Unveiling the #TriWeek Triathlon Tournament Bracket
by Nick Hehemann, USA Triathlon
During National Triathlon Week (#TriWeek), we want to find out what our community thinks is the greatest moment in U.S. triathlon history.
So, we’ve done our best to compile, and rank, the top 40 U.S. moments in the history of swim, bike and run. Now, it’s your turn to vote on them, round by round and matchup by matchup.
Introducing the #TriWeek Triathlon Tournament Bracket!
Click here to download a PDF version of the bracket.
Each day, you’ll be able to vote on all the matchups in every round. Round 1 voting opens on usatriathlon.org on the first day of #TriWeek — Monday, June 22. At the end of the week, on Sunday, June 28, we’ll have a champion.
Watch USA Triathlon Hall of Famer Bob Babbitt and USA Triathlon Chief Sport Development Officer Tim Yount make their picks over Zoom.
To help you make your picks, we broke down each of the 40 moments, seeded 1-10.
Triathlon is Born in ‘74
Hard to imagine where our sport would be now without…you know, the first race! The earliest modern triathlon event was sponsored by the San Diego Track Club and took place at Mission Bay in San Diego, California on Sept. 25, 1974.
It featured a run-bike-swim format, with 46 participants running three miles, biking five miles and closing with a series of swims leading to the finish line. Who could have imagined then how the sport would take off, with international competition, Sports Illustrated features and the Olympic Games soon in its future.
Gwen Jorgensen’s Olympic Gold
It was the second Olympic medal in U.S. triathlon history, but the first gold. Gwen Jorgensen’s dominant run in the sport culminated with international glory on the world’s biggest stage at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She completed the Olympic-distance race in 1 hour, 56 minutes and 16 seconds to break the tape, finishing 40 seconds in front of the next closest competitor.
The “Iron War” in ‘89
Considered by many to be the greatest race ever run, Dave Scott and Mark Allen’s iconic battle at the 1989 IRONMAN World Championship is certainly worthy of a No. 1 seed in our #TriWeek Triathlon Tournament Bracket. It took the fastest marathon ever at the IRONMAN World Championship and a new course record in Kona of 8:09:15 for Allen to get the victory, finally beating Scott on his sixth try at the event.
Both legends finished their careers with six IRONMAN world titles a piece.
Julie Moss ’82 IRONMAN Crawl
Julie Moss’ memorable finish at the 1982 IRONMAN World Championship was an international display of the power of the human spirit. Broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, people around the world watched as she led deep into the marathon run in Kona before hitting a wall of exhaustion and dehydration.
Fifty feet shy of the finish line, Moss collapsed, as Kathleen McCartney passed her for the win. Still, Moss pressed on — crawling the rest of the way before throwing her arms up across the finish line. The iconic footage and photo showing her determination in those final moments inspired soon to be triathletes around the globe.
IRONMAN Craze Begins in ‘78
Moss’ finish helped the sport take off, but the triathlon craze really began with the first Hawaii IRONMAN in 1978. Now the most iconic triathlon event in the world with thousands of participants every year and a special broadcast on NBC, the first race featured a field of just 15 athletes. Gordon Haller was the champion, conquering the 2.4-mile swim, 115-mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run in 11 hours, 46 minutes and 58 seconds.
Allysa Seely Leads ’16 Paralympic Sweep
The debut of paratriathlon at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio couldn’t have gone much better for Team USA. In the women’s PT2 category, Allysa Seely raced her way to a gold medal, followed by U.S teammates Hailey Danz and Melissa Stockwell.
The iconic podium sweep gave the U.S. three of its four total Paralympic medals.
Grace Norman ’16 Paralympic Gold
The first Paralympic triathlon medal went to Grace Norman of the U.S. The 18-year-old broke the tape in the women’s PT4 category, more than a minute ahead of the next closest competitor.
Susan Williams ’04 Olympic Bronze
In the second Olympic Games featuring triathlon, the U.S. won its first Olympic medal courtesy of Susan Williams in Athens, Greece in 2004. The American crossed the finish line with a smile on her way to the bronze — the first of many medals for the U.S. on the world’s biggest stage.
Mark Allen’s ’89 ITU World Title
1989 was quite the year for Mark Allen. In addition to his iconic victory in the IRONMAN World Championship, Allen also won the inaugural ITU World Triathlon Championship in Avignon, France.
Hunter Kemper’s ’05 Season
The most decorated Olympian triathlete in U.S. history, Hunter Kemper’s best season as a triathlete came in a non-Olympic year. He finished the season as the ITU’s No. 1 ranked male triathlete in the world, the first U.S. male triathlete to ever do so.
Kemper was also named the 2005 USOC SportsMan of the Year and the USOC Male Triathlete of the Year, and he was the recipient of the Jim Thorpe All-Around Award.
Sydney ’00 Olympic Debut
For the first time in history, the world watched triathlon at the Olympic Games. At the Olympic debut in Sydney, Australia, in 2000, Joanna Zeiger and Sheila Taormina both represented the U.S. with top 10 finishes.
"Gwensanity” Historic Streak
From 2014-2016, Gwen Jorgensen had one of the most dominant runs in triathlon history. Her winning streak of 13 top-level triathlon competitions, including 12 straight races in the World Triathlon Series, began in 2014 and extended all the way through 2015. Her brilliant stretch led to the coined term, “Gwensanity.”
A year later, Jorgensen got the most important victory of all — an Olympic gold medal in Rio.
USTS National Impact
The U.S. Triathlon Series lasted from 1982-1993 and helped put the sport on the map, with the races held in the downtowns of prominent U.S. cities around the country. Bud Light eventually came in as the title sponsor, leading to the creation of the USTS Bud Light Triathlon Series.
The series led to the standard look for elite racing today, with 1984 featuring the first triathlon with an Olympic-distance race.
Katie Zaferes ’19 ITU World Title
Katie Zaferes’ story is one of perseverance and steady improvement every year. Coming into 2019, Zaferes had climbed one spot in the World Triathlon Series rankings every year dating back to her fifth-place finish in 2015.
In 2019, she completed the summit to the top of the sport, closing her incredible season with a win at the Grand Final in Lausanne, Switzerland, to capture her first ITU world championship.
Hunter Kemper Qualifies for 4th Olympics
At the 2012 World Triathlon Series race in San Diego, Hunter Kemper became the first and only four-time U.S. Olympian triathlete in history by qualifying with a fifth-place finish.
What made the feat even more impressive is what it took to get there. After missing seven months with an elbow injury that led to a staph infection, Kemper returned to the circuit and qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Jorgensen Wins ’15 Grand Final on U.S. Soil
Part of her historic winning streak, Jorgensen finished 2015 with a bang — winning the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Chicago to capture the overall series victory. Making it even sweeter was the fact that it was the first Grand Final on U.S. soil.
Sheila Taormina ’04 ITU World Title
Prior to Gwen Jorgensen’s back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015, the last U.S. athlete to win an ITU World Triathlon title came in 2005 courtesy of Sheila Taormina. Before the World Triathlon Series began in ‘09, the champion was decided at one singular championship race at the end of the season.
In ’04 in Madeira, Portugal, that was Taormina, with fellow U.S. teammate Laura Bennett joining her on the podium in third.
Karen Smyers ’90 ITU World Title
Karen Smyers was the first U.S. woman to win an ITU World Triathlon Championship, doing so in 1990 at the “happiest place on earth” — Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It was her first of two career ITU World Titles.
Karen Smyers ’95 World Titles
Smyers’ second ITU world title came in a year where she won a pair of world championships. In addition to her second ITU World gold medal in Cancun, Mexico, she also captured a victory in Hawaii at the IRONMAN World Championship.
Siri Lindley ’01 ITU World Title
One of the greatest multisport athletes of all time, Siri Lindley’s victory at the 2001 ITU World Triathlon Championship in Edmonton, Canada was the highlight of an incredible list of career achievements. Fellow Team USA teammate Joanna Zeiger joined her on the podium with a bronze medal.
U.S. Mixed Relay Hamburg ’16 Gold
The Mixed Relay — set to debut as an Olympic event at the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games — has added a new layer of excitement to triathlon globally. Now a fixture in the ITU World Triathlon Series, the Mixed Relay World Championship started in 2009.
It was 2016 when the U.S. won its first world title in the four-person relay event, as Gwen Jorgensen, Ben Kanute, Kirsten Kasper and Joe Maloy led Team USA to an impressive victory in Hamburg, Germany.
'79 Sports Illustrated Article
In the early years of the sport, the national media coverage of triathlon was crucial in bringing the swim, bike, run event to the attention of so many around the world.
Barry McDermott’s article in Sports Illustrated on the ’79 Hawaii IRONMAN event left readers amazed at the idea of anybody daring enough to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles. For others, it sparked the idea to chase a new challenge.
Lyn Lemaire: First Female IRONMAN in ‘79
That ’79 race in Kona was significant for a lot of reasons. It was the second year of the event, it received important national exposure and Lyn Lemaire became the first woman to conquer the grueling course. Her feat paved the way for generations of incredible female triathletes around the world.
Rick and Dick Hoyt Transcend Sport
It’s not one singular moment, but so many in which the Hoyt father-son pairing has inspired people all over the world. In 1977, Rick Hoyt, who was born with cerebral palsy, asked his father if they could enter a running race to benefit a friend who had become paralyzed. Dick said yes, and the rest is history.
The push-assist duo has now competed in over 1,000 endurance events around the world. In January 2020, the two were inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame.
NCAA Emerging Sport Status
In January of 2014, the NCAA overwhelmingly approved triathlon as the next Emerging Sport for Women for NCAA Division I, Division II and Division III institutions. To reach full-fledged NCAA status, the sport will need to be added as a varsity program at 40 schools by the year 2024.
As of June 2020, triathlon is well on its way — with 36 schools creating a program and just four more to go to earn the official title of an NCAA women’s collegiate sport.
Women’s Collegiate Nationals
After becoming an Emerging Sport for Women, women’s collegiate triathlon held its first official National Championships in November of 2015 in Clermont, Florida. Arizona State University, Queens University of Charlotte and North Central College each won national titles in their respective divisions at the inaugural event.
Max Fennell First Black Pro
Max Fennell is an entrepreneur, a former soccer player, a TV Game Show star and a professional triathlete — earning his pro card in 2014 to become the first African-American pro triathlete in history.
That milestone is something Fennell takes immense pride in, using his platform to help black youth be introduced to the sport.
Triathlon Added to Paralympics
Before its debut at the Games in 2016, word became official in 2010 that paratriathlon would be added to the Paralympic slate. It was a monumental step in helping paratriathletes compete on the world’s biggest stage.
Team USA has won four Paralympic medals, with more surely to come in Tokyo 2021 and the years ahead.
Danskin Women’s Series
The Danskin Women’s Triathlon Series had a huge impact on the rise of women in the sport as the largest and longest running women’s triathlon series in the world. Founded in 1990, the series provided a supportive, empowering environment for female triathletes everywhere to compete and fall in love with the sport.
Hampton University Becomes First HBCU
As one of the now 36 schools around the country to add women’s triathlon as a varsity sport, Hampton University became the first Historically Black College and University to do so in October of 2018.
Age Group Legends
Age Group triathletes are the lifeblood of the sport, and so many over the years have shown that triathlon is a sport for life. This moment is a celebration of all the triathletes who have broken barriers and raced into their 80s and beyond, from Sister Madonna Buder (The “Iron Nun”), to Lewis Hollander, Wayne Fong, Molly Hayes, and so many more.
They have proven that age is, in fact, just a number.
Jorgensen, True 1-2 in ’14 WTS
In 2014, Americans took up the top two spots on the ITU World Triathlon Series women’s podium. Gwen Jorgensen won her first of two career world titles that year, with fellow U.S. athlete Sarah True (Groff, at the time) earning series runner-up.
Both athletes went on to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympic Games, with Jorgensen taking home the Olympic gold medal.
Mike Reilly: You are an IRONMAN
“YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” If you’re familiar with the IRONMAN, you’ve likely heard Mike Reilly, the Voice of IRONMAN, shout his now iconic phrase as an athlete crosses the finish line. He first shouted it at a race in 1991, and the catch phrase has stuck since.
Now, the call from the USA Triathlon Hall of Famer has become a memorable moment of glory for athletes everywhere who are able to conquer the challenge and hear those amazing words of confirmation.
Matt McElroy ’19 WTS Leeds Silver
At World Triathlon Series Leeds in 2019, U.S. elite triathlete Matt McElroy accomplished something that no other U.S. male had in a decade — landing on a WTS podium. His silver in Leeds, England was the first U.S. male podium finish at a WTS race since Jarrod Shoemaker did it in 2009.
It was a huge moment for USA Triathlon, and an encouraging sign for more success down the road for Team USA.
ESPY Para Winners
Over the years, five U.S. paratriathletes have been honored at the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly (ESPY) Awards show. Sarah Reinertsen was the first American paratriathlete to win the Best Female Athlete with a Disability ESPY Award in 2006.
Jason P. Lester won Best Male Athlete with a Disability at the 2009 ESPYS, and a year later Amy Palmeiro-Winter became the second U.S. woman paratriathlete to be honored.
In 2019, it was a U.S. Paratriathlon sweep, as Allysa Seely and Mark Barr were both recognized for their amazing accomplishments.
Knibb, Hindman ’16 Junior Worlds
Speaking of U.S. sweeps, rounding out the list of 9 seeds on the #TriWeek Triathlon Tournament Bracket is Team USA’s incredible performance at the 2016 Junior ITU World Triathlon Championships. Austin Hindman captured the men’s world title, while Taylor Knibb won gold in the junior women’s race.
Technology and gear have come a long way in triathlon’s 46-year history. Over the years, several advancements on that front have helped athletes maximize speed and efficiency on the course. From aerobars on bikes, to Quintana Roo founder Dan Empfield creating a triathlon-specific wetsuit in 1987, to the development of running shoes, GPS tracking and more, training and racing looks so much different today than the birth of the sport in 1974.
Hy-Vee Triathlon Prize Purse
The Hy-Vee Triathlon was an Olympic-Distance race in Des Moines, Iowa from 2007 to 2016. It was known for its large prize purses for elite athletes.
At the inaugural race in ’07, U.S. elite triathlete Laura Bennett won the women’s race and was awarded $200,000 for her victory. In 2011, the total prize purse was a historic $1 million, with $151,500 each going to the men’s and women’s champions.
Pat Griskus First Amputee IM
In 1985 Pat Griskus made history as the first amputee to complete the Hawaii IRONMAN, a feat that got him profiled on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
In October of 1987, Griskus was tragically killed after being hit by a truck while on a training ride in Hawaii. The Pat Griskus Triathlon Series was later named in his honor.
'92 Jim MacLaren Amputee IRONMAN
In 1992, Jim MacLaren became the fastest amputee triathlete in the world after having his left leg amputated below the knee, completing the Hawaii IRONMAN in 10 hours, 42 minutes. As USA Triathlon Hall of Famer Bob Babbitt puts it, MacLaren was the “Babe Ruth of amputee athletes. That is, of course, with the level of prosthetic available in the late 1980’s — which is like comparing that era’s Ford Pinto to a 2005 Ferrari.”
Round 1 voting of the #TriWeek Triathlon Tournament opens Monday, June 22. Vote each day during National Triathlon Week on usatriathlon.org, and follow along with all the exciting matchups on USA Triathlon's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.