Standard triathlons in South Africa officially date from 1984 when the South African Triathlon Federation was established. The story goes that Norrie Williamson together with Mike Hogg, Dave McCarney and Philip Kuhn competed in the UK for the ultra triathlon relay event (Enduroman), with Bruce Fordyce and Tim Noakes as their support team, winning the event, on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. The win received wide coverage in the local newspapers prompting the group to form the South African Triathlon Federation on their arrival.

Back in the 1980's  there were various events billed as Ironman and even Ultraman. The Ultraman started in Hawaii - 10 K open ocean swim, a 421 K cross-country bike ride, and a 84 K double-marathon run. South Africa had an Ultraman event, and the Natal Seals Ironman - that combines the results of competitors in the Midmar Mile swim, Duzi canoe marathon and Comrades ultra-marathon.

Besides the "standard" triathlons, there also some races known as off-road endurance competitions. Conrad Stoltz from Stellenbosch is a seven times world champion of the Xterra and the ITU Cross Triathlon World Champion. Then there are the really extreme events - like the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Champion.

Triathlons are big business today. Races are held round the South Africa as well as in Zimbabwe and Namibia. Race events usually run over  a weekend include races over various distances. The sunshine and beaches draw international competitors who often travel to South Africa for triathlons. To entice the whole family to participate, race days often include kids, sprint, half or standard and ironman variations. Cross Tri, where mountain bikes and off-road courses, are used are also popular.

For the non-swimming competitors there is an event known as the duathlon - running and cycling only. These pages merely serve to indicate the relevance of multisports events in the general history of swimming in southern Africa.

Conrad Stoltz  - the "Caveman" - competed at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games.

The African Triathlon Union was founded in 1993 in Gordon’s Bay near Cape Town. The first African Olympic distance Triathlon Championships took place on 20 March 1993 in Gordon’s Bay. Three hundred athletes from Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa competed in the event. Nineteen year old Conrad Stoltz (1:48:19) and Hannele Steyn (2:03:34) from South Africa were the winners of the Elite race.

Initially the African Championships took place every second year – the second event went to Trout beck Inn in Nyanja, Zimbabwe and the third to Mauritius. When the Sydney Olympic qualifying criteria came out, the status of the African Championships increased as the continental qualifying spot was awarded to the winner of the last event before the Olympic Games, while the annual championship events awarded ITU world-ranking points.

One of the oldest international Triathlon events in Africa is the Mariental Triathlon hosted at the Hardap Dam in Namibia. Initially the event was called the Sub Sahara International Triathlon and later it became an International Triathlon Union event, as the ITU Mariental African Cup.

In 2005 the ITU initiated continental triathlon cups in all five continents. The series formed part of the ITU world ranking series. South Africa, Namibia, Mauritius, Kenya and Tunisia hosted African Cup events at exotic venues like la Coco Beach in Mauritius, Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya and Jasmine Hammamet on the Mediterranean coast of Tunisia.

In 2006 the first ITU World Cup event took place at Richards Bay, South Africa. It was followed with two more World Cup events in 2007 and 2008 and brought fame to South African organization skills and hospitality.

 NOTE: The complete history of triathlons in South Africa is not  freely available online in 2020. 

More of the South African triathlon story by Norrie Williamson

Norrie Williamson

First Durban ultra was 1983 with a 5k swim and currents that for Weaker swimmers made it 6k!!!

The bike was 120k and 42k run and prize ?

A trip to Hawaii!!!

Moira Hornby and Craig Murray (powered by Chelsea buns) won the first and Dave McCarney and Moira the 1984 version

I moved from around 6th in the first year to 2nd and converted the prize money into a ticket to join Dave in Hawaii where the longer course favoured me to finish 7th in the highly competitive 30-34 age group

What a privilege to watch Mark Allen and Dave Scott battle out on the roads -

Earlier in the year, I had also returned for the second Leppin IRONMAN a 20k paddle around Hartbeespoort Dam (in some cases including mine it was multiple swim and paddle) 100k cycle and 42k monster run from Pretoria to Johannesburg.

The tough run again favored me and lessons from the first year's 13th place in 83 had me take 4th in 84 and that secured the appeal for sponsorship from Til Hannerman for the team to the 1984 London to Paris relay triathlon with its 160k run swim over the English Channel and cycle from Calais to Paris

The team were selected from the Durban Ultra - Dave McCarney Mike Hogg Phil Kuhn (son of the 1967 comrades winner Manie) and myself as captain with Nigel Reynolds and Russel Dyer as reserves/squad members

A few weeks prior to the June race Til and Leppin brought Tim Noakes and Bruce Fordyce onto the team as support, management, and inspiration

We were second behind the English army after the run (and caused dropped jaws with all teams) when Bruce I and Phil were “shadow boxing “ on the floor at the meal the first night

The next morning Mike Hogg and Dave McCarney anchored and ensured our win in the channel swim (despite my attempts to take a shot right to Madagascar!!!)

Dave and Mike fought out for the privilege of touching the beach in Calais first

We now lead the race and had the fastest swim beating a long-distance British channel swim which included the UK Olympic swimmers Brewer brothers and other teams including US seals

That night at a Pizza place sitting out having a meal the English team came past and said “I suppose you can cycle too?!”

The Battle of Britain was won right there

We secured the victory when I overtook the second and third-placed team in the first leg of the individual legs

Only 3 of us needed to cycle into Paris on the final leg but mike Hogg and Philip refused to give up after two tough penultimate legs and all 4 of us cycled down the champs Elyse with a massive police escort to win the event

From the start of the race, Fordyce coined the phrase “and they are in all sorts of trouble “ which was shouted out the support van with lots of slapping on the van sides whenever we passed a competitor - the noise as a ‘rogue’ South African team won the Italy London to Paris triathlon was unbelievable and the following day all four of us were front page on every Sa newspaper

It was a time when Sporting success had major meaning in RSA (something I had not fully understood at the time as I was only 3 years in my new country)

However that event and these people came back and commenced the first Triathlon association and spread it to Cape Town with Coenie van der Westhuizen (father of Paul) in Port Elizabeth with Peter Gillespie in the Orange Free State with Bill the Bullet in Johannesburg with Steve Britain and in Pretoria with Pieter

(Apologies for those missed out) So started the South Africa triathlon federation and more events began with permission to hold the SA Games Triathlon in 1986 in Newcastle sponsored by Holiday Inn (Neil Fraser and Tony Rubin)

The Tin Man series dominated Johannesburg and then came the national series with Perm Building society

A quick history to the start of the sport. Which was initially run by FIT internationally.

In Hawaii in 1984 I was appointed Vice President for Africa and twice (85 and 86) went to the meetings to secure acceptance of individual South Africans under a neutral flag

Ironically 10 days ago and 34 years after my first triathlon (where the 5k swim in Durban’s ocean nearly saw me drown ) I had the honour of measuring the ITU run and cycle course for the major Abu Dhabi OLYMPIC distance event around the Yas Marina Formula One circuit

Three decades on its so good to see the growth of the sport continue

Sean Badenhorst that’s when Lindy Bradshaw and a young lady called Paula Newby-Fraser commenced their interest in the sport followed by one Simon Lessing

Durban was a breeding ground for people who would go on to dominate the world at short and full IRONMAN distance

The seeds were sown in 1983 and 84 and today Durban can be proud of OLYMPIC bronze medalist Henri Schoeman.

A great heritage

Swimmers looking hesitant at entering the cold Atlantic

Sandman Triathlon 

Swakopmund is a seaside holiday villiage on the coast of Nambia. In the 1970's an optmistic town council built a 50m Olympic swimming pool with a retractable roof. It was once used for an international event between South Africa and swimmers from Germany, Canada and the USA in 1982. Unfortunately the misguided optimism was not realistic, and the pool has subsequently been demolished.

In 2020 Swakopmund has grown into a small town with almost 45,000 inhabitants, which, located directly on the Atlantic Ocean, borders the Namib Desert in the north and east. The weather in Swakopmund is mainly characterized by the cold Benguela current. The water temperature is 14.5 degrees on average, so the organizer of the Sandman Triathlons also recommends: "Participants are advised to make use of a wetsuit as sea temperatures are cold."

Standard Triathlon

Troutbeck 2

Standard or "Olympic" triathlons are a common throughout the country - and neighbouring Zimbabwe, and Namibia. The races are usually comercial events, aimed at whole family participation, and often held at scenic venues for the open water swimming.


Former Natal swimmer and triathlete Paula Newby-Fraser is a legend of the Maui Ironman. Port Elizabeth hosts the annual Africa Ironman Championships.

Cross Triathlon

Cross triathlon are distinguished from conventional triathlons in that the terrain for the cycling and running stages are generally unpaved, rough, and hilly.The discipline first emerged in 1996 at a race in Hawaii, before evolving into the XTERRA series.

Standard Race formats - other variations are also used.

Kids of Steel 100–750 m
(110–820 yd)
5–15 km
(3.1–9.3 mi)
1–5 km
(0.62–3.11 mi)
Distances vary with age of athlete.
Novice (Australia) 300 m
(330 yd)
8 km
(5.0 mi)
2 km
(1.2 mi)
Standard novice distance course in Australia (often called enticer triathlons).
3–9–3 (New Zealand) 300 m
(330 yd)
9 km
(5.6 mi)
3 km
(1.9 mi)
Standard novice distance course in New Zealand.
Super Sprint 400 m
(0.25 mi)
10 km
(6.2 mi)
2.5 km
(1.6 mi)
Standard Super Sprint course.
Novice (Europe) 400 m
(0.25 mi)
20 km
(12 mi)
5 km
(3.1 mi)
Standard novice/fitness distance course in Europe.
Sprint 750 m
(0.47 mi)
20 km
(12 mi)
5 km
(3.1 mi)
Half the Olympic distance. For pool-based races, a 400 or 500 m (1,300 or 1,600 ft) swim is common.
Olympic 1.5 km
(0.93 mi)
40 km
(25 mi)
10 km
(6.2 mi)
Also known as "international distance", "standard course", or "short course".
Triathlon 70.3 1.9 km
(1.2 mi)
90 km
(56 mi)
21.1 km
(13.1 mi)
Also known as "middle distance", "70.3" (total miles traveled), or "half-ironman".
ITU-Long Distance (O2) 3.0 km
(1.9 mi)
80 km
(50 mi)
20 km
(12 mi)
Double Olympic Distance distance of the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships 2007 and 2009.
Triathlon 140.6 3.9 km
(2.4 mi)
181 km
(112 mi)
42.2 km
(26.2 mi)
Also known as "long distance", "full distance", "140.6" (total miles traveled), or "Ironman Triathlon".
ITU-Long Distance (O3) 4.0 km
(2.5 mi)
120 km
(75 mi)
30 km
(19 mi)
So-called triple Olympic Distance, distance of the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships most years including 2016.