Famous Triathletes: Don Shanahan

Participating in the two prior Dave Pain Birthday Biathlons gave Jack Johnstone the inspiration to stage his very own multi-sport event. However, what he had in mind was to have more alternating runs and swims. Including the cycling leg was another man’s idea.

Who is Don Shanahan?

Don Shanahan moved to San Diego, California in 1972 as required by his job with the marines. A health buff very keen on running, Shanahan eventually joined the San Diego Track Club, one of the many track and field groups that emerged due to the explosion of the jogging craze in the early 1970s. Shanahan would later become one of the board members of the San Diego Track Club.

Introduced to cycling

Shanahan was nursing an injury from running. A sport buff through and through, this did not stop him from pursuing other sports. Through a friend, he got introduced to cycling which back then was not yet a popular discipline. Needless to say, he grew fond of the sport that he considered including it in a multi-sport race he was thinking of staging with the help of the SDTC.

Collaboration with Jack Johnstone

Still in the planning stages of the multi-sport race he was looking to conduct, Shanahan received a call from fellow SDTC member Jack Johnstone. Johnstone, at this time, had already conferred with Bill Stock, then in-charge of the club’s calendar of activities.

Pioneer triathletes Bill Phillips, Don Shanahan, and Jack Johnstone
(image via www.triathlonhistory.com)

Johnstone wanted to put the race he designed into the club’s calendar. Stock readily agreed though advised Johnstone to call Shanahan for the latter also had a unique concept for a race. Perhaps the two could incorporate their ideas into one so as not to have too many unusual races on the club’s official lineup of activities.

Johnstone, having no prior experience in competitive cycling, was not too keen on Shanahan’s idea of including a bike leg. But Johnstone nonetheless agreed and both proceeded to make the necessary arrangements for the competition.

Planning the very first modern triathlon

The event, which they dubbed the Mission Bay Triathlon, was finally set on September 25, 1974 and would consist of run-bike-run-swim-run legs. They then commissioned a short ad on the San Diego Track Club Newsletter, making sure to mention that competitors bring their own bikes. Since there were not too many races at that time, and given that the sporting community in the Pacific Beach area was very close-knit, it did not take long for word of the triathlon event to get out.

The two-man organizing team managed to pool volunteers to serve as lifeguards. Making sure the competitors’ shoes, which will surely be damp and smelly, will be at the starting line of every run leg, will be taken care of by an additional volunteer support crew which will comprise of Johnstone’s wife and other folks.

Staging the very first modern triathlon

On September 25, 1974, forty six enthusiastic competitors turned up. This surprised Shanahan and Johnstone. For one, they barely had a month to disseminate information regarding the event. Secondly, race day was on a weekday, and scheduled for late afternoon as well. Surely folks would be too tired from work to even bother showing up, much less race multiple legs of running, biking, and swimming.

Being on a very tight budget, the competition lacked logistics-wise. In fact, Shanahan had to make last minute arrangements and requested those with cars to turn their vehicles’ headlights on to provide light for those emerging from the last swim leg. But the event, considered the first ever modern triathlon in history, was a success. Bill Phillips, who won the Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon, emerged victorious at the 1974 Mission Bay Triathlon.


Triathlon – The Early History of the Sport

Don Shanahan Interview

Famous Triathletes: Jack Johnstone

The roots of the multi-discipline sporting arena were set firmly in 1972, thanks to San Diego-based lawyer Dave Pain. Of the handful of competitors who joined Pain’s Birthday Biathlons, one man named Jack Johnstone got the idea of staging his very own multi-sport event with more alternating legs and longer distances.

Who is Jack Johnstone?

Jack Johnstone is recognized today as the father of modern triathlon. During his college years, Johnstone was an All-American swimmer. But as is the case with many who go into their 30s, Johnstone too lost his optimum physical condition.

So in 1971, at 35 years old, Johnstone decided to get back into shape again and got into jogging. He ended up joining numerous competitive races afterwards. His involvement in San Diego’s very active and very dynamic sporting community eventually led him to Dave Pain’s Birthday Biathlon in 1973. This year was incidentally the second run of the said race and where Johnstone performed fairly in.

Jack Johnstone and Dave Pain circa 1975
(image via www.triathlonhistory.com)

A year later in 1974, Johnstone joined once more and this time got in the top ten. His improved performance during the second race further confirmed that multi-sport competitions were more to his liking. So he thought of coming up with his very own race too. However, he wanted to have some modifications to the biathlon that Dave Pain organized.

Devising the race course

Johnstone wanted to put equal focus on both swimming and running. And he considered putting more alternating legs, with each having longer distances, for he thought the previous biathlons were a tad shorter.

He finally set running as the first leg, followed by swimming, and then another run but this time on foot. So it was crucial that the location either have sand or grass suitable for running barefoot. Fortunately, the course used during Dave Pain’s Birthday Biathlon had the necessary elements so Johnstone proceeded to finalize his race course design.

Coordinating with the San Diego Track Club

Johnstone was with the SDTC, one of the many track clubs in the Pacific Beach community in San Diego, California. Back then, it was not unusual for the group’s members to devise their own races which fellow members would gamely compete in.

Upon completing the plan for the race course, Jonstone called Bill Stock who was then in-charge of the association’s calendar of activities. Stock readily agreed to put Johnstone’s race on the calendar.

Stock advised Johnstone to call Don Shanahan, a fellow SDTC member, for the latter had a similar idea for a race. Stock suggested incorporating both their ideas to minimize having too many unusual races on the calendar.

Plan for first ever modern triathlon finalized

Shanahan wanted to include a bike leg for the race. Though Johnstone was reluctant about the idea, he agreed nevertheless. The race, which the two dubbed the Mission Bay Triathlon, was finally set for September 25, 1974. A press release was featured via the club’s newsletter which read:

Run, Cycle, Swim: Triathlon Set for 25th

Necessary preparations like procuring trophies were made. Johnstone even had to confirm the spelling of the word “triathlon” to the trophy maker for the latter found no entry of said word in the dictionary.

First modern triathlon successfully staged

Race day was early evening after work. Though this was the case, it did not stop 46 enthusiastic competitors from trying out this new and peculiar three-discipline race. Shanahan, as a last minute solution, requested some car owners to get their vehicles’ headlights on to provide light specifically for the final swimming leg.

Johnstone of course just had to try out the course, which was manned by volunteers and Shanahan who was unable to compete because of an injury. The Mission Bay Triathlon, the first of its kind in history, was won by Bill Phillips, who as can be remembered, was the same fellow who dominated Dave Pain’s Birthday Biathlon.


Triathlon – The Early History of the Sport


History of Triathlon: 1974

Modern triathlon emerged relatively late. It’s not even in its 50-year mark yet, but it’s one of the most widely received sports in the world right now. In fact, no other sport is as extensively supported and participated in than triathlon.

Triathlon’s appeal is undeniable. Triathletes flock by the hundreds to local competitions, and by the thousands to international events. But have you ever wondered how this three-disciplined sports competition came about?

Jogging Craze

Jogging was all the rage in the 70s. Track clubs and meets were commonplace back then. This was especially the case in the Pacific Beach community in San Diego, California. Sports enthusiasts and fitness buffs would organize regular track competitions which were normally capped off with dips in the ocean to cool off.

San Diego Track Club

One of these clubs was the San Diego Track Club (SDTC). It wasn’t unusual for members to devise their own special races. They then enlist these on the club’s calendar of events to both inform and invite fellow members to participate.

Jack Johnstone

One of them was Jack Johnstone. He, like all the other health buffs then, was into jogging. He was once a university swimmer too. Having joined the Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon the two prior years, Johnstone wanted to come up with a similar event.

Jack Johnstone and David Pain circa 1975 (via triathlonhistory.com)

However, he wanted to put equal focus on both swimming and running. Plus, he wanted to have multiple alternating legs, with each leg having longer distances than the biathlon he previously joined.

After designing his very own event, Johnstone spoke with SDTC’s Calendar Chairman Bill Stock. Stock agreed to put his event on the club’s calendar. Stock suggested that he call Don Shanahan as the latter also had an idea for a race.

Don Shanahan

Don Shanahan was one of the board members of the SDTC. Shanahan decided to engage in cycling as a cross training routine for when nursing running injuries. Shanahan’s idea for the race was to have a cycling leg after the biathlon.

Mission Bay Triathlon

Johnstone agreed to incorporate Shanahan’s idea and they decided to stage the competition on September 25, 1974. They ran a notice on SDTC’s newsletter which read “Run, Cycle, Swim: Triathlon Set for 25th.

Needless to say, the first ever modern triathlon event, the Mission Bay Triathlon, was a success. Though it was publicized just two weeks prior, and was done on a weekday evening, it drew an impressive 46 participants. It was won by Bill Phillips, the same fellow who previously dominated the Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon. John and Judy Collins, who years later established the Ironman Triathlon, had participated in the event as well.



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