Susan Williams’ Guide to Watching the Triathlon

The bronze medalist offers a cheat sheet on her sport’s rules, maneuvers and game-changing moments

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Susan Williams smiles at her daughter, Sydney, after she receives the bronze medal during ceremonies for the women's triathlon at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Introducing the Expert

Name: Susan Williams
Games and Medals: Athens 2004 (Bronze)
Key Quote: “I really enjoy swimming and biking, and running is sometimes fun! So, to put them all together is a really fun and challenging sport. I love that there are three separate sports. There is much more variety in training.”

Equipment

Bike shoes: Triathletes wear special shoes while on the bike leg that clip directly into the bike pedals. The athlete will get on the bike barefoot, and then put the bike shoes on while riding. The shoes will remain attached to the pedals the entire race. At the end of the bike leg, the athlete will have his or her feet out of the shoes and get off of the bike barefoot to run into the transition area.

Race kit: This is the uniform that the athlete will wear to race; it will be unique to his or her country and also have personal as well as federation sponsors.

Maneuvers and Terms

Sitting in: On the bike, some athletes just sit behind other cyclists, gaining the draft but not contributing any effort to the overall progress of the pack.

Flying mount: A flying mount is a way to get on the bike where you literally hop off the ground and jump onto your bike seat. It is a very quick way to start the bike and can give an advantage going into the bike leg.

Drafting: A tactic used for both the swim and bike leg, drafting is when one athlete follows directly behind another to gain advantage. The athlete in front will have to work a little harder than the athlete behind to go at the same speed.

Transition: This is where the athletes change sports, from swim to bike and then again from bike to run. It is critical to get through the transition area as fast as possible so as not to be left behind from the lead group.

Break away: A break away is when one or more athletes quickly increase their effort to move ahead of the rest of the field.

Rules

Gear bin: Anytime athletes leave the transition area, they cannot leave any equipment lying on the ground. (Each is given a bin to keep his or her gear in.) The consequence is a time penalty that will have to be served at some point on the next leg of the race.

Lapping: If on the bike course, any athlete is lapped by the lead group, the lapped athlete is disqualified from the race. [Editor’s Note: Harsh!]

Helmets: Any time during the race when an athlete is touching her bike, she is required to have her bike helmet on and the chinstrap buckled.

Game Changers

2008: Rule #1, about gear needing to be kept in a bin, was adopted. The rule did not apply in the first two Olympics in which triathlon was a part (2000 and 2004).

2012: Technology for wetsuits increased dramatically, with the incredible TYR Freak of Nature wetsuit.