History of Triathlon: 1990

1990 was witness to a crucial transition period in the sport. It was the year that saw a change of leadership within the Triathlon Federation USA. Around the same time, Ironman Hawaii was transferred to its new owners as well.

Ironman Hawaii sold

Valerie Silk became the default owner and organizer of Ironman Hawaii since 1980. This was after Commander John Collins, Ironman’s creator, got posted to a different assignment and therefore could no longer handle the event in Hawaii.

According to Silk, she was apprehensive in taking over Ironman Hawaii as she was then quite busy handling two fitness clubs in downtown Honolulu which she and then husband Hank Grundman owned.

But while she only took the responsibility reluctantly, there’s no denying that the endurance competition flourished under her management. It was under her leadership that Ironman became wildly popular after garnering coveted coverage in both print and broadcast media. Ironman became a professional sporting competition under Silk as well, making the event highly profitable.

All the same, Silk decided to sell Ironman Hawaii, formally called Hawaiian Triathlon Corporation. In 1990, Dr. Jim Gill, an ophthalmologist and regular Ironman competitor, acquired the Ironman brand from Silk for $3 million. Gill then proceeded to establish the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), the for-profit organization that now handles and holds Ironman competitions around the globe.

Logo of the Ironman, a brand now owned by the World Triathlon Corporation (image via www.ironman.com)

Changes to the Officials Program

The triathlon Federation USA established its Officials Program and subsequently held training and certification for its officiating personnel as early as 1987. Through the program, the referees’ myriad functions were made clear. Not only were they tasked with officiating competitions, but it is their recommendations that ultimately predict whether or not a race organizer’s application for sanctioning will be approved or declined. Needless to say, the Officials Program served to solidify the referees’ authority.

With the leadership changes, however, were modifications to the Officials Program and competitive rules. The appeals section of the rule book was modified, a move which the pioneers and supporters of the original Officials Program saw as a way to accommodate elite athletes and a shortcut to making Tri-Fed’s rules more suitable for the International Triathlon Union.

These changes inevitably affected the referees and essentially reduced their role in the sport. The new Executive Director, perhaps in an effort to bridge the gap within the leadership, assigned an Officials Coordinator. But this was received negatively as the others only saw it as a maneuver to take control away from the Board of Officials, thus furthering the misunderstanding within the federation’s leaders, a rift which lasted for nearly two years.

Triathlon-themed fashion line for women

Triathlon’s effect was far-reaching and even influenced women’s fashion. In 1990, Danskin, a leading manufacturer of women’s dance wear, released a fashion line especially dedicated to women triathletes. Danskin organized women-only triathlon competitions in various cities in the U.S as well.


If Valerie Silk Had Gotten Her Way, There May Never Have Been an Ironman

World Triathlon Corporation

The History of Competitive Rules 1985-1990

The Triathlon Officials’ Program 1983-1998

Women in Triathlon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *