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: 1982

Important milestones in the sport of triathlon took place in 1982. During this year, one of the most memorable races took place. A sanctioning body for this newly emerging endurance sport got established as well.

February 6, 1982 Race

Julie Moss, a graduate student researching on training and physiological requirements of endurance races, decided to join the 1982 event as part of her study on the subject. Moss, while at first wasn’t really aiming on acing the race, nonetheless found herself first in the pack of runners for the final leg of the competition, leading the others by at least 20 minutes.

440 yards from the finish line, Moss started deteriorating, perhaps due to her meager diet of bananas and water for that entire day. She frequently buckled from running, but only to stand up again and do an evidently agonizing walk-run maneuver.

Julie Moss crawling towards the finish line during the 1982 Hawaii Ironman Race. (image via womensadventuremagazine.com)

Only 10 yards from the finish line, Moss’ legs again gave in. While she was struggling to get back on her feet, she was overtaken by Kathleen McCartney. McCartney, after crossing the finish line and awarded with the medal, had to be told by race volunteers that she’d won the women’s division.

Amidst all the fanfare for McCartney’s victory, there was Moss on the ground. She was on all fours and crawling towards the finish line, which she indeed successfully crossed 29 seconds after McCartney.

Moss’ finish was all caught on ABC Sports’ cameras. The event was then aired on February 21, 1982 via the program Wide World of Sports. Needless to say, Moss became the symbol for strength and resolve, and many were inspired to try the sport because of her.

April 9, 1982

A series of high profile coverage on print and broadcast media brought the grueling sport of triathlon to the public. There was Barry McDermott’s piece about Tom Warren and the 1979 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon on Sports Illustrated magazine. Since 1980, ABC Sports has been covering the competition as well, further propagating knowledge about the sport.

With triathlon rapidly developing, it became apparent that the sport had to be formalized and given more institutional structure. This way, crucial standards such as for competition rules and safety, can be established.

On February 16, 1982, the U.S. Triathlon Association was formed through the initiative of John Disterdick and James Gayton. Only weeks after, another organization with the same aim, was established as well. It was named American Triathlon Association by its founders Michael Gilmore, Jarold Johnson, and Penny Little.

On March 15, 1982, the founders of these two groups met and decided to combine said associations into one and officially call it United States Triathlon Association.

Sources:

February 6, 1982 Ironman Results

TRIATHLON; Winner Who Didn’t Finish First

Julie Moss – Back To Kona To Celebrate Her Defining Moment

USA Triathlon

History of Triathlon: 1980

The 1979 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon was fraught with logistical problems due to stormy weather during competition day. But while this was the case, the event will long be recognized as one of the most important in the history of triathlon as it was instrumental in further bringing the sport to the public.

Ironman on Sports Illustrated

The 1980 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon saw entries increase almost tenfold, thanks to an in-depth article about the 1979 Ironman which got featured on Sports Illustrated. Columnist Barry McDermott was on assignment to cover a golf tournament in Hawaii. Having heard of the upcoming three-sport race, he proceeded to the island of Oahu to document the event.  Entries increased to 108 in 1980 from a meager 15 the year prior after McDermott’s piece on the influential magazine appeared.

This picture is part of ‘Ironman” by Barry McDermott, article published in Sports Illustrated May 14, 1979. (image via tri247.com.au)

John Collins posted from Hawaii

By this time, the Collins family was in the process of packing up all of their belongings as Commander Collins got a transfer order. Commander Collins, aware that he will no longer be able to organize the 1980 event as well as the succeeding competitions, had to look for someone to take over his place.

He convinced Hank Grundman, the owner of two fitness clubs in the area, to take on the task. Commander Collins handed Grundman the “race box”, a shoe box used to store the entries. Commander Collins, when prompted by Grundman about what he wished in exchange for handing over the race, said that he wanted slots to always be reserved for ordinary folks, and that his family could always participate. Grundman then entrusted the race box to his then-wife Valerie Silk for safekeeping.

Television Coverage

Incidentally, among the dozen entries was a letter from ABC Sports. To secure the right to document the race, the show called Commander Collins well ahead of the staging of the third Ironman. The Commander agreed on the condition that the arrangement won’t cost him any money, and that ABC will bring its own equipment and crew.

Familiar Faces in the Crowd

Much like the second Ironman, this race in 1980 brought together longtime local athletes as well as prominent triathletes from around the country. There was Gordon Haller, the title holder for the first ever Ironman in 1978. Henry Forest and Ian Emberson, who both participated in the two prior races, were in attendance too. Tom Warren, the San Diego native who took the 1979 Ironman title, came back to compete as well. Ken Shirk, better known as “Cowman” for his quirky race getup, joined too.

Dave Scott won the 1980 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. Furthermore, the competition was participated in not only by Americans, but by Australians as well. The race is not only crucial for having gained coverage from a major television network, but because it is the first Ironman event that attracted international participants.

Sources:

An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins

History of Ironman

Ironman Triathlon

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