The sport of triathlon is set for its seventh appearance at the Olympic Games in Paris. Here's what you need to know about the rules for triathlon.


In the swim leg for Olympic triathlon, competitors may use any stroke to propel themselves through the water. Competitors may stand on the bottom or rest by holding an inanimate object, such as a buoy or stationary boat, but may not use either to gain an advantage. In an emergency, a competitor can call for assistance by raising an arm overhead. Once assistance is given, the competitor must retire from the race. Triathletes are allowed to wear wetsuits during the swim leg only if the water temperature is 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) or lower. Wetsuits are mandatory in water colder than 57.2 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees Celsius).


In the bike leg for Olympic triathlon, competitors are allowed to draft off one another. Drafting occurs when a competitor rides directly behind another competitor. The rider in back feels less wind resistance and can thus maintain the same speed as the rider in front without using as much energy. Although drafting is allowed, competitors are not allowed to block out other riders. Competitors who appear to present a danger to themselves or others may be disqualified and removed from the competition by the race officials. Competitors may not ride the bike in the transition area. If a rider does not honor the mount line (where they must begin riding the bike) and the dismount line (where they must get off the bike), he or she is subject to a time penalty or disqualification.


In the run leg of the Olympic triathlon, competitors are allowed to walk, but not crawl. Headphones and headsets are not permitted during competition. A competitor finishes the race when any part of the torso, excluding the head, neck, shoulders, arms, hips or legs, reaches the perpendicular line extending from the leading edge of the finish line.

Frequently asked questions about Olympic triathlon rules

Can you use flippers or a float in the Olympic triathlon?

No, athletes may not use any flippers, fins, floats or anything that can be used to propel forward.

Can you do breaststroke in the Olympic triathlon?

Yes, triathletes are allowed to swim with any stroke. Most participants tend to swim with the freestyle (also known as front crawl) stroke, but breaststroke is allowed and preferred by some triathletes.

How do you get disqualified in the Olympic triathlon?

A competitor may be disqualified for any of the following violations:

  • Failing to follow the prescribed course.
  • Using abusive language or behavior toward any official or unsportsmanlike behavior.
  • Blocking, charging, obstructing, or interfering with the forward progress of another competitor.
  • Unfair contact. The fact that contact occurs between competitors does not constitute a violation. When several competitors are moving in a limited area, contact may occur. This incidental contact between competitors in equally favorable positions, is not a violation.
  • Accepting assistance from anyone other than a technical official.
  • Refusing to follow the instructions of race officials.
  • Departing the course for reasons of safety, but failing to reenter at the point of departure.
  • Leaving equipment or discarding personal articles on the course. Plastic bottles, and other discarded items must be placed safely off the course.
  • Wearing items deemed a hazard to self or others, i.e., a hard cast, jewelry, headsets, or headphones.
  • Using unauthorized equipment to provide an advantage or which will be dangerous to others.
  • Violating traffic regulations.