Triathlon then and Triathlon now! #TriathlonHistory

January 12, 2017

I was chatting to one of the other admins on the website and we thought it would be interesting to do a bit of a comparison to the beginning days of triathlon to current day.

I started doing longer bikes & racing in the mid-late seventies and transitioned from this to do my first triathlon in 1982 (the Tanners Hatch inaugural triathlon); there was zero standardisation over the distances and as far as I can remember the event an 800m pool swim, 32 mile bike and 16 mile run. I incredibly came second in my age-group and foolishly thought that this was the sport for me that I could excel at (how wrong I was). My last triathlon in this period was in 1990 at the Triathlon Internationale de Nice.

Time trial racing in about 1979 or so – Ah where did the hair go!

So let’s look at a few comparisons:


Coming out of water at Welsh Championships

Not an awful lot different but the wetsuit technology has advanced a lot so that you can now comfortably swim with full arms


Big differences here.

No carbon fibre frames until the 1990’s – steel was the material of choice. In the early days triathlons were raced on standard road bikes – a special thanks to Nick Holmes for the image below:

Below would have been one of the last triathlons I did on low profile time trial bars (steel frame obv.):

From 1988-1990 I was riding the same bike but with Scott triathlon bars:

Special thanks to for borrow of image – my bars ended up in skip grrr

The bars worked really well getting you into the ‘ski’ position – only problem was that they were a bit bouncy. Really we can thank Greg Lemond for really bringing triathlon bars into mainstream:

Special thanks to Cycling Weekly for image


Again not a lot of difference, the basic moving 2 legs in front of each other hasn’t changed over the years. One big change is the requirement to wear more clothes. See the image below of Ricky Morris finishing in his budgie-smugglers:

Ricky Morris back in the day – Image from ‘Triathlon – The Skills of the Game’ by Steve Trew

This would now be a contravention of ITU Rule 2.8(V): “The athlete must cover the torso during the entire race”

I never had the nerve (or body) to race this way and opted for a tri-suit for the shorter events & shorts/top for the longer ones. The draw-back of the tri-suit was that they didn’t have the modern, breathable materials that we have now and you tended to get a bit hot in them!


The explosion of triathlon has seen an incredible diary throughout the year of events across the world. Just taking the official IronMan events as an example; when I did Roth in 1990 it was the only European qualifier for Kona (Hawaii) – Roth alternated between half and full and the one I did was the half (the term 70.3 wasn’t invented at that stage). The only other worldwide Kona qualifiers were:

• Penticton, Canada (Now a Challenge Event)
• New Zealand
• Australia

At this point, there were a lot faster than me and I had no hope of my time qualifying for Kona and decided to go for the next best thing which was the Nice Triathlon.

Let’s compare to current day and there are nearly 300 official Ironman events not including all the full Iron distance events provided by the Challenge group and others.

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Mark web admin

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2 discusions on this article

  • Steve Hayes
    5 years ago / Reply

    Hey Mark, whatever happened to Ricky Morris? I used to race with him at Aber Uni, Steve H

    • Admin
      5 years ago / Reply

      Hi Steve

      Not a clue, what’s amazing there are still names still going today like Steve Tree & Robin brew