Multisport events combine a number of disciplines, nearly always including running and cycling. They are contested by both individuals and teams.
Most popular are triathlons, which combine swimming, cycling and running, usually in that order. Quick transitions between the disciplines are a key to success.
Standard triathlon formats are:
- sprint – 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre cycle, 5-kilometre run
- intermediate/Olympic – 1,500-metre swim, 40-kilometre cycle, 10-kilometre run
- long-course/half-ironman – 1.9-kilometre swim, 90-kilometre cycle, 21.1-kilometre run
- ultra-distance/ironman – 3.8-kilometre swim, 180-kilometre cycle, 42.2-kilometre run.
Less versatile athletes contest duathlons (running and cycling) and biathlons (swimming and running).
In 1896 Donatien Libeau of Banks Peninsula challenged all comers in Australasia to a contest at walking, cycling and rowing for a stake of £200 (equivalent to nearly $44,000 in 2022). No one took up his invitation.
Races combining running, swimming and cycling were staged in France from the early 1900s. The first modern triathlon was held in San Diego in 1974. Created to settle bragging rights among runners, cyclists and swimmers, the triathlon rapidly became an event in its own right.
The Les Mills triathlon in Auckland in 1979 may have been New Zealand’s first. Soon elite sportspeople like runner Allison Roe, cyclist Roger Nevatt and swimmer Rick Wells were enjoying this new event. The New Zealand Triathlon Association was founded in 1985 and affiliated with the Federation of International Triathlons. The International Triathlon Union was set up in 1989.
Triathlon New Zealand has a reputation for innovative administration through initiatives such as its no-fees promotion of TRIBE (an online triathlon community), which saw membership triple to 6,500 in 2011. The number of participants in triathlons and duathlons rose from 45,000 in 2000 to 96,000 in 2009. NZ Triathlon and Multisport magazine reached 89,000 readers in 2011, and 323,000 Kiwis followed the sport in the media.
With such levels of participation, there are many local events for all comers. A typical local triathlon is the sprint-distance Surfbreaker, held annually at Mt Maunganui since 1985. A prelude to major triathlon events in the New Year, it attracts several hundred entrants. Ironman legend Cameron Brown won the Surfbreaker seven times out of nine attempts between 1991 and 2002.
The Marlborough Women’s Triathlon, founded in 1985, was New Zealand’s first multisport event for women only. Despite the name, it had two running legs, two cycling legs and no swim. Women-only triathlons proliferated in the 2000s. In the Special K series, launched in 2003, women swam 300 metres, cycled 10 kilometres and ran or walked 3 kilometres. More than 15,000 took part in the first three seasons. It became the Contact TriWoman series in 2010 and was replaced by the Bissell Women’s Series in 2013. SPARC’s Real Women’s duathlon series ran until 2012; from 2013 the Bissell series included duathlons.
750 competitors registered for the inaugural Waikato–Tainui Mighty River Power TriMāori at Lake Karāpiro in October 2012.
Children compete over distances starting at around a 50-metre swim, 4-kilometre cycle and 1-kilometre run for seven-year-olds. The first Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon at St Heliers, Auckland, in 1992 attracted about 500 participants. In 2013 nearly 20,000 children competed in one of the 13 TRYathlons around the country. Local event organisers and councils ran similar events.