Triathlons are among the most popular events for people looking to stay healthy and test their fitness. But where did triathlons start? Let’s take a look at the history of modern triathlons. But first, lets briefly look at the triathlon’s big brother, the marathon.

The history of marathons is a little more well known. According to legend, Pheidippides, a Greek messenger, fled the battle of Marathon to bring word to Athens that the Persians had been defeated. In the legend, Pheidippides, who had been fighting in the battle, ran straight to the capital without stopping, burst into the assembly, declared victory and then promptly died. As with most stories that toe the line between legend and history, the accuracy of the story is murky, as some writers give the messenger a different name, but the legacy lives. The distance between Marathon and Athens is, depending on the path one might take, 42.195 kilometres.

anthony s casey

Triathlons originated in France in the 1920s (photo: Getty Images)

The origins of the triathlon are far less sexy and ancient. Most accounts credit it’s origin to 1920s France. Triathlon historians and archivists hold that that the first triathlon was an event interchangeably called “Les trois sports” or “La course des Touche à Tout”. This event is held annually in Joinville-le-Pont, in north-central France. This event is the first documented combination of running, swimming and cycling. However, it is not the first 3-staged athletic competition.

In 1902, a French newspaper reported on a 3-stage race that featured running, cycling and canoeing. But, by all accounts, by 1920, organizers and participants made the choice to forgo the boat and get into the water bodily.

It wasn’t until the 1974 that the name “triathlon” was used to describe a ran, swam, and cycled race. In Mission Bay, San Diego, California, the San Diego Track Club organized what would be the first triathlon in America.

Modern triathlons are very popular and varied. There are several governing bodies organizing triathlons at various lengths. In 2000, triathlons became an Olympic event when the games where held in Sydney, Australia. The latest development in the world of triathlons is it’s coming inclusion in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Paratriathlons will be held in six different categories, according to the nature of physical impairment.

Though triathlons aren’t nearly as old as some other races or sports, they are growing in popularity every year.