Things That Changed The Sport

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By: Scott Tinley, Excerpt from Triathlon: A Personal History (1998)

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1. Wave Starts: This was Jim Curl’s idea. He needed to allow more people into his races, but couldn’t imagine sending 2000 athletes running into the water at once. He actually got the idea from the Bolder Boulder 10km.

2. Aero Handlebars: There is some discussion on who came up with the idea first. Bike manufacturer Richard Bryne designed a pair for one of his friends competing in the Race Across America at least a year or two before Boone Lennon took the idea to Scott USA and licensed the concept. Lennon says he came up with the idea while noting the position of downhill ski racers. Whatever the situation, Scott brought them to market and changed the way triathletes and cyclists rode forever. It also put the rider in a position to help employ certain muscles that were more developed in runners, thereby helping that group.

3. Wetsuits: O’Neill Wetsuits of Santa Cruz, California is the oldest wetsuit company in the world. In 1982, they gave me several prototype “swimming” wetsuits targeted at the emerging triathlon market. Basically they were 2mm vests with a hood attached and didn’t help much at all. The idea of providing flotation at the same time just didn’t click yet. In late 1983, Australian triathlete Marc Dragan and a few of his friends had some 2mm “farmer john” style suits with 3mm leg panels and high cut legs that really seemed to help. Dragan noticed that his swim times were substantially better and had a custom suit built that was a bit thicker but was made of more flexible neoprene. He wore that all year in 1984 even if the water was hot. He also told very few people of his find. Just about a year later, Dan Empfield redesigned the suits available to the point where they really helped a poor swimmer feel more comfortable in the water. His Quintana Roo (a state in Mexico where Empfield used to vacation) wetsuit has been the most widely used suit for nearly a decade. What the swimming wetsuit did was allow competitors to race in less than ideal conditions. Before the advent of wetsuits, hypothermia was a real concern. Triathlons were scary enough for a lot of people without freezing your ass off.

4. Television coverage of triathlon: Starting with ABC’s Wide World of Sports coverage in 1980, TV brought the sport into the homes of millions who wouldn’t otherwise know unless they happened to take a walk down to the beach on a Sunday morning.

5. Triathlon in the Olympics: As of this writing, the first Olympic triathlon is still two years away, but it has already had a big effect on the sport. National Olympic Committees around the world have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the coffers of their sports’ governing bodies to try and develop talent that will eventually bring home medals. There has been a price, though. Drafting on the bike, a concept born out of the need to avoid controversy at the Olympics, is now fully legal at the International Triathlon Union’s World Cup events. There are more rules, more standardization, and more bureaucracy. In truth, the jury is still out on whether an Olympic triathlon has been worth the price.

For more information on Triathlon: A Personal History By Scott Tinley, please click here.

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