Triathlon and all its associated formats, is a unique opportunity for athletes to race for their own country. Other sports have their “senior”, or “masters” categories but right from the very start of our sport, way back in 1989 when some determined sportsmen sat down in Almere and decided to create the European Triathlon Union, participation was not just for the “elite”. We have again and again reflected on how this exciting sport grew so much stronger in Great Britain and perhaps now it is good time to re-visit that humble beginning.
An enthusiastic school teacher called Ian Pettitt decided that he liked the idea of wearing Lycra and managed to convince some knobble-kneed runners in his hometown to join him in his swim, bike and run ventures. Deal Tri was formed. Soon after that, Ian began working for what was to become British Triathlon.
A massive boost came when Simon Lessing was invited by Ian to race the first White Cliffs Triathlon. The 1990 race had a harbour swim that was led by swimming ace, Lyndon Dunsbee, who had held world records for several long-distance events, including the crossing from France to England in 1984. Behind him was a tall and very polite lad, who went on to lead the quite challenging bike and run course to make it an easy victory.
The press got hold of the story, Simon Lessing went on to win World and European titles and pretty much put triathlon on the map.
While the Elite sport was growing, alongside the participation of Age-Group athletes was taking off pretty impressively too. With World Championship events offering exciting travel opportunities, the Brits leapt at the chance to combine a holiday with a race. Mum and Dad racing, the children naturally followed on and soon we saw triathlon families committing to hours of training, hours of travelling and international racing.
With the chance for recognition in their local communities and for some, sponsorship deals that ranged from a car to a supply of energy gels, the movement grew. Getting selected in Great Britain was not easy. Athletes had to qualify and the races where you could qualify were selected on an annual basis to ensure that their quality was maintained. As race organisers saw a “Qualification Race” with 600 competitors on the results sheets, their question was, “How do I get a chance to host a ‘qualification race’?”
Standards rose, participation increased and the triathlon industry rubbed its hands with delight. Race uniform was made by Speedo back in the day and good kit it was. Casual Polo-shirts were printed up at a local supplier and, having been bought in bulk, were inexpensive. At events, these were frequently traded and so, the subtle branding of an “Age Group Triathlete” grew.
Age Group athletes from Great Britain were supported by a Team Manager (more or less a tour guide who knew all about triathlon and who had the necessary contacts to make the entire trip easier) and a massage / bike mechanic team. Big events saw the team travel with an assistant team manager and so Team GB grew into the massive army of athletes we see nowadays.
All the above applied initially only to World Championship events but the demand grew and grew and so for European Championships events too, a qualification process had to be introduced.
If you check out the results pages and see just how many Brits raced in 2018, you will not really be surprised. A grand end of year total of 2,126 participants signed up to race at the 12 Age-Group Championships events; Etna, Vejle, Tartu, Glasgow, Madrid, Ibiza (Sprint Duathlon, Standard Duathlon, Aquathlon, Aquabike, Middle Distance, Cross Duathlon & Cross Triathlon).
Their presence certainly beefed up each and every race but it was not just a question of them being plentiful in 2018. They were fast. They were faster and in many categories, they were the fastest.
The final medal table is at the bottom of this article. If you want to compare it with the end of season medal table for 2017, then click here.
Yes, once again it was Team GB that dominated.
If you want to play with statistics and maths, then no doubt you can try to correlate the numbers of Age Group athletes racing against how many medals were won. 2,126 is a huge number. Huge indeed, especially when compared to the next biggest team, which was from Spain. Only 526 Spanish athletes raced at the 12 events but came away with an impressive medal tally. Ireland has a rapidly growing triathlon community and we have seen their athletes all over Europe this year, bringing smiles and laughter to the events. 153 athletes from a small nation is a good result and not far behind Germany, with just 157. Italy made it into the top five with 119.
You need to be fast and strong to win medals but you also need to be there.
See you in Viborg, Weert, Transylvania, Kazan and Almere.