- An Olympic triathlon is a race with three separate parts. First, contestants do a 1.5-kilometre swim, then a 40-kilometre cycle ride, and finally a 10-kilometre run.
- Contestants do not have any breaks during the race. They must get ready for the next part of the race quickly.
- These changes (or ‘transitions’) are still part of the overall race. Contestants try to keep their transition time as low as possible.
- Contestants wear an electronic chip around their ankle to measure the time each stage takes.
- There are ‘transition areas’ on the course for contestants to get ready for the next stage.
- The first transition is after the swimming. Contestants get out of the water and put on clothes for the cycle ride. Then they get on (or ‘mount’) their bikes.
- The second transition is after the cycle ride. They get off (or ‘dismount’) their bikes, and begin their 10-kilometre run.
- At Olympic level, the race is usually completed in under 2 hours.
Triathlon? That’s running, cycling and swimming, isn’t it?
Well, swimming, cycling and running actually.
That’s what I said!
Well, not quite. Triathlons are always performed in that order. Swimming always comes first, then cycling, and finally running.
For safety. The event is very tiring, and it could be dangerous for an athlete to become exhausted while swimming. So that’s why they start with the swimming, when they are least tired.
I see. Sounds easy. Why did you say it was tiring?
Because of the distances. They swim 1,500 metres, cycle 40 kilometres, then run 10 kilometres.
I’ve changed my mind. It sounds horrible. Why on earth do people do it?
It’s a test of endurance. And lots of people absolutely love doing triathlons.
Oh well. At least you can have a rest after each of the stages. Do they have showers?
No! And they don’t rest. They go from one event onto the next as quickly as possible. Some contestants even leave their shoes already on their bike pedals. This means that when they finish the swimming, they can start the cycling really quickly.
So what’s the secret of completing the triathlon quickly then?
As well as being incredibly fit, you need to save energy during the race. So, when you’re swimming, use the arms more and the legs less.
That sounds like a strange way to swim!
Maybe, but it can make the legs less tired. And of course you need all the strength in your legs for the cycling and running later.
I see. So it’s all about planning for the next stage then?
That’s right. In the cycling, contestants often use a lower gear so that their legs are moving faster. This keeps them flexible for the running stage.