The modern world of professional triathlon competitions is divided into three categories:
The "short course" competitions are also known as the Olympic distance competitive circuit that is run under the heading of the International Triathlon Union which includes the ITU World Championships and the ITU World Cup Series. In 2004, the ITU World Cup had over 75 different events contested.
The long course competitions or the Iron Man circuit is run under the patronage of the World Triathlon Corporation that concludes with the Hawaiian Iron Man World Championship every year. These competitions are not recognized as official by the International Triathlon Union, but are surely the best known triathlon series in the world.
The XTERA championship is an off road championship.
What follows is the brief overview of the triathlon long and "short course" competitions along with the information on one of the major bodies in the world of the triathlon, the International Triathlon Union.
The International Triathlon Union was established in 1989 and today organizes the official triathlon series of championship races like the swim and run and bike races. It was established partially to provide the sport of triathlon with an official governing body and partially to uphold the entry of the sport of triathlon into the Olympic Games.
The primary event in all of the ITU "short course" competitions in the Olympics is Distance Triathlon which in 2004 featured thirteen races. The distances in the "short course" competitions is a 0.9 mile swim, 24.85 mile bike ride, and a 6.2 mile run. These distances were selected from existing swim, bike, and run distances that were already contested at the Olympic Games. This set of distances has become one of the major standards in the sport of triathlon.
In recent times, the International Triathlon Union has launched a long distance circuit with the official Triathlon World Championships. The Long Distance Triathlon events are comparable to the Iron Man Triathlon events in length that are governed and arranged by the World Triathlon Corporation.
The Iron Man circuit was the first major triathlon competition in its class. The first Iron Man circuit was organized in 1978 in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1981, the venue was moved to the less industrial Island by V. Silk. The next year Silk changed the date of the race from February to October. There were two Iron Man competitions in 1982 because of this change.
Today, the Iron Man circuit is a yearly run event in the state of Hawaii and encompassing three endurance disciplines: biking, swimming, and running. Being the most well known of all of the triathlon long course competitions, it is held in Kailua Kona, Hawaii and features a 2.4 mile swim across the Bay of Kailua Kona followed by a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile marathon along the Big Island's coast.
In addition, there are many long course competitions around the world that serve as qualifying rounds for the World Championships event in Hawaii. They have filled up quickly in recent times, no matter where they are held such as: The United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, Europe, and the Canary Islands which are all official events.