and 2.5km run, standard distance 10km run, 40km bike and 5km run, middle distance 10km, 60km bike and 10km run and long distance 10km run, 150km bike and 30km run.
Elite races at the shorter distances allow for drafting on the bike, while middle and long-distance duathlon events are typically non-drafting.
The Duathlon World Championships are held on an annual basis and involve a 10km run, 40km bike and 5km run. Cathedral City in California hosted the first ever Duathlon World Championships in 1990 with Kenny Souza and Thea Sybesma winning in the men’s and women’s championships respectively.
Aquathlon combines both running and swimming. At the World Triathlon Aquathon Championships, the official distances are 2.5km run, 1km swim and 2.5km run. These distances can vary if the water temperature is below 22 degrees Celsius – then the race becomes a 1km swim followed by a 5km run. The World Triathlon Aquathon Championships are held every year with Shane Reed and Rina Hill winning the first two men’s and women’s championships in 1998 and 1999.
There are many aquathlon races organised throughout the year in varying distances and formats. In the colder months, pool-based aquathlons are often held using the swim-run format, whereas at summer aquathlon races pools and open water are both used.
Cross triathlon, also known as X-Tri, is off-road triathlon which usually involves a 1km swim, 20-30km mountain bike and 6-10km trail run. Cross triathlon emerged in 1996 during a race in Maui, Hawaii. Subsequently, the island now hosts the XTERRA World Championship – a 1.5km swim, 31km mountain bike that climbs 3,500 ft up and down the lower slopes of the West Maui Mountains and finishes with a 10.5km trail run across the forest trails and beach sands.
World Triathlon held its first Cross Triathlon World Championships in Extremadura, Spain in 2011. Melanie McQuaid (CAN) and Conrad Stolz (RSA) were the inaugural winners. Bermuda’s reigning Olympic triathlon champion Flora Duffy won the women’s championship in 2015 and 2016.