Triathlon was a huge hit in France in the early 1900s through the 1920s. Reports of three-disciplined sports competitions being held once every year in various locations in the Paris region attest to the fame of the sport.
Such was not the case in the United States though. In fact, multi-sport competitions were practically unheard of until the 70s.
This year saw the staging of the first ever multi-sport competition in the country. It was dubbed Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon, a race consisting of run and swim legs.
David Pain, a civil lawyer based in San Diego, is the distinguished founder of the masters athletics movement in the United States. Back then, sports competitions only had open age categories which typically cover young athletes up to the age of 30.
Finding no available athletic competitions for folks aged 40 and over, Pain organized masters miles in 1966 to encourage those in said age group to join and compete in indoor and outdoor track races.
The advocacy was such a success that it paved the way for the age-group category, to accommodate not just young sports enthusiast who fall under the open age group, but expert and veteran athletes as well.
Pain’s regular track meets with masters became quite popular that a nationwide competition was staged and brought together 186 competitors in 1968. A year after, 200 veteran athletes from around the country joined the nationals event.
In 1972, Pain, his wife Helen, along with 152 other masters, traveled across Europe to compete in short and long distance races. In 1973, the Pains along with 51 expert and veteran athletes went to compete once more in age-group competitions in the Oceania and the South Pacific regions.
Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon
In 1972, Pain invited his friends and colleagues to a race to celebrate his 50th birthday. The first leg was a run of more than 4 miles through the Fiesta Island. The second was a swim of more than 200 yards through the estuary south of the Hilton Hotel.
It was reported that Pain’s reason for choosing these two particular disciplines was because he was quite skilled at swimming, and that back then, everybody was into jogging.
Garnering the support of running and swimming enthusiasts, the competition was an instant success. It was won by Don Phillips, who can be more or less considered as the first winner of the first ever multi-sport competition to be organized and held in the United States.
Dave Pain’s Birthday Biathlon was staged again in 1973. Among the folks who joined was Jack Johnstone, recognized as one of the founders of the modern triathlon. According to Johnstone’s accounts, he may have placed 14th on the 1973 event.
Johnstone was so taken by the sport that he eagerly joined again on 1974. This time, he placed 10th. Johnstone’s modest performance in the game inspired him to come up with his own event, which he staged that same year with the help of Don Shanahan and their friends and colleagues. This was to be the first ever modern triathlon in America.