In 1984, the Alberta Triathlon Association became the official, non-profit governing body for multi-sport events throughout Alberta, making its mandate to develop all aspects of triathlon, duathlon (run, bike, run), aquathlon (run, swim, run), winter triathlon (run, bike, ski), and other related multi-endurance sports in the province of Alberta.

History of Triathlon
developed and edited by Laura Underhill

The creation of triathlon came from an idea of a multisport event that consisted of running and swimming.  It was Jack Johnstone of the San Diego Track Club, who wanted to put together a run/swim event but with multiple segments.  He got the idea from Dave Pain’s Birthday Bash in 1972 that was celebrated with running and swimming.  Among the members of the San Diego Track Club, there was Don Shanahan who also wanted to put together an “advanced biathlon”.  He was a running enthusiast who would periodically get hurt and started to take up cycling.  Jack and Don soon spoke and organized the events intended for light-hearted breaks from the grueling training of marathons and 10Ks.  They would conceive and direct the Mission Bay Triathlon that was held on September 25 1974.  The event started out as a bike, then run/swim, run/swim and run/swim.  The triathlons slowly became popular for runners to compete in a race less traumatic on the legs and alleviated the boredom of running.  The sport gradually evolved to a swim/bike/run as it is the safest order of events.  

The sport slowly spread to all parts of the world in a number of varying distances.  The standard “Olympic Distance” of 1.5/40/10k was created by Jim Curl and his partner Carl Thomas in the mid-80’s and produced the U.S. Triathlon Series.  The International Triathlon Union (ITU) was founded in 1989 as the governing body of the sport, with its main goal to put triathlon in the Olympic program.  On September 4, 1994 the International Olympic Committee added triathlon to the program and made its debut in the Sydney Games in 2000.  Canadian Simon Whitfield brought home the first Olympic medal in triathlon.  

The idea for the original Ironman Triathlon came from Navy Commander John Collins, resulting from discussions on about who were the fittest athletes in the world; was it swimmers, runners or cyclists?  He decided the only way was to put together a race of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles.  “Whoever finishes first will be called the Ironman” Collins said.  So on February 18, 1978, 15 competitors competed in the first Ironman in Oahu, Hawaii.  In 1981 Valerie Silk (of Nautilus Fitness Centers of Honolulu and sponsor of the race) moved the race to Kona where it is known as the Ironman World Championships.  The World Triathlon Corporation hosts other triathlons around the world that are also called Ironmans.  To this day, Ironman is the single biggest influence that the sport of triathlon has on mainstream public.

It has been noted though that during the 1920’s-1930’s there was a race in France called “Les Trois Sports”.  In 1920 a French newspaper reported the event to be a 3 km run, 12 km bike and a crossing of the channel Marne.  There is also a 1934 article about an event in the city of La Rochelle that consisted of a 200 m channel crossing, 12 km bike ride around the harbor and the parc Laleu followed by a 1200 m run in the stadium Andre-Barbeau.  

Introduced to Alberta in 1982, the basis behind triathlon drew Albertans to the sport just like it had back when it was first created.  It was about living a healthy lifestyle by exercising and testing the body and mind.  The reasons for joining triathlons may vary from person to person, whether for competition, fitness or a social outlet.  The Alberta Triathlon Association was established in 1984 and became the official, non-profit governing body for multisport events throughout the province.