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Analysis: How Safe are Triathlons?

We took a deep dive into trends around athlete deaths during triathlon races

With the recent deaths in Ireland, as well as the death of an athlete at Ironman 70.3 World Championships, we wanted to take a deep dive into trends around deaths in our spot.

The data: All of this data is available on Wikipedia. We used the last ten years of data, from 2014 to 2023. It’s worth noting that there are still just under four months left in 2023.

Sport safety concerns: While people aren’t dying in droves (thank goodness), a major US study showed that there were 1.74 deaths out of every 100,000 competitors.

Looking at Wikipedia, in the last ten years there have been 116 triathlon deaths. Of those, 73 percent were during the swim, 12 percent were on the bike, seven percent were later after the race, and six percent were on the run.

  • Of those who had their age listed, the average age was 49.

Deaths peaked in 2019, and on average, have increased in the last five years to an average of 15.75 per year compared to 10.6 from 2014-2018. In terms of the types of races, Ironman accounted for 41 percent of all deaths since 2014.

When broken out by the percentage of deaths at Ironman races, we can see a trendline of an increasing percentage of race deaths at Ironman events compared to other triathlon events.

Yes, but: Ironman is running many more races, so it stands to reason that as the number of races increases, the number of deaths would also rise.

What it means: What we can say for sure is that the average number of deaths has risen over time in triathlon and that Ironman races have accounted for a higher percentage of races where an athlete died.

But this data comes with a few caveats:

  • We cannot account for the number of races per year, or the average number of Ironman races.

  • It could also mean that deaths have stayed constant as the number of races have increased.

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