Triathlon by the numbers

Today begins a series of four sprint triathlon posts pegged to a story I wrote that will appear tomorrow, March 8, in The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. (That story will rerun in this space tomorrow with links.).
Today: Triathlon by the numbers
Wednesday: The growing popularity of sprint triathlons
Thursday: Kim Feth’s story: From walking around her living room to finishing her first sprint tri eight months later.
Friday: Gerald Babao’s story: Trying to out swim, out bike, out run cancer.

0.2, 12, 3.1.
0.93, 24.8, 6.2.
2.4, 112, 26.2.

Those are the distances, in miles, of the sprint, olympic and ironman triathlons, respectively. Triathlons, it may surprise the uninitiated to learn, come in a variety of sizes.
Today, in The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer, I write about the growing popularity of the shorter sprint triathlons, especially among middle-age folks looking to get in shape.  (That story will run here tomorrow, with links.) Today in this space, I have even more triathlon numbers, courtesy of USA Triathlon unless otherwise noted, the nation’s governing body of triathlon.


Not all triathlons in the U.S. are run under the auspices of USA Triathlon, but most are. In order to participate in a USAT tri, you must belong to the organization (either through an annual membership or a one-day license). Here’s how the sport has grown in terms of full-year licenses issued:
1993: 15,937
1999: 19,060
2010: 134,942

In terms of single race permits (generally people trying a tri for the first time and uncertain about their future as a triathlete):
1994: 49,083
1999: 108,764
2009: 312,489

USAT credits at least part of the sport’s boom in the past decade to triathlon’s reappearance at the Olympics in 2000. They also credit the growth in sprint triathlons for making the sport more accessible. Of 15,000 members surveyed in 2009, 78 percent had participated in a sprint triathlon. Speaking of which, here’s a look at how those events have grown in popularity, based on number of USAT-sponsored sprints held:
2004: 818
2009: 1,393

According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association, the total number of Americans who participated in a triathlon — USAT sanctioned and otherwise — in 2009 was 1.2 million.

Triathletes come in all ages. About 35 percent of USAT members in North Carolina are kids.


More than 50 percent of USAT members are in the 30-49 age range. A further breakdown:
30-39: 25.11 percent
40-49: 26.52 percent

Older racers tend to race more. The average age of triathletes who did one or two races a year: 37.6; average age of triathletes who did five or more races in a year: 39.0.

Of the 134,942 USAT members last year, 30,511, or 23 percent, belong to kids under 18. In North Carolina, however, 35 percent of USAT members are kids.

Guys ‘n’ gals

Of the 134,942 registered USAT members in 2010:

Male: 84,518 (63 percent)
Female: 50,424 (37 percent)

Female membership accounted for 27 percent of memberships in 2000, and 37 percent in 2010, as indicated above.

In North Carolina

There were 6,023 USAT members in 2010: 3,628 male (60 percent), 2,395 female (40 percent)

Reasons to tri

Of 15,000 USAT members surveyed in 2009, the top reasons for participating were:

For the personal challenge (95 percent)
To stay in shape (87 percent)


63 percent of triathletes are married.
Average annual income: $126,000
88.2 percent are white, 3.2 percent Hispanic, 2.1 percent Asian, 1.5 percent multi-racial, 0.5 percent African American, 1.1. percent “other.”

Spending habit

It’s not your imagination, if you’re a triathlete you do spend money on your passion. In the past year, survey respondents said they spent, on average:
$2,2274 on bikes
$564 on race fees
$524 on bike equipment
$370 on training, running and athletic footwear
$277 on nutritional supplements

2 thoughts on “Triathlon by the numbers”

  1. Joe,
    I love the attention you are giving to our “passion”. I read the story in todays N&O re: Sprint Tri’s and there was one clarification that was needed. In my opinion, your closing paragraph made it seem like any female participant that weighs over 150 lb.s would be labeled with an “A” for the Athena class. That is not completely true, participants decide for themselves which category they would like to participate in whether it be simply age group, or one of the sub classes like Athena or Clydesdale (for heavier males). The way your statement was written might discourage females – that weigh >150 – from participating b/c they may fear getting the “dreaded Scarlet Letter”. It is their choice and not mandated which category they race in. Otherwise, great article.

Leave a Reply