Host City: Sydney, Australia
Date Started: September 16, 2000
Date Finished: September 16, 2000
Participants: 100 (52 men and 48 women) from 34 countries
Youngest Participant: Anikó Góg (20 years, 220 days)
Oldest Participant: Rob Barel (42 years, 269 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): 6 athletes with 1 medal
Most Medals (Country): Switzerland (2 medals)
Triathlon made its Olympic début at Sydney in 2000. The sport actually has a longer history than usually considered, with multi-sport events combining running and biking, sometimes with swimming, sometimes with canoeing, as early as the 1920s in France. The first such competition that used the term triathlon was held in San Diego, California in September 1974. However, the impetus for the sports’ popularity came with the Hawai’i Ironman which began in February 1978. The idea for this event was arguments between swimmers, bikers, and runners about who was the most fit athlete, which led them to design a long-distance competition combining all three events, and which was first held on the island of Oahu. The name came from a statement from one of the originators of the event, US Naval Commander John Collins, who noted, “Whoever finishes first, we’ll call him the Ironman.”
The Ironman became immensely popular, eventually attracting 1,000s of competitors, in addition to the elite level athletes. Other similar races spread across the globe, and shorter triathlons also became popular, notably the Nice Triathlon in France, a race which started in the early 80s, which was slightly shorter than the Ironman, although in 2002 it converted to what was by-then standard Ironman distances. Eventually a very popular triathlon event became what was termed the Olympic Distance competition, consisting of a 1.5 km swim, a 40 km bike race, and a 10 km run, which was created in the mid-1980s and was the standard distance for the US Triathlon Series from 1982-97, and would eventually be used for the Olympic events.
The International Triathlon Union (ITU) was formed in 1989, although in 1988 IOC President [Juan Antonio Samaranch] had suggested that triathlon should consider becoming a sub-section of the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne et Biathlon (UIPMB). But at a formative meeting in Avignon, France in March-April 1989, the triathlon administrators voted against this, and elected to remain an independent sport. In 1991 Les McDonald, President of the ITU, attended the IOC Session in Birmingham, England, and began lobbying IOC Members for inclusion of triathlon in the Olympics. The first step was official recognition of the ITU as the sport’s International Federation (IF), which occurred in April 1991.
At the IOC Session in Paris in September 1994, triathlon was approved to be added to the Olympic Program for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. This was to be provisional approval, with the sport to be re-evaluated after Sydney to determine if it would remain on the program.
An Olympic Distance event for both men and women was approved as the triathlon program for the 2000 Olympics. The swimming section started alongside the historic Sydney Opera House in Sydney Harbour. The events were very popular in sports-mad Australia, especially the women’s race where Aussie Michellie Jones was a pre-race favorite but narrowly lost to Switzerland’s Brigitte McMahon, after the two ran shoulder-to-shoulder for most of the finishing 10 km run. The popularity of triathlon in 2000 assured it of remaining on the Olympic Program for the foreseeable future.