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Olympic Triathlon: Format and Rules

Yahoo Contributor Network

Triathlon is a multi-sport event in which athletes complete three continuous endurance events: swimming, biking, and running. The sport is relatively young, having only been invented in the early 1970s. It made its Olympic debut at the 2000 Sydney Games. The six triathlon events in the sport's short Olympic history have been won by athletes from six different countries. The United States' only medal so far was a bronze in the 2004 women's competition.

The format

Triathlon will make its fourth Olympic appearance in London this summer. There will be two separate medal events: the women's competition on Aug. 4 and the men's on Aug. 7. Each event will include 55 athletes with a limit of three per country. There are no heats in Olympic Triathlon, so all athletes will begin and compete together, and the first to reach the finish line is the winner.

The competitions will take place in and around Hyde Park, London's largest Royal Park. The men and women will both complete a 1500-meter swim (one lap in The Serpentine), followed by a flat but very technical 43-kilometer bike (seven laps around the park then out to Buckingham Palace and back), then a 10-kilometer run (four laps around the Serpentine).

Between each of these legs, athletes will enter the transition area to prepare for the next portion of the competition. Time spent in transition will be included in their overall time.


General, common-sense International Triathlon Union (ITU) rules will apply, such as: practice good sportsmanship, be safe, and receive no outside assistance. Other rules include the following:

Any stroke may be used during the swim portion of the competition. Treading water, floating, and stopping to rest are also permitted. Of course, you probably won't see any of these during the Olympics.

During the bike leg, athletes may not block other competitors. However, unlike many triathlon competitions, including the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, drafting is allowed in Olympic triathlon events. This means you will see large packs of athletes riding together. It also means that the bikes will look a little different than those in other competitions. For example, Olympic triathlon bikes must have traditional drop handlebars. Athletes may use clip-on handlebars for increased aerodynamics, but forward-facing shifters are not allowed on the clip-ons. Wheel covers or disc wheels are also not permitted in draft-legal events like Olympic triathlon.

Cycling in the transition area is not allowed. As athletes exit transition, they must cross the mount line before mounting their bicycles. They must then dismount at the dismount line before entering transition again after the bike portion of the event.

Helmets must be on and securely fastened whenever the athletes are in possession of their bikes, from the moment they remove them from the racks in transition until they return them to the racks after the bike portion of the event.

During the run portion of the competition, athletes may run or walk; crawling, however, is forbidden (unlike in Ironman triathlon events, where crawling is acceptable). Athletes must wear shoes, but may not run with their bike helmets still on. Team members, managers/coaches, or other pacemakers may not accompany competitors.

Many of these rules violations will result in time penalties for athletes. These penalties may be served either in the transition area or in a designated penalty box on the run course.

Jennifer Ciapala completed her first triathlon in 2007 and has been hooked on the sport ever since. She can now also call herself an Ironman after finishing Ironman Florida last November. She is only an average age-grouper, but she enjoys watching the professionals in championship events and is looking forward to catching this year's Olympic Triathlon competitions.


London 2012

USA Triathlon, 2012 Olympic Games

The Telegraph, London 2012

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