Triathlon is one of the most gender inclusive sports on the planet. At time of writing 37% of triathletes globally are women. Women are also responsible for the fastest growing membership sector.
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Women in Triathlon – Equality
A thought provoking and controversial topic . Let’s dive in.
Two words. Erin Baker.
For those of you who don’t know, Erin is nothing short of a triathlon legend.
Triathlon legend himself, will tell you that just one glance at Erin baker would silence anyone who ever doubted that the women’s field was at least as high as the men’s.
Erin won 104 of the 121 races she entered. She was an absolute animal.
Erin didn’t just win these races, she swept the rest of the field by lengthy margins.
At the 1989 ITU World Championship, she became the very first champion.
She also competed in the beginning days of the ITU World Cup Series, winning the races she entered.
Baker was named “Triathlete of the Decade” by American magazine Triathlete.
At this point, everyone stopped trying to figure Erin out and just accepted that she had become the best female triathlete that ever lived. (source)
Erin Baker is known as one of the pioneer women in triathlon. She developed her successful career by self-training.
Which from my perspective is very admirable. She would just train, train, and train some more.
If she needed the rest she would take it and if she didn’t she would be sure to be training while her competitors were resting.
Crazy or just a downright beast?! Let’s go with beast.
She was born in 1961 in in Kaiapoi, New Zealand and was quickly known for her protests at the Hawaii IRONMAN competitions when she rebelled against the winner of the men’s division receiving a car and the women’s division winner receiving nothing.
She was not afraid to voice her opinions on any occasion that called for it and as a result was proudly known as a controversial athlete.
Can we pause and give this lady a nice round of applause.
There were other pioneer women triathletes who made an early statement in the sport, but Erin Baker wouldn’t take no for an answer and fought passionately for what is right (EQUALITY all-around) even if it meant putting herself and her career in jeopardy.
It is no doubt that Erin was a firecracker but I think I can speak on behalf of all women in triathlon and thank her for both her fierce competitiveness and passion for equality early on in the sport.
“I can truly say I found the event to be EQUAL from the start.”- Erin Baker
In the beginning there was equality.
We have not only Erin to thank, but also, a relentless committee of passionate, strong women.
To mention a few, Valerie Silk, Julie moss, the Puntous twins, and Joaan Earnst were all committed to equality and they played a critical role in propelling triathlon.
In fact, equality has been at the core of it’s constitution since its inception. It is because of their dogged tenacity that triathlon, to this day, remains one of the sports with the most equality.
The legacy of head strong, passionate female triathletes continue…
Another Women Pioneer in the Olympic Triathlon.
Sally Edwards – Founder and CEO of Heart Zones, sports entrepreneur and former pro triathlete.
She played a huge role in creating the first governing bodies for triathlon.
Sally was the fifth woman to EVER complete an IRONMAN Triathlon and after this she decided to write the first book on training for an IRONMAN.
She mentioned how she made 10 predictions about the sport back then and they all came true.
A few of those predictions including professionals making money, specific clothing apparel companies, and triathlon equipment companies just for the sport.
Sally was inducted into the Triathlon Hall of Fame in 2012 along with the Running Hall of Fame in 2016.
She also worked alongside Jim Curl in creating the first rule book for triathlon which became sanctioned by USA Triathlon. In the book, stating that men and women will receive equal prize money.
Sally wants equality and equanimity in every aspect of triathlon. Including events, commercial operations, and leadership positions. It is a fact that women are now running more competitive races than men.
More Women Triathletes – Keep it up Ladies!
Susan Williams – Susan made history with being the U.S. triathlete to win an Olympic medal by taking bronze in 2004 in Athens.
Susan had worked alongside an all-women’s triathlon team in Denver. Most women giving it a shot have never even run a 5k, swam in a pool, or even owned a bike, yet they are out there TRYING! ( pun-intended)
Valerie Silk– The owner and race organizer of IRONMAN Hawaii 1980-1990. Becoming the organizer of the IRONMAN was never Valerie’s plan, in fact, she voted against it.
However, with a natural motherly instinct she set the everlasting camaraderie, passion, and credibility of the IRONMAN. She become emotionally involved with each and every participate ( there were only about 106 back in 1980), treating all as if they were family.
These early traditions set the tone for the next years of this wild endurance event. She was the initial spokesperson for getting the event over to the iconic KONA location with thoughts of keeping the event going year after year.
Although the pro athletes are extraordinary to watch race the IRONMAN, Valeria is most inspired by the “ back-of-the-packers” are the ones who are like most all of us out there.
Watching the everyday athlete cross that finish line leaves all with a sense of awe and hope that it is within all our grasps.
Julie Moss – Crawl of Fame
Julie Moss – known for her 15 foot crawl to the finish line just missing the IRONMAN Championship title, as Kathleen McCartney ran passed her in 1982.. Julie had zero experience in the IRONMAN.
She was borrowing clothes, riding a cheap bike, and was only 23 years old. Her collapse and crawl finish deemed her a Triathlon Legend and that moment become iconic..
Her book titled “Crawl of Fame: Julie Moss and the Fifteen Feet that Created an Ironman Triathlon Legend ” is centered around the mind and body and the strength required that shapes her both in sport and life.
She was an early example of the powerful female grit and her experience created the mantra of “anything is possible.”
Julie is a dreamer and a doer and her goals have captured her imagination in a way that spread through to her heart and the rest of her body.
Professional Ironman triathlete, Sara Gross, has also taken matters into her own hands making a stance on making triathlon the first sport in history to becoming 100% equal.
The topic she is most passionate about involves equal slots for men and women at the Ironman World Championships and urging the WTC ( World Triathlon Corporation ) to creating race conditions in which the world’s best women can compete on a level playing field without interference.
Sara states in her personal blog that she is thankful for the courageous women who have shaped the sport of triathlon to be what it is today.
Gender Inclusivity in Triathlon
The history runs deep with gender inclusivity, equal prize money, and sponsorship opportunities as the sport grew throughout the 1980’s and 90’s.
However, she is confused as to why the federation has not taken the last final steps. It doesn’t make sense to have such equality all around yet still allow less pro female competitors at the World Championship level.
The second and last task is creating an equal playing field for the women, as the pro men are sent off before the women.
Sara and many other women recognize that becoming the first sport to become 100% equal in all aspects will set the tone for all other sports.
Improving diversity, increasing the quality and quantity of female role models that young girls can look up to may also increase the number of female coaches, which would attract more women and keep them in the sport.
Other professional women’s sports, such as cycling, soccer, and hockey, just to mention a few, have not been so fortunate on the terms of an equal playing field and the fight continues.
No matter the sport, the efforts do add up in hopes that this will create a domino effect, forcing other sport federations to quit their talking and start walking with implementing change.
Kathryn Bertine, Emma Pooley, Marianne Vos, and Chrissie Wellington, all professional female cyclists and triathletes took a stand regarding the Tour de France and the major lack of recognition and similar racing opportunity for women.
La Course – One-Day Women’s Race
They argued with the UCI and successfully established a one-day women’s race alongside the Tour de France called “La Course.”
Sara Gross was able to gather some feedback from Chrissie’s experience, as Sara herself embarks on her own mission regarding equality in participating in the World Championships in KONA, the highest level of competition for the Ironman discipline.
Chrissie Wellington’s words were impactful and inspiring and is something that ALL involved in sport should take the time to read and soak in.
Chrissie explains how fighting for this change was hard, tiring, and “ sometimes downright demoralizing.” Fighting for something you are passionate about is worth every struggle because when the goal is achieved the World and those involved become better.
Using triathlons rich history in early sports equality, The ITU ( International Triathlon Union) and its President, IOC Member Marisol Casado, one of the role models for the sport community when it comes to gender balance, is taking the lead in helping other organizations achieve equality goals.
As they always say, lead by example!
With all the above, it is an amazing feat for the triathlon community to lead the way and be an example and a work in progress to other federations to begin to make some permanent, impactful changes in equality.
However, it is going to require courageous women to take charge in leadership roles in their respective sport disciplines and brave the storm.
Women Vs. Men- Fastest times of 2018
ITU World Championships 2018
- 1st place female- Ashleigh Gentle- Overall time- 1:52:00
- 1st place male- Vincent Luis- Overall time- 1:44:24
IRONMAN World Championships KONA 2018
- 1st place female-1. Daniela Ryf (SUI) — 8:26:16 (Course Record)
- 1st place male- Patrick Lange (GER) — 7:52:39 (Course Record)
Women Vs. Men-Fastest time in 1997
1997 Auckland ITU Triathlon World Cup
- 1st place female- Emma Carney- Overall time- 2:02:15
- 1st place male- Stewart Miles- Overall time- 1:49:12
IRONMAN World Championships KONA 1987
- 1st place female-Erin Baker-9:35:25
- 1st place male- Mark Allen- 8:09:15
Comparing and contrasting these time and the overall differences between female and male physiology and performance will cause a lot of ruckus.
The generalization of males being faster than females does not hold truth in all scenarios.
It is just silly to say. I KNOW we are talking more than a 30 year gap and with time comes more technology, science, and all that jazz but the simple statement of “Men are faster than women” will always require more depth.
Regardless, we are all humans who love sports, pushing the limits of the mind and body, and competing against other like-minded individuals and that’s enough to offer equal opportunity on all playing fields.
If you go to a triathlon today, you will see female participants of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.
It is evident that local clubs and teams are making huge efforts to inspire and encourage women to participate no matter their background in athletics.
The beauty of finishing a triathlon not only lies in the work put in to get there, but the life-changing confidence and accomplishment of finishing the event leaves a forever lingering sense of empowerment that soaks into every other aspect of life.
AND THAT is what this sport is all about.