How many different ‘-athlon’ sports are there?

Keeping track of the many different ‘-athlon’ sports and their meanings is no small feat. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with a handy cheat sheet explaining the 12 different '-athlon' sports. Have we forgotten any? Let us know...

How many different '-athlon' sports are there?

If you were good at shapes at school, you’ve got a head start in the ‘athlon’ world. Knowing that ‘tri’ signifies three and ‘hep’ seven at least gives you an indication of the number of sports involved in each event. From the relatively simple two-sport duathlon to the ambitious 20-event icosathlon, this break down of the multisport events out there to try, from Elise Metcalf, will have you either running for the hills or to the race track.


What is a duathlon?

Duathlon events involve a running leg, followed by a bike leg, followed by another running leg. The standard distance consists of a 10km run, 40km cycle and 5km run but sprint, middle and long distance variations are commonplace. Like triathlons, the event attracts athletes keen to challenge their endurance, and is a popular option for competitors less inclined towards swimming.

What is an aquathlon?

One of the more accessible multi-sport events, the aquathlon features a run, followed by a swim, followed immediately by another run. Despite there not being a bike leg, the fast transitions and continuous flow of the event means it’s a good test of endurance and stamina. The standard official distance involves a 2.5km run, 1km open water swim, and 2.5km run to finish.

What is a biathlon?

Biathlon is a winter-based event, involving cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. In the classic individual race format, women ski 15km in total and men 20km. Throughout the race, there are five rounds of shooting and each missed target adds a minute to the final time. The winner is determined by the athlete who receives the best time overall including the added penalty points. There are several versions of the race, including sprint and relay variations, where missed shots result in penalty laps instead of added time.

What is a triathlon?

A familiar event to many, the triathlon is a multi-sport endurance event consisting of three sports: swimming, cycling and running. Popular race distances include the sprint distance (750m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run) and Olympic distance (1.5km swim, 40km cycle, 10km run), as well as the middle-distance or half-Ironman (1.9km swim, 90km cycle, 21.1km run) and full Ironman distance (3.9km swim, 180.2km bike, 42.4km run).

What is a winter triathlon?

As the name suggests, winter triathlons are tailored for the colder months and all disciplines take place in the snow. The event involves a run, followed by a mountain bike and finishing with a cross-country ski. The distance is totally dependent on the snow conditions and is set on the day to achieve a winning time of around 80-90 minutes. Multi-sport races are challenging in the best of conditions, so competing while simultaneously battling the elements helps take this event to the next level of endurance.

What is a quadrathlon?

If you feel like you still have more to give after a triathlon, the quadrathlon might be just what you’re looking for. This challenging multisport event involves four disciplines: swimming, kayaking, cycling and running. The swim is always open water, varying in distance from 500m through to the standard Olympic distance (1.5km). This is followed by a kayaking section ranging from 4.2km to 10km, a cycle (23km-36km) and a run (5km-10km).

What is a pentathlon?

The modern pentathlon comprises of five different disciplines, requiring a variety of skills and techniques, including horse riding. Fencing, freestyle swimming (200m), showjumping, pistol shooting and cross-country running (3.2km) make up the event, attracting the ultimate all-rounder. The concept was inspired by the traditional pentathlon held in the ancient Olympics, which involved the skills needed to be the ideal Greek soldier of the era.

What is a tetrathlon?

Like a pentathlon but without the fencing, a tetrathlon comprises of the four disciples of swimming, jumping a horse cross country, pistol shooting and cross-country running. Events are usually ran by the Pony Club, where teams of four compete against teams from rival clubs to try and qualify for the national championships. For the event, it is recommended that one endurance (swim and run) and one skill (shooting and horse riding) discipline are completed each day.

What is a heptathlon?

Heptathlons are seven-event contests usually spread over two days. Positioned as an all-round test in a variety of disciplines for female athletes, the first day consists of 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200m. The second day comprises of the long jump, javelin and 200m. Competitors earn points for their performance in each discipline and the athlete who receives the most overall points is the winner. In recent years, the event has leapt into the spotlight following Athlete Dame Jessica-Ennis Hill’s success during the 2012 London Olympic Games. The Olympic Games doesn’t currently host a heptathlon event for male athletes, who instead compete in the male-only 10-discipline decathlon.

What is a decathlon?

Typically perceived as the men’s all-round ultimate test, the decathlon consists of a whopping 10 events spread over a two-day period. Like the Heptathlon, the Decathlon features in the Olympic Games and athletes receive points in each sport and the highest overall total takes the victory. The first day consists of 100m, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400m, while the second day involves 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1500m. In recent years, pressure to introduce a women’s decathlon event in the Olympic Games has mounted, with supporters highlighting that men and women should be given an equal chance to compete.

What is a tetradecathlon?

This 14-discipline track and field event, also known as a double heptathlon, takes place over two days and is targeted towards female athletes. The 20-discipline icosathlon event is its male counterpart and both are regarded as ultra-endurance sporting events. Day 1 of the tetradecathlon features a 60m, long jump, 800m, shot put, 400m and high jump. On Day 2, athletes then conquer the 3000m, 60m hurdles, pole vault, 1500m, weight throw, 200m, triple jump and 5000m. The winner of the event is the person with the highest overall score after the two days.

What is an icosathlon?

If you like a challenge, the icosathlon is for you. An ultra multi-sport track and field event for the most dedicated of athletes, this race consists of 20 events, competed over two days. Not one for the faint hearted, the first day includes 100m, long jump, 200m hurdles, shot put, 5000m, 800m, high jump, 400m, hammer throw and 3000m steeplechase. If you’ve anything left to give, the second day then tackles 110m hurdles, discus throw, 200m, pole vault, 3000m, 400m hurdles, javelin throw, triple jump and 10,000m. Like the decathlon, this race is primarily targeted towards men. Currently, the World Championships only include an event for male athletes, with women icosathlon records having been set in an unofficial capacity.

Read this far and still not deterred? Then head to our training and nutrition pages for top tips on how to best prepare for your race of choice!

Elise Metcalf is an amateur triathlete with an avid interest in exercise, nutrition and performance. 


Top image by Andre Weening, Getty Images