Guide to Rio 2016 qualification in triathlon

There will 55 places on the starting line at Copacabana Beach. So how do you earn the right to be there? We explain the qualification system set by the ITU for Rio 2016 and the criteria specific to each country.

By Alberto Trillo | Photos: COC | Jason Ransom

Last weekend a second cycle in the Olympic qualification period began with the WTS in Yokohama. A maximum of 7 results from the first cycle and 9 from the second will count towards a total of 14 scores, or in other words, a long road full of uncertainty.

The principle of universality

To understand the criteria, first of all we must understand the principle of universality governing participation in the Olympics. This principle guarantees the participation of all continents and as many different countries as possible in each sport. Although it aims not to impede competitiveness, this principle means that great athletes can be left out due to the competition they have in their countries. Consider the distance runners from Kenya and Ethiopia, for instance.

The place is for the country and not the triathlete

In triathlon, the athletes earn places with their results for their country and not for themselves directly. Their participation is not even guaranteed if they achieve automatic qualification as a continental champion or with a podium place in the 2015 Olympic Qualification event for Rio. The place is at the discretion of the country’s National Olympic Committee (NOC), although they normally select those who achieve these results.

Any eligible athlete could therefore participate in Rio if their NOC so chooses, even if he or she did not achieve the place with their direct results. 

Who is eligible?

These are the basic criteria that must be met (at least one of them) by 15 May 2016 for triathletes to be selected by their NOC:

  • Being among the top 140 in the ITU Olympic Qualification List.
  • Being among the top 140 in the 2015 ITU World Triathlon Series (WTS) Ranking.
  • Being among the top 140 in the ITU Points List.
  • Winning a quota place for their National Olympic Committee (NOC) at the ITU Continental Olympic Qualification Events. For instance, the 2015 Baku European Games.
  • Winning a quota place for their NOC at the 2015 ITU World Olympic Qualification Event - Rio. 

For instance, the USA might have 10 triathletes eligible for three places.  Below we will see what each country that faces this problem is doing to award the places.

In any case, a country can never have more than three triathletes on the starting line. Only eight countries may have this maximum quota. 

How is this maximum quota achieved?

Qualification system

Two places are reserved for invitation by the Tripartite Commission (the NOCs, the international federations and the IOC. Here’s how it works). 

One place is reserved for Brazil as the host nation (if it has not won a place already under the regular system, which we will look at now). 

The 52 remaining places are allocated on the basis of the following system and awarded in the following order:

- 5 places are won in each continent’s qualifying event.

- 3 places are allocated in the Rio Olympic Qualification triathlon, to be held in August 2015. 

- Places 9 to 47 will be awarded according to the Olympic Qualification List. To obtain the maximum quota, the higher the third-placed qualifier is in the list, the more likely it is the three places will be won. In the men’s, for Beijing and London, this “third eighth” fell around 35th.

- The five last places are reserved, with a maximum of one per continent, for the next country in the ITU points list that has not already met its quota.

With this explanation, and to fully understand the system, it is worth looking at the simulation of how each of the 55 places are awarded on the basis of the current results and Olympic Qualification List. Here you can consult the full qualification system for the 2016 Olympic Games in the triathlon.

We will now analyse the systems known so far for the countries with the greatest domestic competition for awarding their places.


In the men’s category, the first place will be awarded to the athlete who wins Spain’s place in the Baku European Games or the 2015 Olympic Qualification Event for Rio, or the highest-placed triathlete in the Olympic List on 31 December 2015, as long as he is among the top 10 (or in the case of the women’s,  among the top 30). 

The second place will be awarded to the highest-placed athlete in the Olympic Qualification List on 31 December 2015, under the same system (top 10 or top 30) as the first place.

The third place will be at the discretion of the technical management of the Spanish Federation.

This system explains why Spanish triathletes are competing in so many WTS events this year: their position in the ranking is crucial.

Great Britain    

The controversy in Britain came in its qualifying event for the 2015 Rio triathlon in Antalya (Turkey) with the disqualification of Matt Sharp.

British Triathlon has released its list for the Rio 2016 Olympic Test Event. A podium place there or in the Chicago Grand Final will mean automatic qualification (assuming they win three quota places both in the men’s and the women’s). The places not filled in this way will be awarded on the basis of performance in those races, with priority going to the Rio event.

The criteria take into account the athlete’s capacity to win an individual medal or to help Team GB win one in Rio 2016, like Lucy Hall and Stuart Hayes did in London 2012, acting as domestiques.

In the event that these criteria are not met by the team, another test event will be selected in 2016.


The American federation sets out three qualifying events. 

  1. The Rio Test Event. The two highest-placed male and female athletes in the first event will qualify automatically, provided they finish in the top 8.
  2. The 2015 WTS Chicago Grand Final. The next athlete will qualify under the same criteria, whether as second or third in the quota. 
  3. A third Olympic-distance ITU event to be confirmed in 2016 if necessary. In this race the athlete must achieve a podium place in a WTS race or win the World Cup.

If there is still a place to fill, selection will be based on the athlete’s ability to help the Olympic team win a medal and a subsequent selection based on the objective allocation of points in certain ITU competitions.


A podium place in the Rio Test Event guarantees a place in the Australian Olympic team. This is the first criterion.

If no one achieves this, the place will be awarded to the highest-ranked athlete in the top 10 in this triathlon.

The other event with automatic qualification will be a WTS during the first quarter of 2016, still unconfirmed. Being among the top 10 in this event would earn a place. 

As an additional requirement, the Australian federation stipulates that any triathlete achieving qualification must continue to compete in international competitions in order to attempt to ensure the maximum quota, as well as follow a training and competition plan in preparation for Rio. 

If there are still places to assign, the federation will make a discretionary selection on the basis, among other criteria, of performances in the WTS during the Olympic qualifying period. 


The Canadian federation divides the selection process into two phases. 

In the first phase, a maximum of two athletes will be selected if they achieve a top-8 finish in the Rio Qualification Event and/or the 2015 Chicago Grand Final.

Like the Australians, the triathletes who have qualified must continue during 2016 to demonstrate their commitment to preparing for the Rio Olympics, achieving a top 12 as a minimum in a 2016 WTS event within the Olympic qualification period. 

In the second phase, once again a maximum of two athletes may be selected, depending on their performance in the first three Olympic-distance WTS events in 2016, provided they have finished in the top 8 in a WTS race during the Olympic qualifying period. 

If the places are not filled in the first two phases, a discretionary selection will be made based on the triathlete’s chances of winning a medal, whether individually or helping the team. 


In order, the criteria of the Portuguese federation are: 

  1. Being a medallist in the Rio Olympic Qualification Triathlon
  2. Winning the 2015 Baku European Games
  3. Being a medallist in the 2015 World Championship (WTS)
  4. Winning the WTS 2015 Chicago Grand Final
  5. Winning a round of the WTS in 2015 or 2016
  6. Highest ranked in the Olympic Qualification List

New Zealand

The New Zealand federation will evaluate all of the WTS events held from the grand final in September 2014 to mid April 2016, as well as the 2015 Rio Test Event. 

It will pay special attention to three aspects: 

  1. Ability to win an individual medal. In other words:
    1. The triathlete achieved two or more podium places in the WTS and/or Rio Test Event, of which one must be a grand final podium place, in either 2014 or 2015
    2. The triathlete has achieved two or more podium places in WTS races and/or the test event, with or without a grand final
  2. Ability to achieve an Olympic diploma (top eight)
    1. Achieve two or more top-8 finishes in WTS races and/or the Rio Test Event during the Olympic qualification period
  3. The possibility of including other athletes from other categories yet to be decided is also envisaged.


Like they did for London, France will aim to have two triathletes selected after the 2015 Grand Final. 

The criteria to win the first two places are:

1. A podium place in the Rio Olympic Qualification Triathlon. If two athletes achieve this, the next criteria will be disregarded.

2. Finishing in the top 6 in the 2015 Rio Test Event or a podium place in the 2015 Chicago Grand Final.

The third qualifying athlete will be decided on the basis of technical criteria relating to results obtained during the Olympic qualifying period.


Mexico will have 5 places if it maintains its quotas (2 in the women’s and 3 in the men’s). In both the women’s and men’s the first two places obtained by the Mexican Federation may be awarded automatically on the basis of:

1.    Top 8 in the Grand Final of the 2015 WTS.
2.    Medallist in the 2015 Rio Olympic Qualification Triathlon.
3.    Top 8 in the WTS round or 2016 WC selected by the federation as the last event that awards automatic qualification.
4.    Finishing among the top 15 in the Olympic Qualification List.

For any remaining places unassigned because these criteria are not met, and in any event for the third quota place, technical criteria will decide who will go to Rio 2016.

Note: This article is not intended to be exhaustive; its purpose is to provide insight into how countries select their athletes. For more details, please consult the links provided.