Women Leading Canberra’s Triathlon Starting Lines

27067899_1777845705580026_4456391999208564447_nBy Craig Johns

In a world where males tend to dominate the sporting landscape from participant numbers and media coverage, to the most concerning aspects of sport in leadership and governance roles, triathlon is an outlier. Triathlon has been successful in showcasing how gender balance has a positive influence in the sports demographics and Triathlon ACT is leading from the front.

Triathlon is on the rise in Canberra trending to 250% event participation in the four major triathlon events and 200% across all ACT Triathlon Series events, when compared to the 2014-15 season. Leading the way are our women and girls who are shining in many aspects of the sport from performing on a world stage to dominating membership and guiding governance.

Australian Capital Territory (ACT), the territory that includes Australia’s Capital city Canberra, has led gender equality in club membership for quite some time with females representing 61% of the total membership over the past few years. When compared to the total Triathlon Australia membership of 39% female, ACT definitely stands out from the crowd.

TACT 15-17 Female Infographic 15012018 Membership & Participation

Women are leading the way in Canberra, with 61% of the Triathlon ACT membership, well above the Triathlon Australia female membership of 39%. A key driver of the high female membership is the long-term success of the Females in Training who has 328 members (2016-17 season).

Triathlon ACT, in its 31st year, has seen huge growth in the numbers of females participating in triathlon events. Females on average make up 45% of the overall participation in triathlon events in the ACT. In novice categories, 66% of participants are female and in children categories there are 50% girls.

In 2017-18 the largest growth is the female 25-29 age group with 33% of total female novice participants and 26% of all novice participants. With the 18-30 year old market being the most challenging demographic for sports to attract, this is a phenomenal statistic. So what are the key drivers behind the exponential growth in the female 25-29 age group?

  1. Board – In 2015 the Triathlon ACT Board identified that we need to diversify the age demographic on the Board, which led to one male (2015) and one female (2017) 25-29 year old members being appointed. If you want to effect growth in a specific target market then you need to have key influencers of that demographic in decision-making positions.
  2. Club Novice Coordinators – It was identified in 2015 that the average demographic of the three Club Novice Program coordinators was between the ages of 45 and 55 years old. When we looked at the demographics of the Club Novice Program participants it is the same as the coordinators. Therefore we mentioned to clubs that if they wanted to improve the under 30 year old demographic in their membership and Club Novice Programs they would need to recruit coordinators under the age of 30. Over the past two seasons we have seen two of the Club Novice Programs coordinators change from a female or male in the 45-55 year old age group to females in the 25-29 age group. The two female 25-29 coordinators are very proactive and with Club Novice Programs thriving on word of mouth from past participants. It is common for new Club Novice athletes to come from friends and colleagues of past participants.
  3. Fitness Industry – During the 2017-18 season we have seen the beginning of previous markets such as the fitness industry, returning to the sport of triathlon. This market is predominately people aged between 18-30 years old, which is the toughest age group for traditional sports to retain and recruit. We have seen the same trend in One Day Member’s, with many coming from F45, Crossfit and university groups. This maybe telling us that society is trending back to established sport challenges rather than the phase of adventure based challenges such as Tough Mudders, Cross Fit, Colour Run’s etc…. This area needs to be closely watched, investigated and maximised over the next couple of years.

Females in Training (FIT) are the largest affiliated club in Canberra and the largest female only endurance club in Australia. The club was started 21 years ago by a number of passionate community influencers, including Anne Gripper (former Triathlon Australia CEO and the first FIT President), Robyn Barker, Sandra Lauffenburger and Brigid Cassells, to provide a safe and comfortable environment for females to prepare for a triathlon. The success of FIT, is largely due to the supportive and encouraging environment that has been created over the last two decades. FIT has world-leading Club Novice Programs for swimming, cycling and running, as well as their Triathlon Novice Program. They are wonderful feeder programs into the sport of triathlon. History of FIT

Canberra has three main Club Novice Programs through the FIT, Bilbys and Vikings Triathlon Clubs. The strong female representation in Club Novice Programs has been attributed to the lead Club Novice Program coordinators being very proactive, engaging and natural leaders. They thrive on word of mouth from past participants and it is common for new novice athletes to come from friends and colleagues of past participants, hence why the female demographic is so strong.

The female membership of 61% can partly be due to Females in Training who have 30% of the total Triathlon ACT Membership, but also all clubs who provide really safe, supportive and inclusive environments.



Triathlon ACT has maintained a balanced gender profile amongst its staff, since increasing its Full Time Equivalent (FTE), from one staff member. It has also had female Executive Directors,with the most recent being Sarah Mareuil from 2012-2014. The gender balance in the office provides a really good balance of skill sets to support the triathlon community, especially when it comes to customer service.

Our Presidents’ have made a point over the past 5-10 years to ensure that there is a balanced gender representation on the Board. It hasn’t always been achieved, as there are usually only seven nominations for the seven positions, but it is always heavily encouraged. At present we have 43% females represented on the board and there is the potential to increase to 57% during 2018.

In 2014, we identified that we needed to have two Board members (one male and one female) under the age of 30 on the Triathlon ACT Board, which is now in place. The balance in gender and age demographics has allowed a diverse approach to all areas of the organisation, especially when planning for the future.

Triathlon ACT isn’t just the Board and staff, to us it is the whole triathlon community. Female representation in key roles within the community is very balanced with 50% event volunteers, 48% coaches and 64% technical officials.

Three out of ACT’s four ATO (highest level in Australia) technical officials are female and lead the ACT technical team. Gai Webster heads the program, is a Life Member of Triathlon ACT and won the prestigious John Ison Technical Award at the 2015 Triathlon Australia Celebration of Champions awards dinner. The strong female influence, especially in the higher level Technical Official positions, is likely to be a strong reason why the Technical official percentage is at 64%. They have been catalysts in showing that being a Technical Official is an important pathway in the sport of triathlon and provides great opportunities to give back while seeing the world.

Global Roots

In 2016 I wrote an article on ‘Triathlon – a World Leader in Sport Governance & Gender Equality’. In the article I spoke about triathlon being at the forefront of gender equality since its formation in 1989, when the International Triathlon Union (ITU) was established. Equal prize-money and opportunities for female and male athletes would become a focus for triathlon and it has continued along this path for over 28 years. I noted, in 2016, that triathlon leads the world in gender equality through:

  • Triathlon has the highest female Board representation (56%) of any International Sports Federation, outside of Netball, and the best example of gender balance.
  • The ITU’s top 3 leaders are female, with Marisol Casado the only female head of a summer international sports federation. ITU holds the principle of equal competition prize money and TV air time across all World Series events.
  • In 2015, 50% of top ten global overall prizemoney winners in triathlon were females, including 1st and 3rd.
Tri Pink
Photo Credit: Triathlon Pink

Here are some great examples of Triathlon Australia (TA) breaking the barriers seen in most other sports in Australia:

  • TA has been a proud leader in female representation in Executive positions, Staff and Board’s.
  • As recent as 2014, 67% of CEO’s of the national and state & territory triathlon associations (STTA) were female.
  • 39% of Triathlon Australia members are female with 61% in the Australian Capital Territory.
  • Australian women have dominated the international arena for that past two decades with 5 Olympic medals, 1 Paralympic gold medal, and 29 ITU World Championship medals since 1989.

There have been a number of female focused innovations in the sport of triathlon, which continue to thrive to this day. The Triathlon Pink Series is an inclusive female only event that reduces the boundaries for females to participate in a non-threatening environment. Find out more by reading the article


Triathlon ACT has a rich history of top performing females on the world stage. The likes of Christine Toohey, Raeliegh Tennant, Alison Coote and Gayelene Clews have paved the way for females to shine at an international level over the last three decades. Over the past three years, Triathlon ACT female athletes have produced multiple international gold medals including Katie Kelly winning the 2016 Female Rio Paralympic Gold Medal in the PT5 category. Other international results of significance include:

  • 2x 2016 Female Rio Paralympians (Kate Doughty, Katie Kelly)
  • 2x World Champions (Emily Tapp Paratriathlon, Penny Slater U23 World Cross Triathlon)
  • 3x 2017 Female National Champions (Emily Tapp, Penny Slater, Chloe Bateup)
  • 2x 2017 Oceania Champions (Kate Doughty, Emily Tapp)
Katie Kelly & Michellie Jones
Photo Credit: Delly Carr ITU

Katie Kelly has been recognised for her amazing performances by being awarded the 2017 Triathlon Australia Paratriathlete of the Year and Female Performance of the Year. Heading into 2018, Emily Tapp, coached by former Olympian Megan Hall, has been selected to represent Australia and Gai Webster has been rewarded with a senior technical official role at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Triathlon ACT’s female performances dominating male international performances can be attributed to the leadership of Corey Bacon, a former Triathlon Australia Head Paratriathlon Coach, and Kathryn Periac, current Triathlon Australia Paratriathlon Manager, being based in Canberra. They brought the female Paratriathlon program to Canberra leading into the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Heading into the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Megan Hall has taken over the role of coaching Emily Tapp who was an automatic selection for the PTWC category. Megan is having quite a big influence on female performance and is a coach to keep an eye out for with her invaluable experience as an elite athlete and her natural coaching ability.

The continued media exposure of ACT female members performing at a National and International stage in triathlon is a positive driver for females to take up the sport of triathlon with the understanding that there are no barriers. In recent times the media have recognised the valuable contribution of females who are a leading influence in the development of triathlon in the region.

Triathlon in Canberra is in a very health position due to its balanced gender, community leaders, non-threatening environment and positive energy that allows females to feel comfortable taking on a new challenge.

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