Famous Triathletes: Erin Baker

Back in the early days of triathlon, female triathletes were few and far between. Though there were a handful of women who joined modern triathlon’s inaugural race in 1974, female triathletes didn’t figure as much in the following races that were staged. In fact, it was not until 1980 that a female triathlete in the person of Lyn Lemaire competed at the second ever Hawaii Ironman race.

Triathlon has since then been regularly participated in by women. There’s Karen Smyers, for instance, as well as Julie Moss. And then there’s Erin Baker, who was not only well-loved for her astounding performance in races, but was also well-known for her advocacies that would later change the way triathlons were conducted.

Erin Baker (image via legendsoftriathlon.com)

Erin Baker
(image via legendsoftriathlon.com)

Who is Erin Baker?

Erin Baker, a native of New Zealand, is considered by many as one of the best female triathletes the sport has ever seen. Baker’s first foray into the sport of running was in the early 1970s. During an annual picnic for the company where her father worked, Baker decided to join the friendly track and field race usually held to cap off the gathering.

Along with the mixed crowd of children and adults, Baker would run her fastest and would finish the race in first place. Clearly showing potential for said sport, she would later be encouraged by her mother to pursue running competitively. Following her mother’s advice proved to be auspicious for three years later at 15 years old, she would be declared champion during her first ever cross-country competition.

Professional triathlon career

Erin Baker holds the distinction of winning a total of 104 out of the 121 races she joined. But of these races, a few stand out for this remarkable female triathlete. 1984 was memorable for it was her first entry into the sport as a professional triathlete.

Racing in the world championships in Nice, France was noteworthy, too, as it was from this competition that she bagged three long course championship titles. She no doubt would have added another Nice championship title to her feat had she not refused to start at one race. She did this to protest the inequitable distribution of prizes, for it turned out, the winner in the men’s division was going to be awarded a brand new car while the winner for the women’s won’t receive a similar reward. Due to her protests, the organizers changed the directive and instead ruled that whoever gets to the finish line first gets to win the car.

In 1986, she entered and won her very first Ironman triathlon competition in New Zealand. Though Hawaii Ironman had shot to worldwide fame in 1982, Baker could not travel to the island state. This was due to a 1981 conviction she received for throwing explosive devices during a rally to protest the arrival of South Africa’s rugby team in New Zealand.

Through the help of the Hawaii Ironman organizers, she’d be able to travel to the island state in 1987 and consequently win the championship for the women’s division that year. She’d go on to take another Hawaii Ironman championship title in 1990, as well as three second-place wins in the competition.

In 1989, she became the first ever ITU World Champion. Due to this feat as well as her other contributions to the sporting world, New Zealand’s Halberg awards would choose her as the New Zealand Sportsperson of the Year.

In 1990, she represented her native country to the Commonwealth Games and bagged the Women’s Demonstration Triathlon prize. She would go on to take two more New Zealand Ironman championship titles before her retirement in 1994.

For a great podcast interview with Erin Baker, visit the “Legends of Triathlon” podcast.

Sources:

Triathlon Champ Erin Baker Becomes A Woman On The Run

Erin Baker

New Zealand’s Wonder Woman

Erin Baker interview

Catching up with the greats: The ITU’s first World Champion Erin Baker

History of Triathlon: 1996

Triathlon became so successful that it’s the only sport that got considered for major multi-sport events such as the Olympics, the Pan American Games, and the Goodwill Games in such a short span of time. With the sport becoming even more popular, record wins as well as variations to the sport were in the mean time being created in 1996.

Triathlon Federation changes name

Triathlon Federation USA had had its name since 1983 but it was changed to USA Triathlon in early 1996. The name change was in keeping with the long term Olympics goal of the sport’s leaders. This move was done to conform to the organization naming standards followed by other national governing bodies that are acknowledged by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).

Female triathlete wins 8th Ironman gold

Paula Newby-Fraser took home her eighth and last Ironman gold in 1996. Representing her native Zimbabwe, “The Queen of Kona” has been dominating Hawaii Ironman from 1986 to 1996, during which she would only be defeated by Erin Baker in 1987 and Karen Smyers in 1995. Paula Newby-Fraser has to date the most Hawaii Ironman victories, thus earning the honor of being named as one of the top five women elite athletes of the last 25 years by the prestigious United States Sports Academy.

Paula Newby-Fraser wins hers 8th Hawaii Ironman gold in 1996 (image via www.220triathlon.com)

First European to take home Ironman gold

Luc Van Lierde has been competing in triathlon circuits since 1990, representing his native Belgium. However, it was not until 1996 that he made significant victories.

He took the gold in the ETU Triathlon European Championships held in Szombathely, Hungary that year. He also placed second in the Cleveland ITU Triathlon World Championships. He also took home the silver medal in the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships held in Muncie, Indiana. Lastly, he won the Ironman World Championship making him the first ever European to dominate the race.

It’s important to note that these four elite competitions were only one month apart from each other. Luc Van Lierde practically had no tapering in between said competitions, yet he managed to break the existing Hawaii Ironman record by an astounding three minutes.

Off-road triathlon events take off

Triathlon became so prominent that offshoot variations of the sport cropped up. For instance, in 1996, was the first ever staging of off-road triathlon competitions in the United States, specifically in .the Island of Maui in Hawaii.

Just like its name connotes, an off-road triathlon is not your usual competition as the bike and run portions of the race are conducted in generally hilly and steep terrains instead of on paved roads.

Because this is the case, race equipment are different in that mountain bikes rather than road bikes are utilized. Furthermore, technical biking skills are more crucial than cycling speed and endurance as competitors need to navigate their mountain bikes through obstacle-ridden terrains.

Sources:

USA Triathlon History

It Was a Triumph of Iron Will: Triathlete Paula Newby-Fraser Lost the Race but Gained a Greater Victory

Luc Van Lierde ITU Results

Countdown to Kona: Cool Hand Luc (1996)

XTERRA Triathlon

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