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Triathlon: The rising popularity of triathlon

Already riding a wave of popularity, triathlon has been given a further boost by GB’s medal success in Rio, with a gold, silver and bronze at the Olympics and a gold, two silvers and a bronze at the Paralympics. Kath Hudson looks at what’s next for the sport that was only added to the Olympics in 2012

by Kath Hudson | Published in Sports Management Sep Oct 2017 issue 133
GO TRI has introduced 10,000 people to triathlon, 47 per cent of whom are women
GO TRI has introduced 10,000 people to triathlon, 47 per cent of whom are women

With podium-dominating performances on the world stage, the Brownlee brothers have done a great deal to elevate the sport of triathlon in the UK, and it’s now going from strength to strength. As someone who discovered it in their mid-40s, I can confirm it is highly addictive and gives a massive buzz. Tri-specific shops, camps and training locations are springing up around the country and there are now some 1,200 annual events in the UK. Last year saw a record number of race starts – 220,000 – and spend was up by 15 per cent to £417.5m.

An affluent sport
Unlike male-dominated cycling, triathlon is also appealing to women. British Triathlon’s entry level super-sprint events, GO TRI, have introduced 10,000 people to the sport, 47 per cent of whom are women. The overall national average is 70 per cent male, 30 per cent female. The governing body is looking to build female participation by hosting training days and running Getting Women into Triathlon workshops. Encouragingly, the highest participation growth area is among women over 55. On top of this, 30 per cent of qualified coaches are female, compared to 17 per cent of the national average.

Research by the Triathlon Industry Association shows that the sport currently appeals to an affluent demographic: the average age is 42, with a salary of £48,900, and they’re happy to spend on the sport. Men spend mainly on hardware, coaching, fitness tech and overseas race travel, while women spend on gym memberships, training camps and overseas racing.

overcoming challenges
Clearly, there’s scope for operators to get involved by offering personal training, as well as technique workshops for swimming, cycling and running, or as an event organiser.
However, the sport does have a few barriers to entry. It can be seen as expensive, intimidating and elitist. Also suitable event locations, which can accommodate interesting and safe courses for all three sports, can be difficult to find. The XMAN events on Dartmoor had to be cancelled because of licensing issues this year and Xterra, the world’s only off-road triathlon series, which was set to return to the UK this year, was also cancelled.

Another challenge is to entice more millennials. Jack Buckner, the chief executive of British Triathlon, says the plan is to build on the momentum of Rio to bring more people into the sport by raising awareness of the participation pathways, like GO TRI, and the work the Triathlon Trust is doing to create more children’s triathlons. Charity, INTOTRI, is now the UK’s largest triathlon operator and is intent on doing more to grow the sport.

RIO MEDAL WINNERS

It was a one-two for the Brownlees in the men’s event, with Alistair retaining his title and Jonny doing one better than London with a silver. In the women’s event, Vicky Holland had a sprint finish with her best friend, Non Stanford, to scoop bronze in the women’s event.

In the Paralympics, Andy Lewis took gold in the PT2 men’s triathlon, Lauren Steadman won silver in the PT4 and in the PT5 class Alison Patrick and guide Hazel Smith took silver with Melissa Reid and guide Nicole Walters winning the bronze.

Vicky Holland and Andy Lewis / © Barry Coombs & Mauro Pimentel/PA Images
Vicky Holland and Andy Lewis/ © Barry Coombs & Mauro Pimentel/PA Images
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