100 gear up for gruelling challenge

17th October 1997 at 01:00
For the past five years Britons have beaten the world in one of the most gruelling sports - the triathlon. It involves swimming, cycling and running and will be an Olympic medal sport for the first time at the Sydney Games in 2000.

Invented in sunny California in 1974, the sport has gained in popularity, particularly in Europe and Australia.

Simon Lessing, the current world champion who has shared the honours with Spencer Smith over the past five years, will be vying for gold in Australia. But that's not enough for the British Triathlon Association, the sport's governing body.

Elaine Shaw, the BTA's chief executive, is busy encouraging youngsters from the age of eight to take an interest to ensure future success. A six-figure sponsorship deal from the National Dairy Council will help to get the sport into about 100 schools this year.

Ten "Come and Tri it Days" - a travelling roadshow that will visit schools and leisure centres around the country until next April - will give children a flavour of the sport. They can also meet a sporting hero, win a bike and get a T-shirt. If they enjoy the experience, they can find out how to join a club or take part in an event in their area.

To stimulate more interest, the BTA piloted an award scheme in about 30 schools last summer, which met with a good response.

Now called the Milk Awards, children from eight years upwards can progress from bronze to gold with little organisation required by their teachers or parents. The youngest start with a 100-metre swim, a four-kilometre bike ride and an 800 metre-run. They must complete each of these activities three times to obtain a bronze award. Older children have to cover longer distances and repeat the exercises more often - six times for a silver and nine for gold. In order to obtain the gold award, which involves a 900m swim, a 16km ride and a 5, 000m run, the young athletes also have to take part in a BTA-approved competition.

The bronze and silver can be completed by participants in their own time and disciplines need not be done consecutively. So swimming could be done in the summer term and cycling with parents at weekends.

A parent or teacher just has to verify that the applicant has completed the sessions. "It's geared to being simple. It could be an administrative nightmare if they had to record times," said Ms Shaw. "It's a matter of trust really. "

Children don't need special bikes but they must wear helmets or face being disqualified. "We are very safety conscious," said Ms Shaw.

Information about the awards and Come and Tri It Days is available from the British Triathlon Association, PO Box 26, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire LE65 2ZR.

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