Famous Triathletes: Dave Pain

Multi-discipline sporting events were practically unheard of in the United States in the early 1900s. Except for a triathlon event consisting of the 100 yard dash, shot put, and long jump at the 1904 Summer Olympic Games staged in St. Louis, Missouri, there were no other competitions of this nature in the country.

But the multi-discipline sport arena will forever change when one man decides to stage a run-and-swim race for his friends for his 50th birthday.

Who is Dave Pain?

David Pain, a San Diego-based civil lawyer, is an avid sportsman. At age 44, Pain would scour the area for athletic competitions to participate in. Unfortunately, he would find none that would accommodate folks in his age group.

Dave Pain
(image via masterstrack.com)

Founding the masters miles

The lack of competitive sporting events inspired Pain to establish the masters miles in 1966. This way, athletes and avid health buffs aged 40 and over could compete in track and field races as well. Through Pain’s initiative, indoor and outdoor track meets got regularly organized in and around the San Diego area.

The emergence of the masters athletics

Pain’s masters miles became so widely popular that it drew many regular competitors. What started out as casual track meets among a group of avid sportsmen and women became a national sensation.

By 1968, roughly two years from the founding of the masters miles, a nationwide competition was staged that drew an impressive 186 competitors. A year later, 200 competitors raced at the masters nationals.

Pain’s advocacy was so successful that the masters athletics movement spread even through Europe and paved the way for the inclusion of the age group category. By 1972, Pain, along with his wife and over a hundred masters would travel through the UK, Germany, Finland, Sweden, among other European countries, to represent the USA in the international masters competition. This worldwide race would be held annually ever since.

First multi-sport race in the US

In 1972, Pain turned 50 years old. Instead of the usual birthday party, Pain thought of organizing a sporting event for all of his friends. He quickly considered including swimming for he himself was quite skilled at it. Everyone was into jogging back then too, so he thought to incorporate said discipline for the event as well.

The plan was to have a run leg of more than 4 miles all the way through Fiesta Island, capped off with a 200-yard swim through the deep estuary south of the Hilton, one of the landmark hotels along the Southern California coast.

Needless to say, the multi-sport event, which incidentally was the first of its kind outside of the Olympic Games arena in the US, was a big hit. It was dominated by Don Phillips.

Foundation of multi-discipline sport established

Dave Pain’s Birthday Biathlon was again staged the following year in 1973. Among the many competitors who joined was Jack Johnstone. Johnstone was an All-American swimmer in his college years. Like many folks in his 30s, he too got into the jogging craze to get back into shape again. He found the birthday biathlon a welcome variation to his monotonous jogging workouts. During his first try, he placed 14th.

He got so smitten with the race that he once again signed up in 1974. This time around, he got into the top ten. He got so inspired by his improved performance at the second race that it led him to consider coming up with his very own event. Johnstone’s idea was to conduct a longer race though. So he thought of adding a third leg.

Johnstone, along with Don Shanahan, will later organize the first ever modern triathlon race. If not for Dave Pain’s inspiration, the multi-discipline sport that we all love today would not have come into fruition.


Triathlon – The Early History of the Sport

Masters athletics

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