World's Best Triathletes: Which Country has the Fastest Competitors?

One of the common questions raised when it comes to our ranking of the top 25 toughest ironman distance races is about a correlation between triathletes' abilities and where they live and train. Are triathletes from one country or region inherently 'better' than others?

Some maintain that European triathletes are better than North American athletes, for example. Faster Europeans may lead to faster average finish times in certain European races, so the argument goes, making those races appear 'easier' than north American races. To be specific, the most often example raised is the comparison between Ironman Germany and German athletes and North American Ironman events and US/Canada triathletes.

So we put it to the test: does one country consistently have faster triathletes?

To find the answer, we analyzed the best athletes from top triathlon countries -- those that qualified for Kona -- competing head to head at the 2010 Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii.

Results? Somewhat inconclusive; it depends on the age group.  When you compare Kona competitors' average finish times by age group across the 13 countries with the most qualifiers, it's not immediately clear that one country consistently produces faster finishers.

In M25-29, triathletes from Germany and the US delivered nearly identical times, and those times were within 10 minutes or so of finishers from Australia, Austria, UK, New Zealand and Switzerland.

In M30-34, US athletes combined for the slowest time, but most of the other countries have average finisher times within 10 minutes or so of 9:55: Australia, Austria, Canada, France, UK, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and Switzerland. Ten minutes or less separate these countries' triathletes. 

Of the others, Brazil's finishers are fastest in M30-34 with a 9:37 average time. Does this mean Brazil has the fastest triathletes? 

Not if you look at the M35-39 age group, for starters, where the average time of Brazilian finishers is second slowest. In M35-39, finish times from UK, 9:46 on average, are definitively the fastest of the division. Does this mean UK triathletes are fastest?

Not if you look at the M40-44 age group . . . and so it goes. 

Which country has the fastest triathletes? If the answer depends upon which age group you're talking about, there's not a definitive answer. Take a look at other Kona age group average finishing times by country, and you'll see what we mean.