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Coaches Blog

Q&A With A Triathlon Official (Referee)

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

As a triathlon race official, I answer a lot of questions throughout the year. This article will answer some of the questions our Team MPI family members have submitted.

Q: Is it ok to rest in the penalty tent if I didn't receive a penalty?

A: Haha. I think. You can rest anywhere, but there may not be room for you to rest in the PT, depending on the race.

Q: What is the most common penalty for different triathlon distances?

A: Regardless of race length, the two most commonly applied penalties are drafting and failure to complete the entire course.

Q: What's the least common penalty?

A: In my experience, the least common violation is Obstruction. Which is the act of intentionally or unintentionally impeding the forward progress of another athlete.

Q: What do you like most about your referee job?

A: Working for and with the athletes to ensure a fair competition. The energy of transition is just as palpable for officials on race morning! Race morning is still just as exciting, with many tasks to be accomplished on a tight timeline.

Q: What's the funniest thing you've seen at a triathlon?

A: That's a long list! At one race where shirts were required for all athletes, we had an athlete that kept asking about cutting holes in his shirt to increase airflow since he was used to running with no shirt. He showed up on race morning with a shirt covered in holes.

Q: Are any actions being considered to increase athlete safety on the course?

A: Athlete safety is really a partnership between athletes, race management, and the officials. Unfortunately, regardless of all precautions we take to ensure the safest race, we do not control human behavior. What we try to emphasize is what my friend Dave Downey (announcer for IM) tells all athletes during briefings, "Treat race day as a training day. Assume that automobiles are out to get you."

Q: How can we avoid drafting violations when climbing hills, especially when it's not always possible to pass quickly enough?

A: Athletes often ask this question. A true hill versus a rise is typically excluded from drafting calls. The well-trained official uses judgment to assess what is really going on and what conditions are observed. The old saying for officials is, "When athletes are climbing a hill, they are just trying to get to the top, and when descending, they are just trying to survive." In cases of on-course notification of penalties, sometimes athletes are notified of a penalty on a rise or hill and incorrectly assume that the violation is for proximity to an athlete on the climb. However, in on-course notification, the infraction would have occurred previously. The slow climb may be the safest place for the athlete to be notified of a prior violation.

The most critical thing officials want to emphasize to athletes is that we are at the race to work for you, the athlete. We are on your side! Athletes want a fair competition. Officials are trained to use their judgment and experience to primarily look for athletes who are gaining or attempting to gain an unfair competitive advantage over other athletes in the competition.


Coach Mark Turner (aka Coach MarkT) is a Houston, Texas Metro area based Coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II and Paratriathlon Certified Coach, IRONMAN University Certified Coach,VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and Mental Strengths Performance Coach. Coach MarkT absolutely loves coaching and helping the athletes achieve their dreams. MarkT is also a US Veteran having served in the United States Marine Corps. He is a graduate of the University of Houston Honors College with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science. In addition to endurance sports, his interests include history, science fiction, and cooking. He can be reached at



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