Thursday morning’s travel news on Radio 5 reported long delays in central London thanks to the closure of Hyde Park Corner to traffic. And the reason? Competitors were trying out the course for the Olympic triathlons, due to begin this Saturday when the women's race gets underway at 09:00.
The fact that London's Olympic triathlons will take place in and around Hyde Park, with most of the course open to the public, is significant. In Beijing four years ago, the Olympic triathlons were held at the Ming Tombs Reservoir, a remote 50km from the capital. In London, nothing less than centre stage will do. Triathlon’s star billing at the Games represents a massive surge forward for the UK’s fastest-growing sport.
Triathlon was a late arrival to the Olympic party. The sport made its debut at the Sydney Games in 2000. As Canada’s Simon Whitfield claimed the first ever triathlon Olympic gold medal, I wonder whether a 12-year old Alistair Brownlee turned to younger brother Jonny and said, “One day, I’m going to stand on that podium with a gold medal round my neck.”
No British triathlete has ever won an Olympic medal, but there’s no doubt that the Brownlee brothers and Helen Jenkins will be trying their best to put that right in London this summer.
While British triathletes dominate the elite end of the sport – let’s not forget the amazing Chrissie Wellington's utter domination of the Ironman distance – triathlon is flourishing at a grass-roots level too. Ten years ago, if you’d announced to friends and family that you were training for a triathlon, you would have been met with blank looks; today everyone’s either tried the sport or knows someone who has.
In just 12 years, triathlon has become one of the most popular, fun and forward-thinking activities in the UK, but it isn't the only Olympic sport that’s on the up. Since the Games began last week, archery has seen a huge spike in interest thanks to the Olympic coverage, handball is also enjoying a surge in popularity and Bradley Wiggins’s stunning ride to secure gold in the Olympic time trial is sure boost sales of kids’ bikes this Christmas. The mind boggles when you consider what could happen to the profile of triathlon if, as anticipated, we scoop medals across the board with the mighty Brownlee brothers and Jenkins heading up a superb British team.
It all points to even more medals in Rio but before we get ahead of ourselves, let's savour the success of British athletes in London. Come on, Team GB!
The Olympic women’s triathlon starts at 09:00 on Saturday, August 4. The men’s triathlon takes place at 11:30 on Tuesday, August 7.