USA Triathlon History

Triathlon in the United States has its roots set firmly in Southern California. The early races were held in San Diego’s Mission Bay. It was only natural that the initial interest for a national governing body came from the same area.

In 1982, two independent groups were formed, both with the purpose of providing government for the rapidly developing sport. On Feb. 16, 1982, James Gayton and John Disterdick founded the U.S. Triathlon Association. On March 15, 1982, Jarold Johnson, Michael Gilmore and Penny Little founded the American Triathlon Association. On April 9, 1982, the two organizations held a joint meeting in Sacramento, California. The two existing organizations merged under one unified national governing body called the U.S. Triathlon Association. By the end of 1982, USTA membership had reached approximately 1,500.

In 1983, an insurance and risk-management coverage agreement was signed and USTA turned much of its attention to sanctioning events nationwide. In August 1983, the name of the organization was changed to Triathlon Federation USA. The organization quickly picked up a colloquial name by members and athletes nationwide: Tri Fed.

In June 1985, the first National Board of Governors meeting was held in Springfield, Illinois, to chart the direction of the young sport and its younger national governing body. Clear goals and objectives were set forth in several areas: creating a uniform set of competitive rules, enforcing those rules, continuing to increase the number of sanctioned events, improving the federation's credibility as a voice for the sport, providing a clearinghouse for members’ questions on training and technical information, promoting event safety and sponsoring championships.

On Nov. 1, 1986, Federation representatives met with the U. S. Olympic Committee in Dallas. In this meeting the USOC explained the minor changes needed in the Tri Fed bylaws before the Federation’s application to the USOC could be accepted. At the end of 1986, membership had grown to 5,589 annual members.

In 1987, Tri Fed mandated that any athlete competing in a sanctioned event had to obtain an annual membership. Membership skyrocketed to more than 34,000. This mandate only lasted one year because the Federation recognized the policy, although fiscally positive in the interim, was detrimental to the long-term growth of the sport because it discouraged the novice triathlete from competing. In 1988, Tri Fed planned a move to its current home of Colorado Springs, Colorado, a move that was consistent with the long-term Olympic goal of the sport and the federation, as the USOC was and still is based in Colorado Springs.

In 1989, the International Triathlon Union and the ITU Triathlon World Championship (at the Olympic distance of a 1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run) were created. The Federation now had 24,729 members.

In August 1990, the United States hosted the second ITU Triathlon World Championship in Orlando, Florida. More than 1,200 athletes from 40 countries competed. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially recognized triathlon as an Olympic sport and the ITU as the sole international governing body in 1991. In 1993, the Pan American Games approved triathlon for competition at the 1995 Pan Am Games in Mar De Plata, Argentina.

The IOC’s recognition of triathlon as an Olympic sport allowed the federation to be eligible for up to $250,000 in grants from the USOC. The first Goodwill Games Triathlon was held in St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 23, 1994. The sport finally reached its ultimate goal of being included on the Olympic program at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.

In February 1996, Triathlon Federation USA changed its name to the present USA Triathlon, a move that further identified the federation with other USOC-recognized National Governing Bodies. USA Triathlon supports national teams on several different levels and many developmental programs for athletes, coaches and officials.

In 2000, USA Triathlon selected its first Olympic team. Jennifer Gutierrez, Sheila Taormina and Joanna Zeiger were on the women's team and Ryan Bolton, Hunter Kemper and Nick Radkewich were on the men's team. Zeiger went on to finish fourth at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Kemper had the best men's finish in 17th.

In 2004, USA Triathlon reached a record-high 53,000 annual members. The organization sanctioned more than 1,000 races around the country. The United States also won its first Olympic medal in triathlon when Susan Williams took the bronze at the Summer Games in Athens, Greece. Kemper had the best U.S. men's finish in ninth. Also representing the U.S. at the Athens 2004 Games were Taormina, Barb Lindquist, Victor Plata and Andy Potts.

In 2006, USA Triathlon announced that its membership had grown to 70,000 and the number of sanctioned races exceeded 1,800.

In 2007, USA Triathlon reached the 100,000-member milestone. The 2008 U.S. Olympic Team was comprised of Kemper, Laura Bennett, Julie Ertel, Sarah Haskins, Matt Reed and Jarrod Shoemaker. In Beijing, Bennett led the U.S. women in fourth, while Kemper had the top U.S. men’s finish in seventh.

In 2010, the International Paralympic Committee announced that paratriathlon would be added to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 2011, USA Triathlon surpassed 140,000 annual members.

Bennett, Kemper, Sarah Groff, Manuel Huerta and Gwen Jorgensen represented the U.S. at the London 2012 Olympic Games, as Groff earned a fourth-place finish in the women’s event and Kemper recorded the top U.S. men’s finish in 14th. Also in 2012, USA Triathlon was approved to govern the sport of paratriathlon, including oversight of the U.S. Paratriathlon National Team and selection of the inaugural 2016 U.S. Paralympic Triathlon Team.

From 2013-2016, Jorgensen became the most decorated U.S. triathlete in ITU history, winning 17 ITU World Triathlon Series races and capturing the 2015 and 2015 ITU World Triathlon Series titles before winning the United States’ first Olympic gold medal in triathlon at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Ben Kanute, Greg Billington, Joe Maloy, Sarah True (née Groff) and Katie Zaferes also represented the U.S. at the 2016 Olympic Games, with Maloy leading the U.S. men’s contingent with a 23rd-place finish.

Paratriathlon made its debut at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. The U.S. made history, earning a podium sweep in the women’s PT2 category with gold medalist Allysa Seely, silver medalist Hailey Danz and bronze medalist Melissa Stockwell. Grace Norman captured a gold medal in the women’s PT4 category.

Also in 2016, the U.S. won its first ITU Mixed Relay World Championships title, with a team made up of Jorgensen, Kanute, Kirsten Kasper and Maloy.

In 2017, USA Triathlon welcomed Rocky Harris as CEO, and the IOC announced that the triathlon mixed relay would be added as a medal event to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

In 2019, Zaferes claimed the 2019 ITU World Triathlon Series title, with her eyes set on the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

Delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 were held in the summer of 2021, and U.S. athletes had major success. The Olympic team included Zaferes, Taylor Knibb and Summer Rappaport on the women's side, and Morgan Pearson and Kevin McDowell for the men. Zaferes won the bronze medal in the women's individual race, joining Gwen Jorgensen and Susan Williams as U.S. Olympic triathlon medalists. Zaferes then joined Knibb, McDowell and Pearson — those three all first-time Olympians — to earn silver in the mixed relay event, which made its Olympic debut in Tokyo. In the individual men's race, McDowell placed sixth - the best-ever finish for a U.S. man at the Olympics.

The medal success continued a month later at the Paralympic Games. Seely defended her gold in Rio, winning gold again in the women's PTS2 category. Danz also defended her Rio medal, taking silver in the women's PTS2. Norman became a two-time Paralympic medalist, winning silver in the women's PTS5. In the highlight of the Paralympic Games, Kendall Gretsch sprinted in the final meters to catch Lauren Parker of Australia at the tape to win gold in dramatic fashion in the women's PTWC. And in the men's PTVI, Brad Snyder captured gold with his guide, 2016 U.S. Olympian, Greg Billington, becoming the first U.S. male triathlete to win a medal in an individual event. All told, the U.S. won five Paralympic medals — including three gold — the most of any country. Together with the Olympic haul of two medals, the seven total medals won by U.S. triathletes was the best in the world. 

Today, USA Triathlon sanctions more than 4,300 events and connects with more than 400,000 members each year, making it the largest multisport organization in the world.