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Australian Triathletes: Why Are They So Good?

Written in 1995 and not much has changed! April 25, 1995

Greg Welch wins the Ironman. Brad Beven wins a third consecutive World Cup Series. Unknown Emma Carney wins the World Championships, succeeding previous World Champion Michellie Jones. There is a pattern forming here which may be very hard to break. Australia, with a population of just over 12 million people, is dominating the sport of triathlon.

To investigate this phenomenon in more depth, I went under cover “Down Under” for three months to compete in the revolutionary Triathlon Grand Prix Series. The series consisted of five races at different sites throughout Australia. The formats of the races were spectator friendly, fast paced, short in time length and SPONSOR friendly. For instance, three of the races were called the Enduro format that involved a 500-meter swim, 14-kilometer bike and 5 kilometer run. The kicker was we did these distances twice through in one race non-stop. Another race was the Eliminator. An all-indoor event which included a temporary swimming pool, built in the middle of a Velodrome. 25 participants were in the first race. The top 15 made it to the next race. The top ten survivors got a ten-minute break and raced. The remaining five got a ten-minute break and raced for top honors.

Brad Beven won four of the five races in the series and captured the title for the second year in a row. Greg Welch was again runner up. Yours truly finished tied for ninth. Yes, I was not as focused in my training to compete at my top level of fitness. After all, Superman Brad Beven is the only triathlete I know who wins consistently year round. All of us other humans need to take a breather sometime from the rigors of racing. On the other hand, I was still fit and in good shape. After all, I am one of the top US triathletes and I had to show these bushmen a thing or two about US strength. I tied for ninth in the series! What, this can’t be? Wait, I’m from the US! Who do these people think they are kicking my butt like this? With further analysis, I explored the foundations of triathlon in Australia and I have come to a few conclusions why and how they are dominating the world now and why they will be able to keep doing it in the future.

1. Popularity of Triathlon - Australia has one-twentieth the population of the US, yet they have just as many triathletes. I spent two of my three months in Melbourne. EVERY weekend a person can drive within an hour and a half and find two to three triathlons. These triathlons consistently have 150 - 500 participants. There are even races every second Wednesday where people get off work and compete from 6:00 to 7:30 in the evenings. An all women’s triathlon had 456 participants. The key to many of these races is the short distances. The Challenger Series are triathlons with distances of only a 300-meter swim, eight-kilometer bike and two kilometer run. This attracts many first time entrants as well as individuals who are unable to train much due to time constraints or they just don’t want to train a lot. The triathlons are social events that include exercise.

Attracting such a wide range of individuals into the sport creates national interest where people become interested in following the sport and its professionals. This interest allows for a series such as the Triathlon Grand Prix to receive national network television coverage for two hours on Sunday afternoons. Prime time Sunday afternoons can only be a dream for triathlons in the United States. Imagine triathlon taking the place of the NFL on a regular basis during Sunday afternoons.

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