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