How to watch the Olympic Men's Triathlon – a beginner’s guide
As the brothers Brownlee chase GB’s first ever Triathlon medals, Matthew Baird tells you all you need to know about the gruelling event, from drafting to ducking to domestiques...
If Jess Ennis’s stunning showing in the Heptathlon has got you hooked on multi-discipline sports then be sure to tune in to Tuesday’s men’s triathlon race in Hyde Park. Not only is it the UK’s fastest growing sport but – in Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee – the British team has two tri poster boys who are heavy favourites to add to Team GB’s medal haul.
With another 53 athletes on the Hyde Park starting pontoon, however, the Yorkshire siblings (and teammate Stuart Hayes) will be marked men, with team tactics, domestiques and drafting, and pure endurance all coming into play during the 1.5km swim, 43km bike and 10km run race.
(Image copyright Janos Schmidt)
An introduction to Triathlon
Triathlon is a relatively new sport with its modern incarnation said to have begun in San Diego, California, in the 1970s. Ironman Hawaii, the iconic long-distance triathlon (3.8km swim/180km bike/42.2km run), was first hosted in 1978, reportedly after a dispute between swimmers, bikers and runners about who was the fittest.
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Superstars like Dave Scott, Mark Allen and Britain’s Simon Lessing have since lit up the sport, with Julie Moss’s famous crawl to the finish line at Hawaii in 1982 entering sporting folklore. Triathlon has been hosted at the Olympics since 2000, with the champion from that year, Simon Whitfield, on the Hyde Park start line for his fourth Games. Active triathletes in the UK now number over 100,000.
Despite Helen Jenkins’ best efforts on Saturday (Bridgend’s reigning International Triathlon Union World Champion finished fifth), Team GB has yet to secure a triathlon medal at any Olympic Games. But, with Alistair the 2009 and 2011 ITU World Champion and his younger brother Jonny a double World Sprint Champ, that looks set to change come 11:30am on Tuesday.
As 90 per cent of it is unticketed, Hyde Park is one of the Olympics Games’ best events for those without tickets with spectators able to watch the athletes swim in the Serpentine, ride along the Mall and run through Hyde Park.
- The Swim
The swim leg will be a single 1,500m lap of Hyde Park’s Serpentine lake. Saturday’s women's race was a wetsuit swim as the water was cooler than 20°C, making it hard for spectators and TV viewers to identify the athletes as their national colours were covered up (what’s more, the athletes all wear the same colour swim hat to reduce the chances of athlete sabotage).
The top triathletes have very little difference between them in terms of swim speed over 1,500m (men around 18mins), so it’s often more savvy to remain towards the front of the lead group. Pulling, punching and ducking are not unheard of so having a strong swimmer on your team – assigned to safeguard you during the swim to limit knocks and to ensure you remain within contention in the lead group – is a big advantage. With this in mind, the British team has employed a domestique in Stuart Hayes to offer protection to the Brownlees on the swim and bike.
Look out for Slovakia’s Richard Varga and the Russian athletes, Alexander Bryukhankov and Dmitry Polyanskiy, likely to be vying with the Brownlees as they exit the water to T1 (the transition from swim to bike).
(Image copyright Dave Tyrrell)
- The Bike
After leaving T1, sans goggles and with a road bike in hand, the athletes are faced with a seven-lap bike course totalling 43km. The profile is flat but technical with over 100 turns and, if the carnage of the women’s race is anything to go by, a number of slippery patches.
You should hear the word “drafting” plenty here, as the Olympic and ITU races are draft-legal, unlike Ironman, whereby athletes are allowed to save energy and reduce drag by riding in the slipstream of the competitor in front of them.
The Brits will look to implement a high pace on the bike leg to shake off the strong runners. But – given that this is the Olympic triathlon and the pre-race favourites rarely win – expect to witness a number of breakaways, possibly from the Russians, with Hayes once again looking to chase down any attacks to ensure the Brownlees enter T2 (bike to run changing area) feeling as fresh as possible for the 10km run. Look for the athletes to complete the 43km in around one hour.
(Image copyright Dave Tyrrell)
- The Run
The Hyde Park run will feature four laps of a 2.5km course and follows a counter-clockwise loop around the Serpentine. Expect to see some sub-30min splits from the Brownlees and arguably their main threat, Spain’s Javier Gomez, with the brothers likely to start aggressively to separate themselves from any main pack.
The women’s event concluded with a four-way sprint for first with an unprecedented photo finish, something the Brownlees will want to distance themselves from if sprinters Gomez and the 2008 Olympic Champion Jan Frodeno are in the mix (Switzerland’s Sven Riederer is another to watch out for). The only photo finish the Brownlees will demand tomorrow will be the one between themselves for first place. And then triathlon’s status as the UK’s fastest growing sport will be set for years to come.
(Image copyright International Triathlon Union)
A term attributed to athlete meltdown, a bonk is when you’ve hit a brick wall and can’t go any further. It’s usually caused by a depletion of glycogen in the muscles, with famous examples including the aforementioned Julie Moss and Alistair Brownlee at Hyde Park in 2010.
Refers to negative forces that oppose the motion of an object. Aerobars and wheels are just some objects that triathletes use to minimise drag.
An athlete chosen to assist their team leaders throughout the race by chasing down breakaways and controlling the bike pace, thus sacrificing their own race. Simon Whitfield scored Beijing silver using this tactic, with the British team employing Stuart Hayes as a domestique at Hyde Park.
The International Triathlon Union organises the World Triathlon Series at Olympic-distance level.
The time it takes to complete one of the race disciplines. For example, Alistair Brownlee won at Hyde Park in 2011 with an 18min swim, 1:01:02 bike and 29:50 run.
T1 and T2
Transition 1 (T1) is the changing area between the swim and the bike course sections. Transition 2 (T2) is the bike-to-run area. Penalties can be incurred by athletes for not placing equipment in the right box to dismounting from your bike too late.