History of Triathlon: 1981

The Ironman triathlon competitions in Hawaii became a much awaited yearly affair. The number of entries grew exponentially since its first staging. From 15 participants in 1978 and 1979, to 108 in 1980, entries increased to almost 500 for the competition’s fourth year in 1981.

Ironman Triathlon’s Increasing Popularity

Sports enthusiasts started to hear of the demanding three-sport endurance race that’s being held once a year in the scenic island of Oahu. The increased exposure of the sport can be attributed to Barry McDermott’s blow by blow account of the 1979 race which was featured on the prominent magazine Sports Illustrated. ABC Sports’ coverage of the January 1980 competition, which it showed on March 23 via its widely viewed show Wide World of Sports, played a huge role in disseminating Ironman Hawaii’s existence as well.

New Venue

More and more letters requesting to join the race poured in. And these were not only from folks around the country, but from the other parts of the world as well. It then became apparent that the location in Oahu, then already quite urbanized, was not enough to accommodate the special requirements and sheer size of the event. Valerie Silk, then the designated director of the endurance race, decided to relocate the competition to the less populated Big Island.

With the competition’s move, a new race course had to be designed. Silk made sure that the distances of the three legs will remain the same. Kailua-Kona Bay became the location for the 2.4-mile open water swim. A ride to and from the lava desert of Hāwī was assigned for the 112-mile bike leg. For the more than the 26-mile marathon, Big Island’s coast from Keauhou through Keahole, and then all the way back to the starting point in Kailua-Kona, was assigned.

Swim leg of the Ironman World Championship, now being held in Kailua-Kona since 1981. (image via www.wikipedia.org)

Familiar Faces and More Female Competitors

Gordon Haller, Ironman Hawaii’s 1978 winner, as well as Ian Emberson, a restaurant manager who has been joining consistently since the first Ironman, both competed. Chuck Neumann and Thomas Boughey, who placed 2nd and 5th respectively in 1980, were in attendance too. Over 20 women sports enthusiasts of varying ages participated as well.

Race Results

John Howard, an Olympic cyclist and a native of Springfield, Missouri, won the first place for finishing in 9 hours, 38 minutes, and 29 seconds. This was Howard’s second time in the Ironman competition. He competed a year earlier and placed 3rd in the 1980 race. In second place was Tom Warren, the San Diego native who took the 1979 Hawaii Ironman trophy. And in third place was Scott Tinley, who finished in 10 hours, 12 minutes, and 47 seconds.

Sources:

History of Ironman

1981 Nautilus International Triathlon Results

Ironman World Championship

John Howard

Wide World of Sports Highlights – 1980s

History of Triathlon: 1979

The 1978 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon may have only drawn a handful of participants, but it no less proved that a grueling three-sport race is not at all impossible to accomplish. A year after its first staging, Ironman Hawaii was again conducted by the Collins family in 1979.

A day late

The second official Hawaii Ironman Triathlon was supposed to be held on a Saturday, January 13, 1979. However, Commander Collins had to postpone the event for one day due to extremely stormy weather.

Race Day – January 14, 1979

Commander Collins gave the go signal to proceed with the competition the next day, Sunday. However, it didn’t start at 7:00 a.m. as planned. Commander Collins was extremely worried that someone might drown in the turbulent sea. His concern was further raised by the fact that there was only one rescue boat for the swim leg. With the sea still so rough, a veteran Navy officer who volunteered manpower and his sea vessel was unsuccessful in bringing the boat out of the harbor.

High winds were a problem too, and Commander Collins was concerned that the condition might make for an even more stressful bike leg for the participants. All the same, a handful of eager fitness buffs showed up to join. Originally, 28 individuals signed up. However, with the weather having only slightly improved, some backed out leaving only 15 to compete in the race.

Starting line of the 1979 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon (image via arkansasoutside.com)

Familiar Faces

Gordon Haller, who placed first during the 1978 Ironman, again joined with the aim of repeating his accomplishment of the prior year. John Dunbar, a college student who placed second in the 1978 Ironman, participated too. Dunbar, wearing a Superman costume that stormy Sunday morning, was dead set on dominating this competition as he vowed this will be his last Ironman. Ian Emberson and Henry Forest, who finished 4th and 7th respectively in the 1978 Ironman, were in attendance too.

Familiar faces from the local athletic crowd weren’t the only ones present. The competition brought together relatively unknown and interesting personalities as well. There was Ken Shirk who spectators referred to as “Cowman,” who donned a fake fur buffalo hat with very prominent cow horns protruding from it. There was Tom Warren as well, a San Diego native who spent $1,000 just to attend the competition in the island state.

Results

The first leg was a perilous passage from the War Memorial Natatorium to the Hilton Channel. Each participant was accompanied by a paddler to serve as navigator. 40 minutes into the swim, Jamie Neely, Haller’s guide, had to be rescued for he was really terrified for his life. This caused Haller the swim leg, finishing only in the 9th place after 112 minutes of zigzagging through the sea for having no guide.

The official results record San Diego native Tom Warren in the 1st place, finishing at 11 hours, 15 minutes, and 56 seconds. John Dunbar came in 2nd, followed by Ian Emberson in the 3rd place. Gordon Haller, due to a disastrous swim, placed 4th overall. In 5th place was 27-year-old Lyn Lemaire from Boston. She was the only female competitor at the time and therefore became the first ever female Ironman finisher.

Sources:

Ironman

Historical Triathlon Results – 1978

Historical Triathlon Results – 1979