A swimming club in Marseilles, France, held a 3-sport event in 1921, that consisted of a bike leg of about seven kilometers, a 5-kilometre run, and a 200-metre swim. It was called the Course Des Trois Sports (Race of 3 Sports).

The club only ever held this one event and it was more than fifty years before the modern triathlon was created. It grew out of a run-swim biathlon staged in San Diego by David Pain in 1972 to celebrate his Fiftieth birthday.

The birthday biathlon was repeated in 1973. 1 of the competitors, Jack Johnstone, enjoyed it so much that he decided to stage his own event, and he enlisted the help of a friend, Don Shanahan.

Shanahan suggested that a bike leg be added. They got the support of the San Diego Track Club, which announced a “Run, Cycle, Swim Triathlon” to be held on Sept. 25, 1974.

The event was so successful that Shanahan and Johnstone decided to hold 3 more of them in 1975. In the meantime, the Coronado, CA, Optimists Club also sponsored a triathlon. It was the Ironman, though, that really caught the public eye and led to a major explosion of the new sport.

John Collins, an American Naval officer who competed in that 1st triathlon, took the idea to Hawaii, where he combined 3 major endurance races, the 3.8-kilometre Waikiki Rough Water Swim, the 180-kilometre Around-Oahu Bike Race and the 42.195-kilometre Honolulu Marathon, into a single race to be known as the Ironman Triathlon.
Only twelve men finished the 1st Ironman, held in January of 1978. In 1979, there were fourteen finishers, including 1 woman.

The 2nd race inspired a major article that ran in Sports Illustrated in May of 1979. As a result, one-hundred and eight participants entered for the 1980 triathlon, and so did ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

By 1982, Triathlon had became so popular that 2 organizations were founded to govern and oversee the sport in the USA. both organizations soon amalgamated to form a single national governing body, the United States Triathlon Association now called USA Triathlon. Triathlon Magazine was also first published 1982

The ITU or International Triathlon Union was founded at Avignon, France, in April of 1989 and the 1st world championship was held in August, also at Avignon. Triathlon was included in the Goodwill Games in 1994, to the Pan-American Games program in 1995, and to the Olympic Games in 2000. Simon Whitfield of Kingston, Ontario took out the 1st Olympic gold medal for triathlon in Sydney.

There were originally twenty five nations in the International Triathlon Union. That number has now grown to more than 140.

The distances used in the 1st world championship race, a 1.5-kilometre swim, 40-kilometre bike ride, and 10-kilometre run, have became the standard for major triathlon events ever since. Recognized distance now include, the try-a-tri, sprint, Olympic, long course, half-Ironman, and Ironman. The Ironman is the ultimate in Triathlon and most tri-athletes aspire to complete one the distances are 3.8 km (2.4 miles) for the swim, 180km (112 miles) for the bicycle leg, and a full marathon of 42.2 km (26 miles, 385 yards), for its running leg.

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