Zarautz Triathlon starts

Start of Zarautz Triathlon (photo: Iñigo Mujika).

Since the “invention” of triathlon in the second half of the 1970’s to our days, the growth, internationalization and popular interest for the sport have markedly increased. Researchers in the Sports Sciences have not been spared from the “triathlon fever”, and have tried to contribute to the advancement of the sport through studies allowing a better understanding of its physiological and biomechanical demands, as well as its medical implications or the most appropriate training methods. An analysis of the number of scientific publications on triathlon since 1984 (year of the first publication) until today indicates the implication of Sports Sciences with the sport; indeed, about 30 investigations on triathlon per year are published nowadays.

Long distance triathlon originated in the U.S.A., and the sport was dominated by triathletes of this nationality until the early 1990’s. It is interesting to note that up until 1990, the majority of scientific publications on triathlon originated in th U.S.A., but since then there has been a progressive shift in the origin of triathlon studies, which now come mostly from Europe and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand). This shift has had a reflection in the competition results, as European and Oceania triathletes have dominated long distance triathlon these past two decades, to the detriment of American triathletes.

Regarding the issues sport scientists have dealt with, it can be observed that the initial interest for descriptive studies on the demands of competition (physiological factors associated with the swim with or without a wetsuit, drafting during the swim, the transition from the swim to the bike leg, the transition from the bike to the run, the efficiency during the run) and the triathletes’ adpative responses (by means of biochemoical and hematological parameters) has progressively diminished, in favor of the analysis of the validity of sport specific evaluation protocols and the management of race pace in the three segments of a triathlon. Important long distance triathlon performance determining issues, such as biochemical alterations induced by fatigue, training methods or nutritional strategies during the competition have not received sufficient attention from researchers, whereas medical issues regarding cardiac function, incidence of injury or problems associated with thermorregulation are themes of recurring interest.

It is important to evaluate the practical relevance of these studies and the transmision of knowledge from researchers to coaches and athletes, because applied research should elicit an improvement of training and competition methods and techniques. What is the relationship between Sports Sciences researchers, coaches and triathletes? Do sport scientists contribute in a decissive manner to the improvement of the athletes’ results through the study and development of evaluation methods, training methods and systems, technological development or injury prevention? There are indices that allow us to state that coaches and athletes are indeed enjoying the benefits of these studies, firstly because many of the researchers are or have been triathletes or coaches too, which facilitates communication with their peers. Secondly, many of the available studies have been carried out with very high level athletes, clearing any posible doubt about their practical implications. Finally, tha fact that triathlon is a rather young sport, free of long standing traditions and involving many components makes field work much more flexible and open to new suggestions, strategies for improvement and technical and technological contributions.


Millet GP, Bentley DJ, Vleck VE. The relationships between science and sport: application in triathlon. Int. J. Sports Physiol. Perform. 2 (3): 315-322, 2007.

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