Marathon runners

Swim, Bike, Run: Endurance Athletes to Watch at the Olympic Games

The best of swim, bike, and run — watch these world athletes compete on the Olympic stage in triathlons, marathons, decathlons, and more.

The marathon stands as perhaps the most iconic physical challenge of all. It dates all the way back to the 5th-century legend in which the Greek messenger Pheidippides was said to have run from Marathon to Athens, Greece, to deliver news of the victory of the battle of Marathon.

The distance was roughly 40 km, or as we know it today, 26.2 miles. And sadly, he’s said to have died after delivering the news.

Running (now the athletics category) was a key sport in the ancient Olympics and one of the original modern Olympic events in the first Games in 1896. This was alongside cycling and swimming, which have been featured in every single summer Olympics since.

Swim, bike, run. (The only other sports included in every run of the Games are fencing and gymnastics.)

Learn a bit about how each sport will function at this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games, and check out our favorite athletes to watch or jump to a specific section below:

Endurance Sports: An Olympic Mainstay

The endurance category is one of the largest in the Olympics, consisting of over 50 disciplines across the athletics (track, field, and road), swimming, marathon swimming, triathlon, and cycling (track and road) sport categories.

runners at the Prague Marathon in 2018
Elite Marathon runners in Prague in 2018; (photo/Nadezda Murmakova)

Running events include track distances like 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, and 5,000m, and longer road distances, like the 20K, 50K, and marathon distance.

The triathlon competition is split into two disciplines for men and women: individual competition and relay disciplines. The individual Olympic triathlon is a course with a 1,500m swim, 40km bike, and 10km run. The mixed relay (teams of two men and two women) is a brand-new discipline to the Olympic Games this year. Its course follows a 300m swim, 6.8km bike, and 2km run.

Swimming includes various Olympic pool distances of freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and relay. And, of course, the 10km open-water marathon swim distance.

Cycling is split into road — a road race and time trial — and track — with sprint, team sprint, Team Pursuit, Keirin, and Madison styles (and for the first time in Olympic history, a women’s Madison event as well). Also in the Olympics this year: BMX and mountain biking disciplines.

At this year’s Olympic Games, there’s also men’s Decathlon and women’s Heptathlon competitions, disciplines that put some of the most “ultimate athletes” to the test.

Results: Triathlon

Editor’s Note: We’ve updated our article to reflect triathlon, decathlon, and heptathlon results. 

Athletes had to swim 1,500m (2 laps), bike 40km (8 laps), and then run 10km (4 laps) at the Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo.

  • Men’s Gold: Kristian Blummenfelt, Norway, with a time of 1:45:04
  • Men’s Silver: Alex Yee, Great Britain, with a time of 1:45:15
  • Men’s Bronze: Hayden Wilde, New Zealand, with a time of 1:45:24
  • Women’s Gold: Flora Duffy, Bermuda, with a finish time of 1:55:36
  • Women’s Silver: Georgia Taylor-Brown, Great Britain, with a finish time of 1:56:50
  • Women’s Bronze: Katie Zaferes, USA, with a finish time of 1:57:03

Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway won gold, finishing with a blistering time of 1:45:04 (and an average pace of 4:46/mile on the run). He is the first Norwegian to medal in the sport.

For U.S. athletes, Kevin McDowell finished in sixth place, the best finish ranking of any U.S. athlete in men’s triathlon (and the third top 10 finish in triathlon for Team USA).

In other news, Great Britain was the only country to have male and female triathletes make the podium.

For the mixed relay triathlon, Great Britain took gold, the U.S. took home silver, and France took bronze. The time difference between first and second team finishes was just 14 seconds. Kevin McDowell, Morgan Pearson, Taylor Knibb, and Katie Zaferes competed on the U.S. mixed triathlon team.

Results: Decathlon and Heptathlon

The women’s Heptathlon is a lineup of seven athletic events held over 2 days (previously known as the pentathlon, first held at the 1964 Games). It consists of 100-meter hurdles, a high jump, shot put, and 200-meter run on Day 1, and then a long jump, javelin throw, and 800-meter run on Day 2.

  • Gold: Nafissatou Thiam, Belgium
  • Silver: Anouk Vetter, Netherlands
  • Bronze: Emma Oosterwegel, Netherlands

The men’s decathlon, similar to the heptathlon, is a lineup of 10 athletic events held over 2 days. First, a 100-meter run, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter run, and then on Day 2, 110-meter hurdles, a discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, and 1,500-meter run.

Athletes are given points for each event based on rankings and are then ranked for the podium based on who has the most points.

  • Gold: Damian Warner, Canada
  • Silver: Kevin Mayer, France
  • Bronze: Ashley Moloney, Australia

Damian Warner of Canada came in first, setting a new Olympic record for the sport with 9,018 points. His new record beat out the Olympic Record set by U.S. athlete Ashton Eaton at the Rio Games in 2016. U.S. athlete Garrett Scantling finished in a close fourth.

Triathletes to Watch at the Olympic Games

Maybe one of the easiest races to digest at the Olympics is the triathlon. The race is straightforward — there are no heats, no breaks, and men and women compete in a single race. The first athlete of each gender to cross the finish line is the winner.

This year, there is also a mixed relay triathlon, which is a short triathlon-style course. Both courses are located in Odaiba Marine Park.

Javier Gomez Noya triathlon
World Champion triathlete Javier Gomez Noya wins the Barcelona Triathlon in 2014; (photo/Natursports)

Summer Rappaport

Team: USA

Age: 29

Known for: the first triathlete to earn a spot on the 2020 USA Team with a fifth-place overall finish at the Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event; currently ranked third in the world overall.

Discipline: individual, relay

Javier Gomez Noya

Team: Spain

Age: 38

Known for: silver medalist triathlete at 2012 London Olympic Games; five-time gold medalist in ITU Triathlon World Championships; four-time Ironman 70.3 medalist.

Discipline: individual

Matt Hauser

Team: Australia

Age: 23

Known for: 2017 Triathlon World Junior champion and 2018 World and Commonwealth Games Relay champion; Australia was the only country this year to secure the six maximum spots for triathletes headed to Tokyo.

Discipline: individual, relay

Crisanto Grajales

Team: Mexico

Age: 34

Known for: two-time Olympian; gold medalist at the 2015 and 2019 Pan American Games.

Discipline: individual, relay

Taylor Knibb

Team: USA

Age: 23

Known for: two-time USA Triathlon Junior Elite national champion; youngest woman ever to qualify for the U.S. Olympic triathlon team; qualified for Tokyo in May 2021 with the first World Triathlon Championship Series win of her career.

Discipline: individual

Kevin McDowell

Team: USA

Age: 29

Known for: won silver at the 2015 Toronto Pan American Games; 2010 Youth Olympian in triathlon (also won silver).

Discipline: individual, relay

Results: Olympic Marathon

Editor’s Note: We’ve updated our article to reflect men’s and women’s marathon results. 


  • Gold: Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya
  • Silver: Abdi Nageeye, Netherlands
  • Bronze: Bashir Abdi, Belgium


  • Gold: Peres Jepchirchir, Kenya
  • Silver: Brigid Kosgei, Kenya
  • Bronze: Molly Seidel, USA

Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir, who holds the world record for the women’s half marathon, took gold for the women’s Olympic marathon with a time of gold in 2:27:20. Kenyan runner Brigid Kosgei, who holds the marathon world record, took silver with a time of 2:27:36. And with an epic performance, American Molly Seidel finished in 2:27:46, earning bronze.

Maybe unsurprisingly, Kenyan champ Eliud Kipchoge won Olympic marathon gold at the Tokyo games this year, finishing in a blazing 2:08:38. Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands took silver with a time of 2:09:58, improving greatly on his 11th place marathon finish at the 2016 Rio Games. Bashir Abdi of Belgium took bronze.

U.S. runner Galen Rupp, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games, finished the marathon in eighth place this year.

Marathon Runners to Watch at the Olympic Games

This year, 110 male athletes and 103 female athletes from over 50 nations qualified to go to the Olympics*. (Fun fact: 511 women and 260 men, a total of 711 qualifiers, ran in the Olympic Trials this year — the largest number in Olympic Trial history.)

A maximum of three athletes per country are allowed to participate in the marathon discipline in the Olympic Games, ranked by qualifying times.

At the Tokyo Olympic Games, 80 runners will compete for the men’s marathon and 80 for the women’s. Alternate runners qualifying are slated for the event. Check out our favorites to watch below.

*Editor’s Note: Performances achieved between April 6, 2020, and November 30, 2020, were not considered in the World Rankings and in the Qualification system.

Eliud Kipchoge
Eliud Kipchoge at the London Marathon April 2019; (photo/Colm Linehan)

Eliud Kipchoge

A fan favorite and decorated Olympian — we predict he’ll podium at this year’s Olympic Games.

Team: Kenya

Age: 36

Known for: three-time Olympic medalist; gold medalist for the marathon distance at the 2016 Olympic Games; World Record holder for the marathon with his time of 2:01:39, set in 2018; also known for running the first sub-2-hour marathon.

Discipline: 5,000m, marathon

Brigid Kosgei

A fast female favorite, Kenyan Kosgei usually proves tough to beat.

Team: Kenya

Age: 27

Known for: World Record holder for women for the fastest marathon with a time of 2:14:04 set in 2019; 2018 and 2019 Chicago Marathon winner and 2019 and 2020 London Marathon winner (for women).

Discipline: marathon

Abdi Abdirahman

Team: USA

Age: 44

Known for: four-time Olympian; third-place finisher at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials; competed in the 10,000m in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympic Games; he is also the oldest U.S. runner to make the Olympics at age 44.

Discipline: 10,000m, marathon

Suguru Osako

Team: Japan

Age: 30

Known for: Japan national record holder for marathon with a time of 2:05:29 set at the 2020 Tokyo Marathon; Asian junior record holder for the half marathon; silver medalist at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games in 10,000m.

Discipline: 10,000m, marathon

Mo Farah running in the 2018 London Marathon near the finish line
Mo Farah runs the 2018 London Marathon; (photo/Keith Larby)

Mo Farah

Team: UK

Age: 38

Known for: four-time Olympian; four-time Olympic gold medalist; only the second athlete to win both 5,000m and 10,000m titles at successive Olympic Games; European record marathon record holder with a time of 2:05:11 set in 2018.

Discipline: marathon

Sara Hall

Team: USA

Age: 38

Known for: won silver at the 2020 London Marathon, coming in behind Brigid Kosgei; three-time USATF 10-mile championship winner.

Discipline: marathon

Mao Ichiyama

Team: Japan

Age: 24

Known for: fourth-fastest marathon woman in Japanese history with her time of 2:20:29 set in 2020; holds multiple event records in half marathon and marathons.

Discipline: marathon

Helalia Johannes

Team: Namibia

Age: 40

Known for: 2008 Olympian; first female runner from the Namibia team to qualify for the 2021 Olympic Games; holds three national records for the 10km, half marathon, and marathon — all set in 2019.

Discipline: marathon

Marathon Swimmers to Watch at the Olympic Games

triathletes running in swimwear

Haley Anderson

Team: USA

Age: 29

Known for: three-time Olympian; the 2012 London Olympic Games silver medalist.

Discipline: marathon swimming

Florian Wellbrock

Team: Germany

Age: 25

Known for: won gold medals in the 10km and 1,500m events in 2019, and became the first swimmer to do so in an international competition.

Discipline: marathon swimming, 1,500m freestyle

Marc-Antoine Olivier

Team: France

Age: 25

Known for: 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in marathon 10km swim; two-time World Championship gold medalist.

Discipline: marathon swimming, relay

Ashley Twitchell

Team: USA

Age: 32

Known for: two-time World Championship gold medalist (in open water 5K and 5K team relay); placed 6th in 2019 World Championships for the marathon swim distance.

Discipline: marathon swimming, relay, 800m freestyle

Italian Olympic swimmer Gregorio Paltrinieri
Gregorio Paltrinieri at the 2016 Olympic Games; (photo/Petr Toman)

Gregorio Paltrinieri

Team: Italy

Age: 26

Known for: excelling at short and long-distance swimming; current 1,500m freestyle World Record holder; 800m and 1,500m European record holder; placed 6th in the men’s 10km in the 2019 World Aquatics Championships open water race, also became a 5km team relay silver medalist.

Discipline: 800m freestyle, 1,500m freestyle, relay, marathon swimming

Jordan Wilimovsky

Team: USA

Age: 27

Known for: 2016 Olympian, placed 5th for the marathon swim at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games; won gold at the 2015 World Aquatic Championships for the 10K swim; was the first U.S. male swimmer to qualify for Tokyo 2020.

Discipline: 1,500m, marathon swimming

Kareena Lee

Team: Australia

Age: 27

Known for: Marathon Swim World Series bronze (2018) and silver (2019) medalist; competed to qualify for the swim team for the 2016 Olympic Games but collapsed during the competition; qualified for this year’s Olympic team in April 2021.

Discipline: marathon swimming

Results: Marathon Swimming

Editor’s Note: We’ve updated our article to reflect the swim results. 

The Olympic discipline of marathon swimming (10km distance) is fairly new to the world stage. The event was first held at the FINA swimming World Championships in Japan in 2001, and first held at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008.

Men’s 10K Swim

  • Gold: Florian Wellbrock, Germany
  • Silver: Kristof Rasovszky, Hungary
  • Bronze: Gregorio Paltrinieri, Italy

Women’s 10K  Swim

  • Gold: Ana Marcela Cunha, Brazil
  • Silver: Sharon van Rouwendaal, Netherlands
  • Bronze: Kareena Lee, Australia

Cyclists to Watch at the Olympic Games

At the Tokyo Olympic Games, over 190 athletes will participate in the road cycling category, with over 50 countries and nations competing. Given the large number of athletes competing, we’ve only highlighted the U.S. cyclists here. The U.S. Olympic Cycling team includes seven road athletes and eight track athletes, as well as four MTB and nine BMX athletes.

Outside the U.S. cycling team, teams from Belgium, Italy, Colombia, France, Germany, and the Netherlands are some to watch.

road cycling race pack

Chloé Dygert

Team: USA

Age: 24

Known for: competed at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games; seven-time world track cycling champion; 2019 time trial world championship winner.

Discipline: road, track: Team Pursuit, time trial

Brandon McNulty

Team: USA

Age: 23

Known for: medalist at National and World Under–23 Road Championships (2017, 2019); in 2016, he became the fourth American ever to become a junior world champion at the UCI Road World Championships.

Discipline: road, time trial

Amber Neben

Team: USA

Age: 46

Known for: three-time Olympian; has ridden on professional teams for 19 years; took first place in the time trial at the National Road Championships from 2017 to 2019; 2008 UCI World Time Trial Champion.

Discipline: road, time trial

U.S. cyclist Amber Neben cycling around a corner in an elite road race
Amber Neben rides at the 2016 UCI Road World Championships; (photo/Adam Hodges)

Jennifer Valente

Team: USA

Age: 26

Known for: two-time Olympian; silver medalist at the 2016 Olympic Games.

Discipline: track: Team Pursuit, Madison, and Omnium

Emma White

Team: USA

Age: 23

Known for: dual silver medals at the 2015 UCI World Junior Championships; won gold at the 2020 UCI World Championships in Team Pursuit.

Discipline: track: Team Pursuit

The Olympic Games: Schedule and How to Watch

Here are the scheduled highlights for the sports we’ve featured above. Note that for some disciplines, both genders (and mixed teams) compete on the same days. Read the full detailed schedule

  • Men’s Road Cycling: July 24
  • Women’s Road Cycling: July 25
  • Men’s Mountain Bike: July 26
  • Women’s Mountain Bike: July 27
  • Cycling time trials (men’s and women’s): July 28
  • Track Cycling (men’s and women’s): August 2-August 8
  • Men’s Triathlon: July 26
  • Women’s Triathlon: July 27
  • Women’s Marathon Swimming: August 4
  • Men’s Marathon Swimming: August 5

Find the 2021 Olympics on NBC on cable, and Amazon, Apple, or Roku TV. Or, watch live and recorded Olympic competitions online.

Watch the Olympics

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Mary Murphy

Mary is the Managing Editor of GearJunkie and is based in GearJunkie's Denver, Colo. office. She has a degree in English and journalism, and has a background in both newspaper and magazine writing. Her outdoor interests span from running to sport climbing, from landscape photography to skiing to pack-paddleboarding. If she's not writing, you can most likely find her at the top of a fourteener, or in a local bakery.