Phil Graves gazes back into triathlon’s recent past and peers forward to try to get a glimpse into its future

Phil Graves (Photo: Bob Foy)

Phil Graves (Photo: Bob Foy)

2013 was an amazing year for triathlon and not just at the pro level. It seems that everyone in the sport has had a great time, from the people doing their first races, to the athletes winning their age groups at the World Champs in London. It was also my 10th year in the sport so now seems like a great time for me to reflect on how far it’s come in that time. After all, triathlon today is almost nothing like the sport I came into in 2003.

For instance, the last few years have seen triathlon become increasingly global but for a long time it was seen as a southern hemisphere sport. If you want an interesting fact to highlight just how much the southern hemisphere – and Australia, in particular – used to dominate triathlon, check the women’s world championships results during the late 1990s.

With the exceptions of the bronze medals won by Canada’s Carol Montgomery in 1996 and New Zealand’s Evelyn Williamson in 1998, Australia’s women won every single world championship medal from 1996 to 2000. Imagine that: an entire Olympic cycle where only two women from nations other than Australia reached the podium at the worlds. We might be getting used to Britain being a major force in triathlon but it’s nothing compared to the dominance Australia enjoyed back then.

Part of the reason for the southern hemisphere’s pre-eminence at that time may have been because Europe hadn’t embraced the sport. But it’s not as if triathlon had much exposure on this continent then. The first ITU World Champs may have been held in Avignon, France in 1989 but in the 14 years between that event and my first race in 2003, the worlds only returned to Europe twice (to Manchester in 1993 and Lausanne, Switzerland in 1998). And I doubt either of those appearances was greeted with the same level of interest and excitement that the 2013 Worlds in Hyde Park received.

Can you imagine European athletes putting up with such a scarcity of world championship events in their backyard today? Probably not but, then again, we don’t have to. The number of races in Europe has grown so much and so quickly that it would now be inconceivable for a year go by without some sort of world championship event taking place here.

“it’s only a matter of time before we have more world championship events from different race brands”

We can spend forever looking back, but its also worth looking forward to 2014 and beyond. What can we expect in the years ahead? Well, I think it’s only a matter of time before we have more world championship events from different race brands. The Challenge and Rev 3 brands are taking on the ITU and WTC, and I doubt it’ll be long before we see a Challenge World Championship, probably in Roth.

But the WTC isn’t resting on its laurels. The Ironman owners have announced several more races for 2014 – Ironman Mallorca being just one of them. So there seems to be no end in sight to their ambitions.

It’s an exciting time for triathlon and we’re lucky to be involved with it right now. Every year race organisers have to improve the experience they offer or risk losing athletes to other events. If athletes don’t enjoy a race, they don’t come back and the event dies off. When it comes to shaping the sport’s evolution we athletes hold all the cards. So the WTC, ITU, Challenge, Rev 3 and the others like them will have to fight hard to attract as many of us as possible to their races. This alone should make 2014 even more amazing than 2013 and I intend to enjoy every minute of it.