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Coaches Blog

Time Isn’t Everything

Sports penalties take on various forms and are typically tailored to the sport in question. Most are rooted in unfair competitive advantage gained, whether intentional or otherwise, or the safety of the competitors.

When violations occur during a sporting event, the officials must penalize athletes who violate the competition rules. While no system of rules and their enforcement is perfect, regardless of the sport, officials do their best to ensure a fair and safe competition.

Sport competitors (and those who observe sports competitions) often labor under misunderstandings as to what a penalty for any given sport is designed to accomplish. Let’s look at a few examples:

  1. In American football, yardage gained or lost is everything. Therefore, penalties are also based on yardage, either given or subtracted.

  2. In both biathlon and automobile racing, completing a predesignated number of laps within a certain time frame and under specific conditions determines the results. Therefore, penalties may be assessed as extra (penalty) laps.

In triathlon, completing the entire course in the fastest time determines placement in the results. Compared to other sports it is easy to misinterpret the reasoning behind triathlon penalty time.

Many wrongly believe that penalties are applied as a result of an observed violation of the competition rules to offset any time advantage gained due to the violation. However, in triathlon, penalties are simply applied to athletes who are observed violating the competition rules because they are violating the competition rules.

There is no way for an official to discern and determine, with any degree of accuracy, the amount of time advantage possibly gained through a violation of the rules.

So, while time penalties in triathlon may equate to a “balancing” of unfair time advantage gained, the reason time penalties are used in triathlon is because there is no other reasonable choice of a form of penalty that would result in any punitive force. Unlike automobile racing, biathlon, and American football, adding extra distance in triathlon is not a workable solution to violations of the rules.


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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