New Zealanders have had considerable success in international triathlon events.
Rick Wells and Erin Baker
Former swimmer Rick Wells came third at the first official world championships in Avignon, France, in 1989, and second in 1991. He had won unofficial world short- and long-course titles in 1987.
Erin Baker is New Zealand’s greatest woman triathlete. As a schoolgirl, she was a top-flight swimmer and distance runner. In 1984 she won the first of more than 100 triathlons. In 1985 she was the first woman to complete an ironman triathlon in under 10 hours and won the first world triathlon title. More world titles saw her named New Zealand Sportswoman of the Year and Supreme Award winner at the Halberg Awards in 1989. Baker won eight world multisport titles and also came close to Olympic selection as a distance runner. In 2013 she was the only multi-sportsperson in the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.
Wells and Baker triumphed when triathlon was a demonstration sport at the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games. With this exposure and success, local races proliferated. Sarah Harrow won a world junior title in 1993 and Jenny Rose won the ITU World Cup series in 1994.
The vital leg
Which triathlon discipline is the most important? The swim – if a competitor loses contact with the leaders, they must push harder on the cycle leg to catch up and won’t have enough strength left for the run.
Biathlon and duathlon
In 1975 New Zealand water-polo representative Ross Patterson won the first national biathlon championships – a 3-mile (4.8-kilometre) cross-country run followed by a half-mile swim in Wellington Harbour – and then the biathlon world title in the United States.
Jamie Hunt won consecutive world duathlon championships in the 1990s. Terrenzo Bozzone won the world junior duathlon title aged 16 in 2001, and again the following year.
Hamish Carter, Bevan Docherty and Andrea Hewitt were New Zealand’s most successful Olympic-distance triathletes in the 2000s. Carter was the world’s top-ranked male triathlete for five years. He learnt from failure at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, coming third in the first Commonwealth Games triathlon (Manchester, 2002) and winning gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Docherty won the 2004 world championships and finished second behind Carter at Athens. He went on to win Commonwealth Games silver (Melbourne, 2006) and Olympic bronze (Beijing, 2008).
Andrea Hewitt was under-23 world champion in 2005 within months of her first triathlon. She won bronze at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, one place behind fellow Kiwi Samantha Warriner. Hewitt had three placings in world championships between 2009 and 2012. Terenzo Bozzone was junior world champion in 2002 and 2003. New Zealand won bronze in the mixed team relay at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Later that year Tayler Reid won the under-23 world championships.
Prominent triathlon coaches include Jack Ralston, the mentor of Hamish Carter and Cameron Brown, and John Hellemans, whose star protégés included Erin Baker and Andrea Hewitt.
Triathlon’s success from the 1990s led to increased financial support. The Sports Foundation provided nearly $1 million to assist preparation for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, at which triathlon was contested for the first time. In the 2010s Contact Energy sponsored an annual Tri Series for men and women, a Duathlon Series and the national schools championships.
Comparative failure at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and the lack of obvious successors to the stars of the 2000s threatened a less rewarding future at the elite level. Triathlon received $6.155 million in high-performance funding during the London Olympic cycle, and was allocated $5.6 million for 2013–16. Annual funding for 2017 and 2018 was cut to $725,000. In 2013 a National High Performance Centre was set up in Cambridge.
Promoter Arthur Klap organised world championship events in Wellington in 1994 and Queenstown in 2003. Auckland hosted the final round of the world series in 2012 and the first round in 2013.