As the coronavirus pandemic delayed the 2020 Olympics and caused major disruptions to racing events for more than a year, triathletes across the globe had to adjust — sometimes drastically — to new training and competition schedules ahead of the rescheduled Tokyo Games in late July.

While there will be plenty of familiar faces among the 55 competitors each in the women’s and men’s individual triathlons, the triathlon mixed relay will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

The United States has qualified the maximum three spots for women and two men for the individual triathlon races, according to the World Triathlon Olympic qualification rankings, and at least four of those athletes will also be eligible to compete in the mixed relay.

Here’s what to know about the triathlon at the Tokyo Olympics.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When will triathlon races be held at the Olympics?
  • What is the schedule of triathlon events?
  • What is the triathlon mixed relay?
  • Who will represent the United States in triathlon?
  • Who are the medal contenders?
  • What does the course look like?

When will triathlon races be held at the Olympics?

The triathlon races will be held between July 25 and July 30, with competition on each of three nights taking place at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo Bay.

What is the schedule of triathlon events?

All times Eastern.

July 25, 5:30 p.m. — Men’s Triathlon

July 26, 5:30 p.m. — Women’s Triathlon

July 30, 6:30 p.m. – Mixed Relay Triathlon

What is the triathlon mixed relay?

While the men’s and women’s individual triathlon races will be conducted at standard distances — 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike and 10-kilometer run — the mixed relay requires each athlete to run a mini-triathlon.

The mixed relay consists of four-member teams (two women and two men) from each country. The women and men alternate, and each athlete swims 300 meters, cycles for eight kilometers and runs for two kilometers before tapping in the next teammate to continue the relay. The pace is much faster than the individual events; the entire mixed relay is usually concluded in under 90 minutes.

Teams will complete the race in a female-male-female-male order. A country can field a mixed relay team if it has at least two women and two men qualified for the individual races.

The triathlon mixed relay has gained in worldwide popularity for more than a decade. The United States held its first mixed relay world championship in 2009, and the discipline took another important step after appearing at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. It was announced as an Olympic discipline in 2017.

Who will represent the United States in triathlon?

The only returning Olympian for the United States is 32-year-old Katie Zaferes, who is one of the top-ranked women in the world and has been one of the sport’s top athletes for the better part of a decade. She will be joined in Tokyo by Taylor Knibb and Summer Rappaport.

Knibb, 23, is a D.C. native who starred as a runner at Sidwell Friends before competing collegiately at Cornell. She is the youngest female American triathlete ever to qualify for the Olympics. Rappaport became the first triathlete to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team way back on Aug. 15, 2019, after finishing fifth in the Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event.

Morgan Pearson and Kevin McDowell will compete on the men’s side. Pearson has used a surge over the past year to climb to a world ranking of 12th. He is the first American man to medal in multiple World Triathlon Championship Series events in one year. McDowell, who was diagnosed with cancer just days after making his professional debut a decade ago, earned a silver medal at the Pan Am Games in 2015.

Who are the medal contenders?

Britain has a trio of top-five triathletes in the world rankings, including Georgia Taylor-Brown, the 2020 world champion; Vicky Holland, who took bronze at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics; and Jessica Learmonth. Other challengers will include the Nethlerlands’ Maya Kingma, who has turned in a strong 2021, and Bermuda’s Flora Duffy, who won world championships in 2016 and 2017.

Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig is expected to be a headliner among the women and the first triathlete to compete in five Olympic Games. Spirig, who also could become the first triathlete to win three career Olympic medals, won the gold medal in 2012 and finished with the silver medal in Rio behind Gwen Jorgenson, who secured the first gold medal for the United States in the event.

While Jorgenson won’t compete in Tokyo, Zaferes is considered a top contender among the American women — the former steeplechase standout at Syracuse won an individual world championship in 2019 and is a three-time medalist in the mixed relay event at the world championships.

The men’s field will feature Spain’s Mario Mola, who sits atop the world rankings and won three world championships between 2016 and 2018. He has yet to live up to expectations in his Olympic appearances, including an eighth-place finish in Rio.

Mola will be challenged by France’s Vincent Luis, the 2019 and 2020 world champion who has established himself as one of the sport’s best. Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt is currently ranked No. 3 in the world and won the first two World Series events in May.

Alex Yee joined Britain’s team after winning a World Series event in Leeds, England, in June. That race eliminated British star Alistair Brownlee, who won Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016 and was vying for a third in Tokyo, after he was disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct in the swimming leg of the race. His brother, Jonny Brownlee, qualified for Tokyo and could complete his medal set with a gold after winning a silver in Rio and a bronze in London.

What does the course look like?

Odaiba Marine Park is well known in local triathlon circles; the venue has been used for Japan’s national championships over the past two decades. The park is a sandy beach resort known to give spectators, when they are allowed to attend, stunning views of the city’s waterfront and futuristic high-rise buildings.

The swimming legs of the race will take place near Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge, while the biking and running paths wind through the park, which includes the West Promenade district of Odaiba, featuring waterfalls and greenery.

How will the heat impact competition?

Temperatures in July and August in Tokyo can reach the mid-90s with high levels of humidity. Tokyo officials have scheduled the events for early in the morning — the individual triathlons will be held at 6:30 a.m. local time, while the mixed relay will run an hour later — in hopes of limiting the impact of the heat on competitors. Extreme heat conditions caused organizers to shorten the women’s triathlon during an Olympic test event at Odaiba Marine Park in the summer of 2019.