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All the triathlon disciplines, from Olympic to Sprint

All the triathlon disciplines, from Olympic to Sprint

Are you new to the world of triathlon? If so, the differences between the various disciplines are probably not yet clear.
In fact, there isn't one single form of triathlon; on the contrary. The various competitions are extremely different from each other.

What changes?

  • The type of discipline;
  • The terrain;
  • The weather and environment etc.

What stays the same?

The inclusion of swimming, cycling and running (in that order), and the desire to give it all you've got in training and races.

In this article we'll clarify the various types of triathlon, from the most famous, like the Olympic triathlon or the Ironman, to the least known.

As you'll see, this sport has many more faces than you might imagine. The triathlete needs to be prepared to handle both endurance races and sprints.

Triathlon: the best known disciplines

The most famous forms of triathlon are undoubtedly these three:

  1. Olympic triathlon, the version we could call "classic”;
  2. Ironman, or ultra-long triathlon, which puts the athletes' resistance to a harsh test;
  3. Sprint, a version with shorter distances, requiring instead speed and agility.

Between Olympic and Ironman triathlon, there's the Half Ironman

Meanwhile, we admit that the Sprint isn't the very shortest triathlon discipline: there's also the Super Sprint.

What are the specific characteristics of each? Let's take a deeper look.

Olympic Triathlon

Olympic triathlon is, clearly, the Olympic form of the sport. As we've already mentioned, whatever the type, the sport consists of three stages: swimming, cycling and running.

In Olympic triathlon, the distances are as follows:

  • 1.5 km swim.
  • 40 km cycle;
  • 10 km run.

In the Olympics there is also a relay version, which can be mixed, with teams of two women and two men. 

In the 22nd Olympics, the triathlon was won by Great Britain, who took the largest number of medals.



Outside the Olympics, Ironman is the best-known discipline of this sport. Ironman races were invented by a private corporation, but have become established as resistance events for the very fittest athletes.

What are the challenges to face if you want to become an iron man or woman?

The three stages are over pretty daunting distances: 3.8 km swimming, 180 km cycling and lastly 42.2 km running (the distance of a marathon).

In addition to the Ironman, there's the Half Ironman, a compromise between this super-long version and the Olympic triathlon.

In the Half Ironman, the athletes swim 1.9 km, cycle 90 km and finally run half the distance, 21 km.

Sprint Triathlon and Super Sprint Triathlon

In Sprint triathlon, the distances are much shorter. In this discipline, speed is the winning attribute. We're talking about "just" 750 m swimming, 20 km cycling and 5 km running. On average, athletes take just over an hour to complete the course.

The Super Sprint is even faster. Here the athletes swim 400 m, cycle 10 km and then run 2.5 km.

Which discipline to start with?

In triathlon there's no one version easier than another. The truth is that although the Ironman sounds like a genuine challenge of endurance and willpower, the Sprint and the Super Sprint are also extremely tough. On the one hand, there's extreme endurance, on the other, enormous muscular effort for speed.


If you want to start practising triathlon, you shouldn't be asking which discipline to choose, but rather how motivated you are. This sport is suitable only for athletes who are truly determined to push their limits.

You’ll have to arm yourself with perseverance and determination in your training and follow an appropriate diet to sustain your body for such a demanding sport.


What's more, if you're coming to triathlon for the first time, you'll need some specific equipment. We discussed this in our article "The triathlon accessories you should know about for best race performance".

It covers everything from bodysuits to shoes, bicycles to the choice of wheels and accessories for the cycling segment. Using the best equipment and accessories can give you a real advantage over your rivals. By using the right technologies you can not only tweak your performance, but also avoid wasting a single joule of energy during the race. And make the most of all the effort you put into training.

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