Celebrating 20 years of ITU Triathlon World Cup history

Celebrating 20 years of ITU Triathlon World Cup history

By Merryn Sherwood on 04/05/11 at 10:49 am

A new era in triathlon history began on May 5th 1991 as the ITU World Cup series kicked off in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, just two years after the first World Championships in Avignon, France.  Canadian Carol Montgomery and American Mike Pigg entered the history books as the first World Cup winners after triumphing in the early distance of 2km swim, 50km bike and 12km run.

“Winning the first World Cup in 1991 was big, every time I won a race it was important,” said Montgomery.  “At that time, Les McDonald had a life long dream of getting triathlon into the Olympic Games. Getting the series started and trying to get the athletes to support the races was one of many obstacles he faced. At the time I did not realise how significant the World Cup series was in this process. He needed to showcase the sport with as many athletes from different countries as possible.”

The World Cup series proved to be a huge step forward for triathlon’s inclusion into the Olympic Games.

“The IOC needed evidence about the global popularity of the sport beyond one annual World Championships,” said McDonald, President of ITU from 1989 to 2008.  “They also recommended that a series of international competition would enable the ITU to demonstrate the athletic competency of our athletes through consistent head-to-head competition.  Our first Honorary President, Gunnar Ericsson and his good friend IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, encouraged me to establish a World Cup series with events on each continent.”

The inaugural World Cup season featured 11 events in eight countries, including world renowned cities like Paris, Las Vegas, Beijing and Toronto.  But it all kicked off in the Virgin Islands with a prize purse of $50,000 USD, substantial for that time.

“My good friend Hans Lawaetz, President of the Virgin Islands (US) Olympic Committee was significant in enabling us to stage the event on the island of St. Croix,” recalled McDonald.  “There was already a significant event on the island known as “Beauty and the Beast”.  Beauty because of the island paradise and beast due to a killer hill on the course.”

American Karen Smyers took four titles in the first season to be crowned the overall World Cup series champion while Brazil’s Leandro Macedo was champion on the men’s side.  From there, the sport and World Cup series took off and triathlon gained entrance to the grandest arena in sports – the Olympic Games.

“The World Cup series increased the profile of the sport and attracted significant sponsorship.  Coca-Cola and Reebok bought the naming rights to the series in 1992,” said McDonald, currently Honorary President of the ITU.  “The following year the profile of the sport was enough to have the IOC Members vote in favour of adding triathlon to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Programme.”

The World Cup series was where triathlon really gained momentum and it’s still where the next generation of ITU stars are made.

With so much to cover in the last two decades, here is a quick look at some of the most interesting numbers in ITU World Cup history:

280,000 – Prize money in U.S. dollars on the line in the first World Cup season, 1991.
221 – Number of World Cup races since 1991. There have been 221 women’s winners and 220 men’s winners as the 2004 Edmonton men’s race was cancelled due to bad weather.
154 – World Cup wins by Australians, the most of any country.
50 – kilometres, the distance of the bike leg in the first World Cup in St Croix, 1991. The swim was 2km, and the run 12km. The distance now is the official Olympic distance, of a 1.5km swim, 40km bike and a 10km run.
36 – Total World Cup sweeps by Australia, winning both the men’s and women’s races, including five times in 1995, 1997 and 1999.
33 – Number of World Cup’s hosted by Japan, the most of any country.
30 - Different countries have hosted World Cup Series races since 1991.
20 - World Cup wins by Portugal’s Vanessa Fernandes, the most of any ITU athlete. Fernandes won the 200th ITU World Cup race, which at that stage, meant she by herself had won an incredible 10 per cent of World Cup races. Portugal are fifth on the all-time winners list for countries, but Fernandes was the only Portuguese winner until last year when Joao Silva took the men’s Monterrey title.
17 – World Cup wins by Australia’s Brad Beven, the most of any male ITU athlete.
16 – The birthday that the Ishigaki World Cup race celebrated in 2011, it’s the longest running World Cup in ITU history and has been held since 1993. Australia’s Courtney Atkinson has won the men’s race an amazing five times.
12 – The number of World Cup wins that Simon Whitfield and Javier Gomez, the two top men still active on the World Cup circuit.
10 – Number of World Cup wins by Emma Snowsill, the current leading women still active on the World Cup tour.
7 – The number of World Cup wins Australian Emma Carney in 1996, the most World Cup wins by a female in a single season. Carney and Canadian Carol Montgomery were the only two women to win World Cup races that year, Montgomery won the other three titles that were on offer.
6 – The Number of World Cup wins by Brad Beven in 1995 and 1994, the most World Cup wins by a male in a single season.
2 – Hours, 31 minutes and 5 seconds. The winning time that Mike Pigg (USA) posted to win the first men’s World Cup race in St Croix. Carol Montgomery (CAN) posted 2 hours, 53 minutes and 16 seconds to win the women’s.  The distance was 2km swim, 50km bike, 12km run.
1 – Number of World Cup medals won by Poland, the most recent country to join the World Cup medal table when Marek Jaskolka won bronze in Ishigaki last month.

Stay tuned to triathlon.org later this week for a Q&A with both Montgomery and Pigg to find out what the first World Cup winners are up to these days and their memories from their glory days.

Elite Men

1. Mike Pigg USA US 02:31:05
2. Greg Welch AUS AU 02:31:06
3. Mark Allen USA US 02:34:21

Elite Women

1. Carol Montgomery CAN CA 02:53:16
2. Karen Smyers USA US 02:53:29
3. Paula Newby-Fraser ZIM ZW 02:55:54

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