Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Competitors in the gruelling sport of triathlon are not only great swimmers, but great cyclists and runners too.

Tokyo 2020 competition animation "One Minute, One Sport"

We will show you the rules and highlights of triathlon in one minute. Whether you are familiar with triathlon or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.

One Minute, One Sport | Triathlon

"One Minute, One Sport" will show you the rules and highlights of Triathlon in one minute


Triathlon is an endurance sport that combines swimming, road cycling and distance running, performed in that order. Events are conducted over a variety of distances but the 'Olympic distance' for men and women is a 1,500-metre swim, 40km bike ride and 10km run.

The race is completed with no breaks from start to finish. There are no heats; both the men's and women's events consist of a single race. The first athlete to cross the finish line is the winner. Medallists in the men's event will complete the distance in about one hour 45 minutes, while top women will finish in just under two hours.

The sport developed in the United States during the 1970s and became part of the Olympic programme at the Sydney 2000 Games, when more than half a million spectators lined the city streets to cheer the athletes.

An exciting development for Tokyo 2020 is the inclusion of a new mixed relay, with teams of two men and two women competing over a short-course triathlon (300m swim, 6.8km bike, 2km run) before tagging a teammate to set off. Taking around one hour 30 minutes to complete, athletes enjoy the rapid and unpredictable format, while crowds will relish the fast-moving action and frequent overtaking.

Event Programme

  • Individual competition (Men/Women)
  • Mixed Relay

Map of the Olympic Triathlon Individual (Men/Women)

Map of the Olympic Triathlon Mixed Relay

Essence of the Sport

Transitioning for glory

As well as a high level of skill in all three segments, triathlon also demands experience and strategy. All competitors have particular strengths, so there is a need for careful pacing throughout.

The phases between the swimming and cycling segments, and between the cycling and running segments, are critical. Known as 'transitions', competitors enter a 'transition area' where they change clothes and shoes in preparation for the next segment, with the time taken added to each athlete's overall time. Crucial seconds can be gained or lost in transition, so athletes do anything they can to save time including having their cycling shoes already attached to their bike's pedals.

However, there are clear rules about what is permitted and penalties can be incurred, for example, for cycling in the transition zone. A line at the exit from the transition area at the beginning of the bike course marks the point at which athletes can mount their bicycles and proceed. There is also a dismount line at the end of the bike course, at the entrance to the transition area.

The technique of 'drafting' is also a key aspect of the sport. In the cycling segment, athletes follow closely behind one another, taking advantage of the reduced wind resistance created by the rider ahead of them while waiting for a chance to pull ahead.

Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
2016 Getty Images

Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games

Record achievements in a young sport

Triathlon has been part of the Games on only five occasions. Nevertheless, this level of global attention has greatly enhanced the sport's profile and encouraged a rapid growth in participation.

Places in both men's and women's events are allocated to countries on the basis of results in competitions designated by the International Triathlon Union. Athletes are awarded points that are assigned to their country, which are then allocated three spots, two spots or one.

The 30 Olympic medals awarded so far have been split between 13 countries, emphasising the sport's worldwide strength. The men's gold medal has been won twice by Great Britain's Alistair Brownlee, at London 2012 and Rio 2016. Accompanying him on the podium on both occasions was his brother Jonathan. A bronze medallist in London, the younger of the Brownlee siblings picked up silver in Rio to complete a famous family one-two.

In the women's event, Switzerland has taken the gold twice. Nicola Spirig Hug is the only female triathlete to have won two Olympic medals, taking gold in a tight race at London 2012 then silver at Rio 2016, where she finished behind the USA's Gwen Jorgensen.

Will the Tokyo 2020 Games see new stars emerge in this most compelling and challenging of sports?