Olympics 101: Triathlon
Triathlon is a three-sport discipline that tests the endurance of an athlete in swimming, cycling and running. The triathlete must swim 1.5 kilometers (nearly 1 mile), cycle 40 kilometers (25.8 miles) and run 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) in that order. There are no heats — there is one single race for women and one for men — and the winner of each race will have the fastest overall time.
The swimming portion of the triathlon is done in open water, such as a lake or ocean and thus, currents and waves can affect a triathlete's time. It is also the reason why no official Olympic triathlon records are kept — each host nation's venue varies in terrain and open water racing. After the triathlete completes one discipline of the competition, he changes his clothes in the transition area, where his time is included in the overall time of the race.
Unlike most triathlons, drafting — the practice of following another bicycle very closely — during the cycling portion of the race is allowed. There still can be penalties during the bicycle portion of the race such as not returning a bike in an upright position in the designated space or unbuckling a helmet's chin strap while still on the bike. All cyclists must be on their bike by the mount line, a designated point that ends the transition area and starts the bike course. This is the first Olympics in which a penalty box will be used. If a penalty occurs, the triathlete must sit out his time penalty in the penalty box (or transition area) until the Technical Official tells the triathlete "Go."
Why should I care?
The triathlon uses various muscles in the body during different disciplines — even the transition areas can cause a triathlete to become a little unsteady—so this race is a great barometer to measure a well-conditioned athlete. With the this sport's annual Iron Man Championship in Hawaii receiving global television coverage, the triathlon is evolving into the premier sport for determining the World's Greatest Athlete.
OK, so who should I watch?
Australia has become the country to beat — swimming is practically a national sport in that country and their athletes have adapted well to all three disciplines. The Aussie men and women won one gold and two bronze medals in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. Javier Gomez (Spain), Laurent Vidal (France), Kyle Jones (Canada), Simon Whitfield (Canada) and Alistair Brownlee (Great Britain) all look strong for the men. Andrea Hewitt (New Zealand) and Emma Moffatt (Australia) look like the women to beat.
What chance do the Americans have to win?
Americans Gwen Jorgensen and Sarah Groff have qualified so far but the team won't be announced until mid-May after the US qualifications in San Diego, Calif. There's a chance of a medal for the women but gold seems like a big reach.