By Vince Nairn
Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.
When she lined up for the start of Ironman France in 2008, Sami Winter noticed the difference.
As a veteran triathlete, Winter is used to being in the minority at those events. But the gap was more drastic that day six years ago than she could ever remember.
“200 women out of what, 2,000? That’s it,” Winter said.
Triathlon participation has long been dominated by men, and though the percentage gap has slowly decreased in the past decade, women still account for less than 40 percent of annual members of USA Triathlon. In North Carolina, women account for 38 percent of USAT members and about one-third of triathlon finishers.
And as the distances get longer, the participation tilts more toward men. Participation in the 79 iron and half-iron distance triathlons sponsored by Ironman in the past year averaged 76.9 percent men.
“The Ironman races are when it’s the most noticeable,” said Winter, who has completed nine Ironman triathlons. “I was at (Lake) Tahoe last year and they said it was the highest (percentage of women) they ever had. 26 percent.”
About 25 years ago, USA Triathlon membership was more than 80 percent men. Although the gap has closed considerably, chief operating officer Tim Yount is not sure it will ever be an even split.
“What we’re trying to do here is balance the scales as much as we can without discouraging men from participating,” Yount said.
“Will we ever get to 50/50? I don’t think we will. But the growth we’ve seen is remarkable. If you’d had asked me 10 years ago the kind of numbers we’d see with women, I’d say that was shocking.”
Mind the gap
Although women make up only about 35 percent of triathletes, the demographic is different for many running events.