The main difficulty in deciding who are the greatest triathletes in history is the way that the sport has changed over the years. In the early years of the sport the most prestigious events were the very long endurance ones such as the Ironman in Hawaii. The success of such events caused the sport to develop quickly and by 2000 it became an Olympic event. The Olympic distance is much shorter than the Ironman and more accessible to athletes not wanting to face the extremes of the longer event. Now it is the Olympic distance which is more popular and competitive although there are still world championships and the Ironman itself for those wanting the longer challenge.
The early days of the Ironman saw long periods of domination by a few athletes when, it has to be acknowledged, there was much less competition for the top places. Now those longer events are harder to dominate and the Olympic distance events in the ITU World Championship feature athletes from around the world. I have tried to strike a balance in my choices between the early dominant Ironman athletes and the modern day champions in a tougher field.
My Top Five men and women are:
1. Javier Gomez (Spain) – the winner of a record five ITU World Championships between 2008 and 2015, including three in a row from 2013, and has been second three times. He has also won the World Cup series three times from 2006 to 2008 and the World Ironman 70.3 title in 2014. He won the silver medal at the 2012 Olympics.
2. Mark Allen (USA) – the greatest triathlete from the early years of the sport. He won the Ironman Triathlon each year from 1989 to 1993 and added a sixth title in 1995 to equal the record of Dave Scott. He won the inaugural world Olympic distance title in 1989 in the middle of a twenty race winning streak from 1988 to 1990. He won the prestigious Nice International Championship race each of the ten times he competed.
3. Simon Lessing (Great Britain) – winner of five ITU World Championship titles from 1992 to 1998. Four of those came at Olympic distance with one in long-distance. He also came 2nd twice and 3rd once in the world championship. He also won three European titles and two Goodwill Games gold medals.
4. Dave Scott (USA) – the original Ironman who took that title a record six times between 1980 and 1987. His first win took two hours off the record time for the event. He had a great rivalry with Mark Allen and beat him on three out of the four occasions they met in the Ironman race. Allen got the better of him in 1989 when both were at their peak In 1994 aged 40 Scott returned and came 2nd in the race.
5. Brad Beven (Australia) – winner of the ITU World Cup title each year from 1992 to 1995. He never won the world championship title but came second three times.
- Paula Newby-Fraser (Zimbabwe) – winner of the Ironman Triathlon title a record eight times between 1986 and 1996. She held the world best time for Irnoman triathlons for women until 2008. In her career she won 24 Ironman races between 1986 and 2002. In the 1988 edition of the Ironman race competing with the men she was 11th overall.
- Emma Snowsill (Australia) – three time ITU world champion between 2003 and 2006. She went on to win the 2008 Olympic title and also won the 2006 Commonwealth Games gold.
- Emma Carney (Australia) – winner of the Triathlon world cup series each year from 1995 to 1997 with a total of 19 world cup race wins, second highest total ever. She won the World championship titles in 1994 and 1997.
- Chrissie Wellington (Great Britain) – four times the winner of the Ironman world championship between 2007 and 2011. In 2008 she won the title and added the ITU Long Distance world championship. She has lowered the world best for the ironman distance three times, taking half an hour off the best time before her efforts, and holds the four fastest times ever.
- Natascha Badmann (Switzerland) – winner of the world ironman championship six times between 1998 and 2004 and second on two other occasions.