Modern triathlon emerged relatively late. It’s not even in its 50-year mark yet, but it’s one of the most widely received sports in the world right now. In fact, no other sport is as extensively supported and participated in than triathlon.
Triathlon’s appeal is undeniable. Triathletes flock by the hundreds to local competitions, and by the thousands to international events. But have you ever wondered how this three-disciplined sports competition came about?
Jogging was all the rage in the 70s. Track clubs and meets were commonplace back then. This was especially the case in the Pacific Beach community in San Diego, California. Sports enthusiasts and fitness buffs would organize regular track competitions which were normally capped off with dips in the ocean to cool off.
San Diego Track Club
One of these clubs was the San Diego Track Club (SDTC). It wasn’t unusual for members to devise their own special races. They then enlist these on the club’s calendar of events to both inform and invite fellow members to participate.
One of them was Jack Johnstone. He, like all the other health buffs then, was into jogging. He was once a university swimmer too. Having joined the Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon the two prior years, Johnstone wanted to come up with a similar event.
However, he wanted to put equal focus on both swimming and running. Plus, he wanted to have multiple alternating legs, with each leg having longer distances than the biathlon he previously joined.
After designing his very own event, Johnstone spoke with SDTC’s Calendar Chairman Bill Stock. Stock agreed to put his event on the club’s calendar. Stock suggested that he call Don Shanahan as the latter also had an idea for a race.
Don Shanahan was one of the board members of the SDTC. Shanahan decided to engage in cycling as a cross training routine for when nursing running injuries. Shanahan’s idea for the race was to have a cycling leg after the biathlon.
Mission Bay Triathlon
Johnstone agreed to incorporate Shanahan’s idea and they decided to stage the competition on September 25, 1974. They ran a notice on SDTC’s newsletter which read “Run, Cycle, Swim: Triathlon Set for 25th.”
Needless to say, the first ever modern triathlon event, the Mission Bay Triathlon, was a success. Though it was publicized just two weeks prior, and was done on a weekday evening, it drew an impressive 46 participants. It was won by Bill Phillips, the same fellow who previously dominated the Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon. John and Judy Collins, who years later established the Ironman Triathlon, had participated in the event as well.