Famous Triathletes: Mike Pigg

Modern triathlon may be a comparatively young sport, but no doubt it’s been graced by some of the most remarkable pioneer triathletes the world has ever seen since its inception nearly forty years prior in 1974. And one of these astounding triathletes is Mike Pigg.

Mike Pigg(image via legendsoftriathlon.com)

Mike Pigg
(image via legendsoftriathlon.com)

Who is Mike Pigg?

Mike Pigg grew up and to this day still lives in Northern California, near the birth place of the sport of triathlon. When he was 10 years old, he got into swimming and was active in the sport for four years. After that, he participated in cross-country running well into his second year in college.

Not fully decided what career path to take, and after having watched Dave Scott win the 1983 Hawaii Ironman, he decided to go full time as a professional triathlete. His typical work week would include training rides of at least 225 miles, running from 30 to 50 miles, as well as swimming from 15,000 t 25,000 yards.

Though trained in both swimming and running, incidentally, these are not the sporting disciplines that he is best known for. During the peak of his success in triathlon in the 1980s, he was especially feared for his power on the bike.

Mike Pigg at the first ITU Triathlon World Cup Series

Like every triathlete who truly loves the sport, all of his competitions are memorable for him. Of course, there are select races that he performed quite notably in. Arguably one of the most memorable was at the first ever ITU Triathlon World Cup Series in 1991.

It is crucial to remember that triathlon was then barely seventeen years old. During this stage in the sport, triathlon’s main movers were working furiously to get it into the Olympic program. And staging the event in 1991 was to prove to the International Olympic Committee that the sport, though quite new, was backed by an efficient system and that it was practiced by a considerable number of people worldwide.

Mike Pigg’s dominance during this race was particularly special for it was when numerous triathletes from different countries participated in. His winning of the race, touted by triathletes themselves as one of the world’s toughest race course, was astounding as it not only proved his mettle as an endurance athlete, but it also cemented the United States’ ascendancy over the sport.

Hawaii Ironman endeavors

Prior to his ITU Triathlon World Cup Series win in 1991, he was already a regular competitor at the Hawaii Ironman in Kailua-Kona. In fact, he took 7th place in his first ever race in the island in 1985. Determined to get to the top, he trained furiously, and from 7th, improved his position to 4th, and finally to 2nd in 1988.

However, while he was swimming, biking, and running to the top, he unfortunately caught a stomach infection that severely affected his performance. Though this was the case, he nevertheless set to his Hawaii Ironman trainings for the upcoming 1989 competition. Though struggling during the race for being unable to digest food on the fly, he still managed to finish 15th. He would take three years off to recover from the affliction. His return and subsequent 16th place finish at the 1993 Hawaii Ironman was what caused him to finally let go of his Ironman championship bid.

Olympic Distance Triathlon endeavors

Though he no longer raced at the Hawaii Ironman due to his physical maladies, he continued dominating Olympic distance and off-road triathlons. These races were more to his liking for they were not as physically draining as the ones done in Kailua-Kona. He would go on to join more than 150 races and would win practically half of all these. And during his 17-year stint as a professional triathlete, he would receive the US Olympic Committee Male Triathlete of the Year award from 1993 through 1996.

For a great podcast interview with Mike Pigg, visit the “Legends of Triathlon” podcast.

Sources:

Ironman Profiles: Mike Pigg – Hard Work Almost Took Him To The Ironman Pinnacle

Pigg Power – Mike Pigg

20 years of ITU World Cups: Q&A with Mike Pigg

History of Triathlon: 1995

Triathlon finally got the much coveted Olympic medal sport status in 1994. Countries actively participating in the sport like the United States of America, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom welcomed this development and subsequently went into full-on preparation mode for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. In the mean time, triathlon milestones were being made in the various sporting circuits around the globe.

Triathlon at the Pan American Games

1995 saw the sport’s first appearance in the Pan American Games, a major multi-sport event held in Mar del Plata, Argentina on March 12 to March 26. This is so far the second time that triathlon got included in a multi-sport event. Just the prior year, triathlon was also a part of the 24 sporting events featured on the Goodwill Games held in Russia.

Mark Allen claims his sixth gold

Professional triathlete Mark Allen dominated Ironman Hawaii in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1993. Allen, who earned the nickname “The Grip” which is short for “The Grip of Death”, took a one-year hiatus from the grueling endurance race, returning in 1995 to take home the gold once more. Allen never again raced after this, presumably because his 1995 win, which happened to be his sixth, already equaled that of triathlon legend and first ever Ironman Hall of Fame inductee Dave Scott’s. This makes Allen the only other triathlete to ever hold six Ironman titles under his belt.

Mark Allen crossing the finish line in the 1995 Hawaii Ironman (image via markallenonline.com)

Female triathlete sets unbelievable record

Triathlon is undeniably a sport dominated by men. But since the sport’s inception, females have been competing alongside their male counterparts. And in 1995, one woman made a remarkable record in the history of triathlon. That year, Pennsylvania native Karen Smyers took home the gold from three different competitions.

She got first prize from the Pan American Games held earlier in the year. She also took the titles from both the Olympic-distance ITU World Championship held in Cancun, Mexico as well as the Hawaii Ironman World Championship. The ITU and Ironman World Championships were only 35 days apart, so Smyers’ extraordinary victory is certainly noteworthy and is something which is yet to be repeated by another woman.

Wheelchair sportsperson MacLean finishes Ironman

Physically challenged triathletes have been competing in Ironman ever since the event’s inception. Amputees Pat Griskus and Jim MacLaren, and wheelchair competitor Jon Franks, are notable examples. Franks’ participation in the 1994 Hawaii Ironman, although he was unable to complete the course, was what inspired Australian John MacLean to conquer the Kona course, making him the first ever wheelchair sportsperson to finish the grueling race in 1995.

Sources:

Goodwill Games

Allen claims his sixth Ironman Triathlon title

Karen Smyers – From Amateur To Full-time Pro

John MacLean

History of Triathlon: 1994

Getting the sport of triathlon acknowledged by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is one thing. But actually having the sport officially listed as one of the many events to be competed on during the Olympic Games is another. A lot still had to be done before this can finally be secured. And 1994 saw some events that will be crucial to accomplishing this goal.

Triathlon at the Goodwill Games

The now-defunct Goodwill Games was an international sporting competition akin to the Olympics. Since its creation in 1986, it had been held consecutively every four years, much like the Olympics. The Goodwill Games was established by media mogul Ted Turner as a way to promote peace between the United States of America and Russia through sports during the Cold War period.

Ted Turner, creator of the Goodwill Games (image via en.wikipedia.org)

1994 was the third run of the Goodwill Games. 56 countries and over 2,000 athletes took part in the 16-day event conducted in St. Petersburg, Russia. Of the 24 sports, modern triathlon, specifically the Olympic-distance course, was included. This was the very first time that triathlon got competed in during a major international multi-sport event.

Triathlon becomes an Olympic medal sport

Triathlon’s appearance in the Goodwill Games was crucial as it demonstrated that it can indeed be a viable competition to include in an international multi-sport event. The officials of the International Olympic Committee acknowledged the sport’s potential and consequently decided to finally include triathlon as one of the medal sports to be competed in. It was ascertained that triathlon have its debut on the 2000 Sydney Olympics Games instead of the upcoming 1996 Olympics to give participating countries adequate time to prepare.

First non-American to win Ironman World Championships

Americans have been dominating Ironman Hawaii since its first staging in 1978. But the country’s 17 years of domination in this grueling endurance race was broken when Australian Greg Welch took home the gold in 1994. Greg Welch earned the much coveted grand slam in the sport after placing 1st, not just in Ironman Hawaii, but in the Olympic-distance, long-course, and duathlon events sanctioned by the USA Triathlon that year.

Dave Scott comes out of retirement

Dave Scott, a six-time Hawaii Ironman champion, was the very first to be inducted to the Ironman Hall of Fame just the prior year. To celebrate this accomplishment, he took to the races once more in 1994 after 3 years of not competing. This particular race was such a feat for the 40-year-old Scott as he placed 2nd overall, considering he’s well past the retirement age for professional triathletes.

Sources:

The History of Triathlon

Triathlon History

1994 Goodwill Games

30 Ironman Hawaii Highlights

History of Triathlon: 1987

Triathlon Federation USA was still in the process of polishing the many policies, procedures, competitive rules, as well as the measures to further increase membership. In the mean time, race records as well as entry of novice triathletes who will later become big names in the sporting arena, occurred in 1987.

January

In keeping with Tri-Fed’s efforts to make technical and training information as well as teach race directors the methods for improving race management, the Mid Atlantic Triathlon Workshop was conducted. This was done on January 24 and was headed by J.R. Davison.

March

The month of March witnessed policies concerning Special Events being passed. Fees on Special Events will now vary according to the number of competitors. It was also decided that sanctioned events must now bear the federation’s banner.

During the first quarter of the year, the long discussed plan for collecting annual membership fees from folks who will compete in Tri-Fed-sanctioned events was finally enacted.

August

At the federation’s yearly meeting, the Board of Directors announced that it will adopt a handful of policies and competitive rules that have been drafted and polished since 1985. Of the numerous articles, drafting received the most attention. Guidelines as to what constitutes drafting have now been made clear as well as the corresponding penalties for said offense.

Another crucial policy with regards judgment calls was enacted during the meeting as well. According to the new rules, judgment calls can not be appealed. Guidelines on wearing wetsuits during the swim leg, as well as detailing the definition of a bicycle such as approved height, length, and accessories, were accomplished as well.

Around the same time, R.E. Jimison, an age-group triathlete who had vast experience officiating sports competitions, got elected as the first ever Commissioner of Officials of Tri-Fed. Numerous training clinics for race officials were held during the year, with 111 race officials getting certified by Jimison himself.

Notable Triathletes

While Tri-Fed was busy refining its function as the sport’s governing body, milestones were being made in the various triathlon circuits in 1987.

1. Lance Armstrong

1987 wasn’t Armstrong’s first taste of the endurance sport. In fact, he was already competing in triathlons as early as 11 years old, winning first prize in IronKids events in 1983 and 1985. 1987 though was memorable as it was the year Armstrong competed in the very same triathlon event which was participated in by some of the sport’s legends Dave Scott, Mark Allen and Andrew MacNaughton.

Mark Allen and Lance Armstrong in the bike leg of a 1987 triathlon competition

2. Dave Scott

Scott, a veteran of the sport, wins his 6th and last gold in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

3. Erin Baker

Baker has been running competitively since she was 15 and had been aiming to compete in the Ironman early on. However, she had trouble getting into the United States after having been convicted for heaving explosive devices while protesting the visit of South Africa’s rugby team in New Zealand in 1981. But as soon as her travel restrictions were lifted, Baker pursued her Ironman goal and won her first ever gold in the 1987 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

Sources:

Triathlon Federation History: 1982-1987

USA Triathlon History of Competitive Rules

The Triathlon Officials Program: 1983-1998

Dave Scott

Ironman Life: Andrew MacNaughton

Ironman World Championship

Erin Baker

1981 South Africa rugby union tour of New Zealand

History of Triathlon: 1986

1986 was a bustling year for the sport’s governing body. The boards of directors and governors would meet on a regular basis to chart crucial guidelines to finally provide clear competitive rules, procedures for sanctioning events, as well as draw up plans to make the federation sustainable on its own.

January    

The year started off with Tri-Fed finally choosing on an official logo for the organization. This move is significant as it demonstrated Tri-Fed’s meticulous efforts toward making the association a legitimate and credible representation for the sport.

April

April was the month the Board of Directors went to St. Petersburg, Florida to extend support to the upcoming Tampa Bay Triathlon and the St. Anthony’s Youth Triathlon. During this meet, the leaders realized the urgent need for a youth program and therefore drew up plans for accomplishing this goal.

May

The University of Illinois became the very first venue of Tri-Fed’s intercollegiate triathlon competition. Participating colleges and universities each had three-men and three-women teams that competed for an international distance triathlon course.

More and more races are cropping up too with professional athletes considering competing for livelihood. This led the leaders of Tri-Fed to finally draft detailed guidelines for races that extend monetary prizes.

July

July 27 saw the approval of insurance licensing for folks who’d compete in Tri-Fed-sanctioned events effective January 1, 1987. According to the licensing rule, competitors can choose the license category they want to be registered in. Said licensing categories were open, elite, and age group.

During this month, the US International Triathlon Team Cup (ITTC) consisting of triathletes that Tri-Fed meticulously selected dominated the international competitions held in Canada and Japan.

August

August 31 was the first ever National Championship for the Physically Challenged. The competition was successfully staged with the assistance of Palo Alto, California’s V.A. Hospital. Nine individuals and one relay team took part in this historic and emotional triathlon competition.

September

Additional safety mechanisms, particularly for the bike leg of Tri-Fed-sanctioned triathlons, were created. Specifically, competitors will be required to don hard shell helmets that have been certified safe by the Snell Foundation or the American National Standard Institute (ANSI). This move made the bike leg of Tri-Fed-sanctioned competitions in conformity with the safety standards observed by the US Cycling Federation.

October

The ITTC competed and again won the international ultra triathlon competition held in Hawaii. JoAnn Ernst, Juli Brening, Liz Bulman and Nancy Harrison made up ITTC’s women’s team. The men’s team meanwhile consisted of Scott Tinley, Chris Hinshaw, Dave Scott and David Evans.

Dave Scott during the 1986 International Ultra Triathlon in Hawaii (image via www.active-adult.com)

November

A meeting with the federation representatives and the US Olympic Committee took place on November 1. The USOC advised increasing membership as well as work towards getting triathlon to be recognized as an international sporting activity so that Tri-Fed’s application with the USOC will be considered.

Federation representatives then attended the General Assembly of International Federations (GAIF), a special forum for sporting bodies, to lobby that triathlon be regarded as a legitimate international sport.

December

Tri-Fed-sanctioned events increased to an astonishing 350 by the end of the year which were participated in by more than 125,000 triathletes. Federation membership was close to 6,000 by the end of the year.

Sources:

USA Triathlon History

Triathlon Federation History: 1982-1987

USA Triathlon History of Competitive Rules 1985-1990

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