2008: An Olympic Year

<strong>Competitors climb a hill during the men's triathlon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.</strong><br><br><em>AP Photo/ Douglas C. Pizac</em>

For the third time in history, triathlon will be contested at the Summer Olympics. Becoming part of the Games' lineup was no easy task and required a significant amount of work. Also, once a sport is on the Olympic list, there is no guarantee of staying there.

Before heading specifically into details about our sport, Olympic triathlon, let's take a look at some history.

The Rise and Fall of the Ancient Olympics

The original games began in 776 B.C. in Greece with a single foot race, the stade race, which was the length of the stadium. Various distances of foot races were the earliest events. At the 18th games, wrestling and pentathlon (discus, jumping, javelin, running and wrestling) were included.

Over the next several centuries, 19 more sports were added to the program and the Games grew from one day to five. Looking at the list of sports added through 200 B.C., you will find boxing, horse and mule racing, chariot racing and even running races in armor—common sports of ancient Greek and Roman times.

The ancient Olympics had links to the worship of Greek and Roman gods. These games suffered a fatal blow with the rise of Christianity. In 392 A.D., Theodosius, emperor of ancient Rome, banned the worship of all Greek and Roman gods. Although it appears that Olympic Games were held between 392 and 551 A.D., recordkeeping deteriorated compared to earlier years.

The Creation of the Modern Olympics

While there were several others with varying degrees of involvement ahead of him, the modern Olympic movement is credited to French nobleman Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Interested in humanism, education and sport, he lectured on the importance of each in the shaping of a well-rounded citizen. He believed that athletic competition could become an important instrument for peace.

From the International Olympic Committee Olympic Charter:

Modern Olympism was conceived by Pierre de Coubertin, on whose initiative the International Athletic Congress of Paris was held in June 1894. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) constituted itself on 23 June 1894. The first Olympic Games (Games of the Olympiad) of modern times were celebrated in Athens, Greece, in 1896. In 1914, the Olympic flag presented by Pierre de Coubertin at the Paris Congress was adopted. It includes the five interlaced rings, which represent the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games. The first Olympic Winter Games were celebrated in Chamonix, France, in 1924.

Organization Basics

The IOC is the main organizing body of the Olympic Games, with headquarters at Château de Vidy in Lausanne, Switzerland. The current (and eighth) IOC president is Jacques Rogge. While you cannot visit its headquarters, you can visit the Olympic Museum located at Ouchy, Lausanne.

In order for a sport to participate in the Olympic Games, the sport must have an International Sports Federation (IF). The IF for triathlon is the International Triathlon Union (ITU), based in Vancouver, Canada. The ITU was established in April 1989, in Avigon, France. Credited with founding the ITU, Les McDonald remains the current ITU president. Current ITU executive director Loreen Barnett was also very involved in the early organization of the ITU.

Each nation that participates in the Games must have a National Olympic Committee (NOC). The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. There are also training facilities in Lake Placid, New York; Chula Vista, California; Marquette, Michigan; Birmingham, Alabama and Carson, California.

Within the USOC, each sport that participates in the Olympic Games has a National Governing Body (NGB). For triathlon, the NGB is USA Triathlon (USAT), also headquartered in Colorado Springs. Skip Gilbert is the current executive director.

USAT Brief History

The history of USAT runs somewhat parallel to the ITU. Two independent groups were formed in early 1982 to set up governance for the rapidly growing sport of triathlon. Just a few short months after each had formed, they met and decided to join forces as the US Triathlon Association (USTA).

The focus in 1983 was on securing a risk-management agreement, or rather insurance, for the increasing number of events. Attention was turned to sanctioning events nationwide. USTA had a name change to Triathlon Federation, known to members as "Tri-Fed".

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