Triathlon seems like it is careening toward a tipping point. Races are filling up faster (an hour for IM Wisconsin), people are joining training groups in impressive numbers and public interest and understanding seems to be growing.
I recently read two interesting articles on the subject. The first, in WTC’s LAVA Magazine, noted that high school triathletes face a number of challenges to enter the sport but youth participation is increasing at record pace. According to the author, triathletes under 18 can’t enter many races, don’t have the promise of NCAA scholarships/support, lack the financial resources to commit to the sport and have few ways of building a community around training and racing. In spite of all that, USAT youth membership has grown from a few thousand to 300,000 in the past decade.
In a separate post, Ryan over at Everyman Tri refutes the idea that the triathlon bubble is about to burst, leaving athletes moving onto the next thing. In fact, he writes, USAT membership has grown every year since 1994 at an average 16 percent, and the under-16 group makes up 20 percent of membership. Tri is here to stay if the kids are into it.
Ryan also points out that triathlon is getting more press than it has in the past. Lance keeps talking about a return to tri, which would certainly raise its profile, and contestants from all seasons of the Biggest Loser competed in a race, which made up a good portion of an episode last season.
So, the more the merrier. If tri becomes more mainstream, race directors will get more local support, NCAA could sanction college races and us athletes could see televised events more than once a year. The downside is that races will continue to fill quickly, as marathons now do. But hey, triathletes are a pretty welcoming and supportive bunch, so bring it on.