The staging of the first ever modern triathlon in Mission Bay in San Diego, California was a huge success. It didn’t stop 46 sports enthusiasts from joining even with only two weeks of notice and preparation, and the fact that the race was on an early Wednesday evening after work.
But the 1974 Mission Bay Triathlon wasn’t only instrumental for bringing the sport to the public. It’s also significant because it was joined by a handful of people who will later play a crucial role in ushering triathlon to the world.
John Collins, then a Commander of the U.S. Navy, lived in the San Diego area, specifically in Coronado. Commander Collins was well aware of the triathlons being conducted in and around San Diego. In fact, Commander Collins was among those who joined the 1974 and 1975 Mission Bay triathlons conducted by the San Diego Track Club (SDTC). He also participated in the 1975 triathlon which was started by Stan Antrim, an ex Navy frogman who was then the master swim coach of the Coronado Optimist Swim Club.
Participation in the first bona fide triathlon
Commander Collins, along with his wife Judy, and their children Michael and Kristin, then 13 and 12 respectively, were among the 46 folks who were drawn to the 1974 Mission Bay Triathlon.
According to Jack Johnstone, one of the organizers of the said event, Commander Collins’ name wasn’t in the official results published in the SDTC newsletter. Also there wasn’t anyone listed in the 35th place.
Jonstone, having discovered that Judy was Commander Collins’ wife, thought it highly likely that the latter might just be the unlisted participant. Johnstone called him to ask whether he was in the race, which he confirmed. This prompted Johnstone to list Commander Collins in the 35th place.
Commander Collins was by this time assigned in Hawaii. He and his family joined in the sporting events regularly held in the island. On the awarding ceremonies of the Oahu Perimeter Run, Commander Collins was present and was seated with his friends and colleagues. They engaged in their usual argument of who was in overall greater shape – runners or swimmers.
Commander Collins then said that cyclists might just be the healthiest among athletes as he read from an article that Belgian professional cyclist Eddy Merckx had the highest VO2 max.
An outrageous idea for a race
Commander Collins suggested that they combine all three disciplines in one race to finally see who indeed was fittest. After all, there was the 2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the 26.219-mile Honolulu Marathon, and the 115-mile Around-Oahu Bike Race which they could easily merge.
Most of the folks in the table came from and knew of the San Diego triathlons so they welcomed what then was still an outrageous idea. Prompted by the positive response, Commander Collins went up the stage to suggest the concept for a new endurance event. He said that as soon as the gun goes off, participants will commence the race, and whoever gets to the finish line first will be named the Ironman.
In an interview conducted by Nick Munting with Commander Collins, the Commander states that his suggestion “… got a really good laugh at the time!” However, many of the local as well as military athletes looked forward to the “three-part thing,” as how they’d refer to the race idea. So while many thought Commander Collins’ suggestion was outrageous, it’s undeniable that his concept for an endurance race has now become a huge success.