The History of Triathlon - Part III: Off and Running

<strong>Triathletes ride past the Sydney Opera House at the 2000 Olympic Games.</strong><br /><br />  AP Photo/David Guttenfelder

Haven't read Part I and Part II yet? Click on the links to catch up.

At meetings following that historic 1989 meeting in Avignon, it became clear to everyone involved in the newly created International Triathlon Union (ITU) that association with the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne et Biathlon (UIPMB) was not going to work.

Despite all of the problems surrounding the organizational structure of the sport of triathlon, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan Antonio Samaranch continued to support triathlon becoming part of the Olympic family. IOC member Gunnar Ericksson invited ITU President Les McDonald to travel to the IOC Congress meeting in 1991, one year prior to the Barcelona Olympic Games.

Ericksson wanted McDonald to begin the lobbying process with the IOC members to lay the groundwork for triathlon to become a new sport on the Olympic program with a unique international federation. This was a more difficult process than "riding on the coat-tail" of another sport.

Les accepted the task again. How could he turn down Ericksson and the IOC president?

IOC members spoke to Les and told him that spectator-friendliness and television viewership is what gets a sport into the Olympic Games. Certainly, public popularity of the sport plays a big role as well. While many within the sport were enamored with the Ironman, IOC members made it clear that for inclusion into the Olympic Games, the sport must be no longer than two hours.

At the time of the 1991 IOC Session there were 110 countries represented in the IOC and McDonald needed a minimum of 75 countries with support from a National Olympic Committee to be affiliated with the ITU. He was also told that he needed the approval of the international federations of track and field (IAAF), cycling (UCI) and swimming (FINA).

During the IOC session Les did the groundwork and obtained permission from IAAF, UCI and FINA so that triathlon could become an independent federation.

After three years of lobbying, on April 22 of 1991, the IOC announced that the ITU would be officially recognized as an International Federation. This did not mean, however, that triathlon would automatically be included in the Olympic program.

At the time triathlon received recognition, there were 15 International Federations worldwide that were recognition and yet had still not achieved inclusion as a sport on the Olympic program.

It wouldn't be until the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games that triathlon would actually debut on the Olympic program. In fact, the women's race was the opening event for the 2000 Games. Triathlon would become a media favorite.

Barb Lindquist, Susan Williams and Sheila-Taormina (l-r) have fun during practice before the
2004 Olympic triathlon in Athens.
- Photo: Gale Bernhardt

The Story of One Man's Dedication

There are so many more stories to be told and many names that were a part of ITU history that were not included in this column due to space limitations. From that first phone call from Juan Antonio Samaranch to the 21st ITU Congress held in Madrid, Spain, in 2008, Les McDonald certainly symbolized the legacy of many that worked to get triathlon into the Olympic Games.

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