Famous Triathletes: Julie Moss

Hawaii Ironman did not immediately become popular. The inaugural race only attracted over a dozen brazen folks. Though the number of competitors doubled the following year in 1979, half of them backed out due to stormy weather. It wasn’t until 1980 that more than a hundred competitors signed up, all thanks to the Sports Illustrated article about Tom Warren. But what really brought the event to world renown was broadcast media’s coverage of Julie Moss.

Julie Moss(image via einestages.spiegel.de)

Julie Moss
(image via einestages.spiegel.de)

Who is Julie Moss?

Hawaii Ironman may have been started by a group of fiercely athletic military men, but not all pioneer triathletes are hard core sporty folks. Julie Moss is one such example. Then a graduate student in 1982, her passion was surfing. But aside from this, she was not really into competitive sports.

She flew to Hawaii for two reasons. First, she wanted to experience firsthand the rigors of this race for she was doing a thesis on the training and physiological requirements of endurance sports. Second, joining the Hawaii Ironman was her way of bonding with her then-boyfriend Reed Gregerson, a triathlete. As it would turn out, her participation in the race will prove to be pivotal, both for her and for the sport of triathlon.

Race preparation

Moss firmly believes that she works most efficient when under pressure. So instead of going into training as soon as she and Gregerson signed up, she didn’t start until 20 weeks from the race. Her first plunge into training was a half-Ironman triathlon in Santa Barbara, California in September 1981, where she did fairly well. She then proceeded to join the December 1981 Oakland marathon, one that ended in disappointment after experiencing exhaustion and dehydration at mile 20 of the course.

She almost decided not to pursue the big race when on Christmas eve, Gregerson broke up with her. Though devastated, the desire to graduate was more urgent. After all, her mother who works as a teacher and put her through school single-handedly had already put a lot of money into her Kona race. So instead of sulking, she did a race in Mission Bay in San Diego, California in January 1982 to further prepare.

Two weeks before race day, she flew to Hawaii where she stayed at least 35 miles from Kailua-Kona. Intending to utilize the remaining one week to ramp up her performance on the bike, she decided to add said commute distance to her planned bike training, which overall amounted to almost 400 miles the week before race.

Race day

Moss was among the group of leading women when she emerged from the water after 1 hour and 11 minutes. Donning a Lycra skinsuit someone sourced for her instead of the usual bike shorts and tank top she initially planned to wear, she finished the second leg in 5 hours and 53 minutes. While transitioning to the marathon phase, Moss’ bra strap broke. She pleaded with a volunteer to lend hers, which the latter reluctantly surrendered.

She was trailing marathon leader Pat Hines, a professional cyclist and a member of the first ever elite triathlon group Team J David, during the third leg. However, a few miles into the run, Hines dropped out due to severe leg cramps. Moss only became aware that she was leading the race about 8 miles from finish although news crews on helicopter and camera van have already been tailing her after Hines’ departure.

Six miles from finish, Moss would start to deteriorate. She’d labor from aid station to aid station, occasionally asking those near how far her closest opponent was, who turned out to be elite athlete Kathleen McCartney of Team J David. Though she joined the race with no ambitions of winning it, it all changed when she became the marathon’s forerunner.

Running only on bananas and water the whole day as well as lacking rest pre-race, her legs would start to give in one mile from finish. She would fall a handful of times yet still be able to maintain her lead. But as she was nearing the finish line, she would stagger and buckle and eventually would be unable to hold her legs up.

Though well meaning spectators rushed to her aid, she shooed them away for she didn’t want to get disqualified. Finally, 10 yards from finish, with only her arms having their strength, she started to crawl. As she was struggling her way through the crowds, McCartney, who had no idea about Moss’ plight, ran past and claimed the women’s first prize. On all fours, Moss would plod through and crawl and cross the finish line 29 seconds after McCartney.

Moss may not have gotten first prize, but her indomitable spirit was captured on camera. The race, which is by far the most dramatic and remarkable in Hawaii Ironman history, would eventually be shown on Wide World of Sports and inspire thousands to take up the sport of triathlon.

Sources:

17 Hours to Glory

Triathlon: Winner Who Didn’t Finish First

Julie Moss’ Agony in Defeat Was Appalling, But Love’s Labor Made Her a Star

History of Triathlon: 1997

1997 was a dynamic year for the sport of triathlon. It was when a legendary figure returned to the sport. Amazing world records were created during the year as well.

John Collins returns to triathlon

Hawaii Ironman’s creator Commander John Collins was unfortunately unable to continue organizing the competition after he got an assignment transfer back in 1980.  Commander Collins and wife Judy really didn’t have an idea of just how much the Ironman became a hit. They wanted to actively participate but time and distance made doing so impossible.

But then-default Ironman owner Valerie Silk would persistently invite them. Commander Collins and Judy would eventually accept, though not readily as they knew they would have to prepare for the grueling race.

Around this time, the Collins were in Panama and they thought the country, specifically Portobelo in Colón Province, was a perfect place for a triathlon. So they went ahead and organized a local event with the original goal of using it as their training for Kona. And much like what happened in Oahu in 1978, the triathlon event became a big hit and is to date a huge crowd drawer.

The Collins have since handed over the event to the newly established local triathlon association in Portobelo. Since their return to the sporting circuit in 1997, they have become the sport’s staunch ambassadors, roaming the world to continue spreading the word about triathlon.

Luc Van Lierde sets new Ironman record

1996 was a remarkable year for Belgian Luc Van Lierde as he took two gold and two silver medals from four elite competitions that were only a month apart from each other. In 1997, he again took home the gold from Ironman Europe, but only this time, he clocked in a new world record of 7:50:27, which will remain undefeated for more than a decade.

A repeat of the Ironman crawl

The 1982 Hawaii Ironman was memorable as it saw Julie Moss on all fours as she struggled to reach the finish line. This dramatic crawl will again be repeated in 1997. Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham, just yards away from the finish line, were both clearly in severely depleted physical states. Both were zigzagging and falling yet would amazingly stand on their feet again, only to fall once more. After repeated unsuccessful attempts at standing up, Ingraham would eventually just crawl after which Welch would follow in the same manner. Ingraham finished ahead, and just sat against the post. Welch would come in seconds later, collapsing after touching the finish-chute carpet, after which she would be dragged away by her support crew.

Wendy Ingraham and Sian Welch during the 1997 Hawaii Ironman (image via www.triathlete-europe.competitor.com)

Elite athlete collapses yards from Ironman finish

Welch and Ingraham ended up okay after collapsing. But such won’t be the case with professional triathlete Chris Legh. Yards from the finish line, Legh would fall a handful of times and would end up on all fours too. But after only minutes of crawling, Legh would collapse. He would be brought to the medical tent and be put on a bed of ice for a handful of hours while unconscious the whole time. After he came to, he was sent to his hotel to rest, only to come down with extreme fever again. He was finally sent to the hospital wherein a large part of his colon had to be taken out for it literally died due to lack of oxygen.

Chris McCormack dominates ITU-sanctioned races

Australian Chris McCormack had a busy race schedule in 1997. He joined a handful of triathlons in Switzerland and France. That’s not counting the eight ITU-organized races he participated in that year. He would go on to win two golds from the ITU Triathlon World Cup and ITU Triathlon World Championships, making him the only athlete to win both the World Cup and World Championships within a year.

Sources:

An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins

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

The Physiological Impact Of An Ironman On The Human Body

Belgian Man Breaks an Ironman Record

Interview with Gatorade Commercial Star Chris Legh

Chris McCormack ITU Results

Macca – Tales from the Tour – Triathlon 1998