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Triathlon and Beyond: New Trends in Multisport

27 May, 2014

By: Brian D'Amico,Jessica Luscinski

The triathlon has been making a steady climb in popularity, with an increasing number of diverse events being offered to meet the demand. Last year, for example, SDM covered the new events and programs being offered for youth by the national governing body (NGB), USA Triathlon. The growth of multisport events, however, continues on all levels. In 2013, triathlon was announced as an NCAA Emerging Sport for Women. In addition, the Mixed Team Relay (MTR) format of triathlon has been gaining popularity. Finally, the duathlon, or two-sport, event (generally a run-bike-run format) has become popular as well. USA Triathlon provides insights into these trends.

Triathlon as an NCAA Sport: The History

The process of instituting triathlon as an NCAA Emerging Sport for Women started in 2009 by Brad Hecker, director of women’s basketball operations with the ACC, and Jeff Dyrek, former USA Triathlon national events director. In April 2013, after several years of research, proposal writing and recruiting interest for women’s triathlon, the Committee on Women’s Athletics completed the process of evaluating triathlon’s proposal and it was voted to recommend that Division I, II and III all sponsor legislation to add triathlon as an Emerging Sport for Women. On January 16 (Division I) and January 18 (Division II and III), women’s triathlon was unanimously voted as the next Emerging Sport for Women by the NCAA.

Demographics in Multisport

The positive growth of women’s participation in the sport of triathlon has been a driving factor. USA Triathlon has reported that female membership has increased 25.6 percent since the early 90s, from 11 percent of the total membership in the early 90s to 36.6 percent at the end of 2012.

The legitimacy in which NCAA status brings to a sport was also an important factor for triathlon to be named as an emerging sport. It was widely agreed upon amongst members of the sport that the institution of triathlon at the NCAA level would create new opportunities in the existing development pipeline that feeds into USA Triathlon’s high performance programs and Olympic performances.

Multisport at the College Level

USA Triathlon is waiting for the sport to take off, but clearly, we’re currently in the early stages of this process. To date, no collegiate institutions have submitted a sport entry form indicating the addition of an NCAA women’s triathlon program to their institutions sponsorship list for the 2014 competition season. However, through the Emerging Sports program, triathlon has a 10-year window for 40 schools to add programs and make triathlon an official championship sport with the NCAA, and the NGB plans to develop educational materials and programming to assist with the process.

A Strong Club Sport

There has been a well-established collegiate club triathlon network, which will still remain in existence even with the addition of NCAA women’s triathlon. We are still defining how collegiate clubs will function alongside NCAA programs, but we think the participation at the club level will translate into success within the NCAA within the next 10 years. In 2013, 85 collegiate club programs with women’s teams participated in the Collegiate National Championships, totaling 404 female athletes, and comprising 40.5 percent of the total athlete field. At the Collegiate National Championships in 2014, female athlete participation increased to approximately 450 athletes. We are currently working on informative materials to present women’s triathlon to athletic directors and senior women administrators, while educating athletes and coaches on exactly what triathlon as an Emerging Sport for Women means.

On April 4, 2014, USA Triathlon presented its first NCAA Summit in conjunction with the 2014 Collegiate National Championships in Tempe, Ariz., which saw a combined in-person and call-in attendance of approximately 90 coaches, athletes and athletic administrators. The presentation encompassed a variety of topics, from explaining the establishment of the Collegiate Triathlon Coaches Association, to USA Triathlon’s potential involvement in NCAA programming, to case-study presentations from individuals who have already begun communications with their respective athletic departments to present triathlon as a potential sponsored sport for their institution.

One important next step for the success of triathlon at the NCAA level is the recruitment of collegiate institutions. That process will involve the Collegiate Triathlon Coaches Association, USA Triathlon, potential collegiate coaches and female athletes promoting and presenting triathlon as a cost-effective, unparalleled opportunity.

Mixed Team Relay Triathlon Format: The New Trend

The International Triathlon Union (ITU) introduced the mixed team relay format in 2009 and since then, it has steadily increased in popularity. It’s different from a traditional triathlon because athletes compete on teams of four with two men and two women, and the distances are short and fast. It’s an extremely exciting, team-first approach to multisport.

The Appeal of the MTR Format

One of the main reasons for launching this series was to capture social energy and offer a new race option for athletes. This exposes athletes to the unique and dynamic format of a mixed team relay! The series fosters teamwork and camaraderie among both males and females in a super sprint mixed team relay format. It is unique in the way that each race within the series is perfect for youth and adults, first-timers, community groups, corporations and companies, seasoned veterans, and those looking to stay active. Atmosphere is also a huge component. Spectators at each event will be given a kazoo to cheer on the athletes and it’s going to be fun and energetic.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive thus far. There is a certain appeal with a new series such as this that really gets athletes excited. The unique format takes a traditionally individualized sport and makes it a team sport by combining both males and females. Some events within the series are coupling it with existing events while some are treating it as a stand-alone event.

Starting in 2014 and Moving Beyond

2014 marks the first year of the Mixed Team Relay Super Sprint Series, and we’ve planned for five events to be held across the country. Event locations include: Richmond, Virginia; Geneva, Illinois; Pittsburg, Kansas; North Miami, Florida; and Pflugerville, Texas. Marketing is well underway for each of these events. USA Triathlon now has a special section on its website dedicated to MTR. We anticipate expanding the amount of events in 2015, but first we will see what type of response we receive from race directors and athletes.

Duathlon Events: A 100 percent Increase

USA Triathlon’s records date back to 2004, where there were 277 USA Triathlon-sanctioned duathlons. Since then we have seen nearly a 100 percent increase with 550 USA Triathlon-sanctioned duathlons in 2013. We expect that number to continue on its upward trend in the future.

Duathlon is gaining in popularity because it eliminates the swim portion of racing. A duathlon is a run-bike-run event, and for athletes who are not strong swimmers or have shoulder or arms ailments, this suits their desire to still compete in a multisport style of racing. Of all our members, approximately 15 percent participate in short duathlon (approximately a 5K run, 30K bike, 5K run), while four percent participate in long duathlon (around 10K run, 70K bike, 10K run). Duathlon is still a discipline we would like to see grow and feel as though it will grow in the next five years.

We anticipate the number of USA Triathlon-sanctioned duathlons to continue to rise as more athletes are being introduced to this discipline. In order to increase awareness, USA Triathlon created the Duathlon Race Series, which is in its second year.  This series features events in each of the 10 USA Triathlon Regions, plus our Duathlon National Championships, scheduled for July 19, 2014 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

At USA Triathlon, we’re definitely seeing growth. Many triathlon clubs and multisport organizations around the country have only offered triathlon coaching, training and events in the past and are now looking to diversify their offerings by putting duathlon into the mix. It will help them tap into an athlete market they may not otherwise have been able to reach.

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