Famous Triathletes: Valerie Silk

The unlikely challenge from then-Commander John Collins resulted in none other than the Ironman race. But his idea for the grueling competition did not immediately take off. And if not for the contribution of one woman, this very popular endurance competition would not be where it is today.

Who is Valerie Silk?

Many recognize and acknowledge Valerie Silk as the mother of the Ironman race. But everything about the race would have been entirely different had Silk refused the responsibility of handling the race after John Collin’s departure from Hawaii.

John Collins and Valerie Silk
(image via www.shygiants.com)

Back in the 1970s, Silk and then-husband Hank Grundman were the proud owners of a chain of fitness gyms in Hawaii. The couple inevitably got involved in the dynamic sporting community in the island due to their involvement in said business.

In 1978, the couple worked closely with the Collins family when the latter’s turn to host an athletic competition in the island came up. Silk and then-husband Grundman would grant Gordon Haller a free gym membership and training in preparation for his Ironman race. Pre- and post-race, the couple’s involvement was crucial too as they helped ensure manpower for the inaugural race.

On the third staging of the Ironman in 1980, John Collins and family had to leave Hawaii permanently. This prompted the Commander to find someone who would take over the organization of the Ironman. Having worked with Valerie and Hank for the race, the Commander requested the couple to take over the event upon his leaving.

Silk was reluctant of the responsibility for she already had a lot on her plate, what with handling a chain of fitness clubs. Add to the fact that the prior races used up their resources considerably. But his then-husband was successful in persuading her, and though unwilling at first, she took to heart the handling of the race. She will subsequently become almost solely responsible for the event’s growth during its crucial early years.

Modifications to the race

Silk put into effect changes that would prove to be beneficial for the Ironman race and for the sport of triathlon as a whole.

Transferred to Kona

A key change was the race’s move to the island of Kailua-Kona. Silk’s primary reason for this was safety. With participants increasing in number, the island of Oahu just wasn’t big enough to accommodate a large crowd.

Race month changed

Another modification was moving the race from February to October. Silk was concerned that February was a stormy month. She made the move as a consideration for the athletes as well so that they’d no longer have to train in the winter and subsequently be subjected to Kailua-Kona’s punishing humidity and heat during February.

Set up qualifying races

Silk established the qualifying races for the Ironman race as well. Though this development meant that the organizers won’t accept just about every applicant, the qualifying races helped ensure safety for all the competitors.

Ironman goes professional

1985 was a landmark for Silk as well, for it was during this year that she finally decided for the Ironman to become pro. Leaving behind the amateur race arena meant more sponsors, which was beneficial business-wise for the Hawaiian Triathlon Corporation.

Established the IronKids

Providing the Ironman experience to everyone was one of Silk’s foremost aims. So she put into motion the IronKids Triathlon Series so that children aged 7 to 15 can take part in this life-changing sport as well. Since its inception in 1985, the event has been participated in by thousands of kids. It served as the starting ground for some of the big names in the sport such as Hunter Kemper who won five times, and Lance Armstrong who won twice.

Valerie Silk may have had to relinquish the organization of the Ironman in 1990, but her decade-long run as owner and race director of the event certainly were years well spent.

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

Valerie Silk – USA Triathlon Athlete Profile

History of Triathlon: 2008

2008 saw the endurance sport triathlon be included in a couple of highly anticipated multi-sport events. The year also saw the resurfacing of the doping issues against a Canadian elite triathlete.

Triathlon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

The sport’s third staging at the Olympic Games saw joyful highlights, not only for triathlon, but for the world class triathletes who represented their countries. Olympic triathlon newcomer Jan Frodeno of Germany took home the gold for the men’s division, while Australia’s Emma Snowsill dominated the women’s race.

Jan Frodeno crossing the finish line at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
(image via www.triathlon.org)

The event also saw Canada’s Simon Whitfield, the first ever Olympic triathlon champion, compete in the sport and take home the silver, making this his second Olympic medal.

New Zealand’s Bevan Docherty triumphantly returned to the Olympic triathlon race circuit as well, placing third overall during the event. This makes it Docherty’s second Olympic medal, the first of which was the silver medal he won at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics was Hunter Kemper’s third time to represent USA as well. He placed seventh overall, making him the best American male finisher. American Laura Bennett placed fourth, narrowly missing the bronze medal which would have been USA’s second Olympic medal for the sport.

Triathlon at the Asian Beach Games

Triathlon competitions have been staged regularly in various Asian countries since the founding of the Asian Triathlon Confederation (ASTC) in 1992. In 2008, triathlon received the honor of getting included in the first ever Asian Beach Games held in Bali, Indonesia.  31 triathletes competed in the men’s division, with Hong Kong’s Daniel Lee placing first. Meanwhile, 15 female triathletes raced for the women’s division, with China’s Zhang Yi declared as champion.

Canadian triathlete’s urine sample re-tested

Elite triathlete Kelly Guest, as can be remembered, was sent home days before the start of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. He was disqualified from representing Canada for he tested positive for the performance enhancing drug nandrolone.

In July of 2008, Paul Melia, president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES), sent Guest a letter, asking for the latter’s permission to re-test his sample B urine. Melia cited that Guest’s test results may have been a false positive due to his sample being “unstable” or “active”, which meant that the presence of nandrolone may have after all been caused by the chemical processes in the sample and not from willful ingestion of the substance.

Guest consented to the re-testing, which in the end proved futile. The remaining sample B urine, which was frozen in 2006, turned out insufficient for completing the analysis. Because the test was inconclusive, the initial positive finding was not repealed. To this day, Guest, along with his family, friends, and other fellow triathletes, continue to try to clear his name.


2008 in Review: The Olympics

Triathlon at the 2008 Asian Beach Games

‘Unstable urine’ doesn’t answer doping case

History of Triathlon: 2007

Modern triathlon, which originated in San Diego, California, was by this time celebrating its 33 years of existence. Though just a little over three decades old, it’s certainly achieved a lot. No other fledgling sport became as popular and got considered as fast for the Olympic program than triathlon. And year 2007 saw positive highlights as well as the celebration of life of one of the most memorable triathletes to have ever graced the race circuit.

Death of a remarkable triathlete

The early part of the year started on a somber note for it was when triathlete Jon Blais died. Known as “Blazeman” in the race circuit, he was a huge inspiration to many. Though diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and losing the use of his fingers, he managed to achieve his lifelong dream of finishing the Hawaii Ironman in 2005. To celebrate his life and to continue his legacy, his friends and family put up the Blazeman Foundation. To this day, the foundation hosts charity triathlon competitions to raise awareness and funds for research on the debilitating disease ALS.

McCormack grabs Ironman gold

Australian Chris McCormack became a recognizable and respected name in the world of triathlon when he dominated the ITU World Championship and ITU World Cup races in 1997, an achievement no other male triathlete has yet matched to this day. Having set the goal to conquer the Big Island, McCormack raced his first Hawaii Ironman in 2002 though failed to finish. He joined consistently since, though with highly fluctuating results. Years of training finally paid off when he finished second in 2006, and finally snagged the gold the following year when he crossed the 2007 Hawaii Ironman finish line at an astounding time of 8:15:34.

Chris McCormack crossing the finish line of the 2007 Hawaii Ironman
(image via www.smh.com.au)

First British woman to dominate Ironman women’s division

United Kingdom’s Chrissie Wellington was a newcomer to the Hawaii Ironman race circuit in 2007. Though she is not a stranger to the grueling endurance sport, having won the 2006 Lausanne ITU Age Group World Championships, 2007 was her first race as an elite triathlete. No other debut can perhaps be as memorable as Wellington’s for she was declared champion at her first Ironman race, making her the first UK triathlete to bring home the honor.

Triathlete featured on cereal box

Hunter Kemper has by this time represented his country USA twice to the Olympic Games. To honor his contributions, he was handed the 2005 SportsMan of the Year award by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) just the prior year. 2007 was even more special for the Olympian for he became the first ever elite triathlete to grace the cover of the well-liked Wheaties cereal brand.

Competitions with considerable prize purse

Triathlon’s popularity across the United States became even more evident when in 2007, the Hy-Vee World Cup, a race sponsored by the grocery chain Hy-Vee, gave away a total of $700,000 USD, by far the largest prize purse during a one-day race.


Jon Blais

Chris McCormack

Triathlon Timeline – USA Triathlon

History of Triathlon: 2006

2006 proved to be another dynamic and eventful year for the sport of triathlon. It was when milestones within the national governing body USA Triathlon occurred. The year also saw longtime professional triathletes conquer their goals and be subsequently acknowledged for their achievements. The International Triathlon Union (ITU) undertook measures to shorten its sanctioned races during the year as well.

Kemper given highest recognition by USOC

On April 5, 2006, Hunter Kemper was given the 2005 SportsMan of the Year award by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). This makes Kemper the first ever triathlete to receive the highest recognition given by the USOC.

Hunter Kemper named 2005 SportsMan of the Year by USOC
(image via www.usatriathlon.org)

McCormack records remarkable Hawaii Ironman win

Australian Chris McCormack has been in the sport of triathlon since the mid 90s. In fact, he made himself and his native Australia proud in 1997 after becoming the first ever triathlete to win a gold each from the ITU World Championships and ITU World Cup events all within the same year.

Then a newcomer to the Hawaii Ironman race circuit, McCormack failed to finish at his first attempt at the race in 2002. The following year in 2003, he placed 59th overall. He again made a bid for the top spot in 2004 but unfortunately failed to finish once more.

In 2005, after months of training under Hawaii Ironman great Mark Allen, McCormack managed to finish sixth. Finally in 2006, he grabbed the silver medal after finishing in second, next to German Faris Al-Sultan.

ITU sets in motion shortening of its races

The year saw the International Triathlon Union commence the process to formally shorten the race course of its long established ITU Long Distance Championships.

On August 2006, the proposal to do so was officially stated as among the items to be discussed during the ITU congress in Lausanne in Switzerland the following month.

In the proposal, the ITU Long Distance Championships was recommended to be shortened to 3k-80k-20k from the longtime swim-bike-run distances of 40k-120k-30k. The ITU cited concerns over safety of long distance races such as the Ironman as one of the reasons for the move.

Said recommendation was passed in September by the ITU, though this was not without vehement opposition, particularly from triathletes around the globe who competed in the long distance races of the ITU before.

USA Triathlon celebrates milestones

By the end of the year, USA Triathlon reached more than 80,000 members. This national governing body’s sanctioned races reached more than 1,800 during the year as well, the highest by far since the organization’s founding in 1982.


Chris McCormack

ITU to “distance” itself from ultra racing?


History of Triathlon: 2004

2004 saw the second staging of triathlon at the world’s largest multi-sport event, the Olympics. But while it returned triumphantly to the Olympic stage, triathlon’s reputation once again got marred by yet another high-profile doping scandal.

Triathlon at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games

Triathlon’s leaders got entangled in controversies in 2001 that threatened the sport’s overall status on the Olympic program. But it seems all these have been patched up as triathlon again got staged at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

On August 25, 2004, the women’s triathlon race was conducted. Kate Allen dominated 49 other female triathletes that day and took home the gold for her native Austria.

Austrian Kate Allen took home the 2004 Olympic triathlon gold
(image via www.triathlon.org)

Taking home the silver medal was Loretta Harrop. This was her second time to represent her country Australia to the Olympics. During triathlon’s inauguration game at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, she placed fifth overall. Loretta Harrop is the twin sister of Luke Harrop, the up-and-coming triathlete who was tragically killed while cycle training on a Brisbane highway in 2002.

Meanwhile, placing third was Littleton, Colorado native Susan Williams. Williams’ bronze win happens to be the first ever Olympic medal for triathlon for the United States.

The following day, August 26, the men’s triathlon race was staged. New Zealand’s Hamish Carter placed first, followed by Bevan Docherty, again from New Zealand, on second. And on third was Sven Riederer of Switzerland.

While the men’s US Olympic Triathlon Team did not take home medals from the event, “Wonder Boy” Hunter Kemper who also represented his country for the second time, managed to finish in ninth place, making him the best American finisher.

Professional triathlete confesses to doping

Barely two months after the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, sport enthusiasts again had a lot to rejoice with the holding of the most popular triathlon event, the Hawaii Ironman in October. Normann Stadler of Germany, and Nina Kraft, also of Germany, took home the gold for the men’s and women’s division, respectively, during the 2004 Ironman World Championships.

However, on November 11, the sports world was shocked when Nina Kraft admitted to knowingly using the performance enhancing drug erythropoietin or EPO weeks leading to the October 16, 2004 Hawaii Ironman competition.

Kraft confessed as, she said, she did not relish her win for she felt ashamed the entire time knowing she cheated. Kraft’s win was subsequently disqualified and Switzerland’s Natascha Badmann declared as the first placer instead.

Kraft’s doping scandal was by far the fourth such incident in the fledgling sport of triathlon. The first ever triathlete who got entangled in a similar controversy was Olivier Bernhard of Switzerland. He was subsequently cleared of the allegations after having successfully argued to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that the nandrolone concentration was due to his body naturally producing it after excessive workout.

British Spencer Smith also got accused of nandrolone use during the 1998 Hawaii Ironman and again was consequently cleared by the CAS. Canadian Kelly Guest, on the other hand, got his reputation besmirched by similar accusations in 2002 and is working up to now to clear his name.


Triathlon at the 2004 Summer Olympics

Kraft: ‘I am going to bear all the consequences’

 Fashionable nandrolone the drug of choice

History of Triathlon: 2003

The year 2003 was witness to positive highlights in the sport of triathlon. The year also marked the first death anniversary of an up-and-coming triathlete who died from a hit-and-run accident.

Kemper takes home the gold

Olympian Hunter Kemper is known as the “Wonder Boy” of triathlon, a fitting name for such an impressive triathlete. Kemper took home the first prize at the IronKids Triathlon National Championships at the tender age of 10 and has since been inseparable from the sport. He continued his impressive first place position in the said event for five consecutive years. When he was 15 years old, he again dominated the 1992 USA Triathlon National Amateur Championships.

Though Kemper didn’t take home the gold during triathlon’s inauguration at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, he achieved the seventeenth-best finish for the men’s division. Three years later, Kemper took the first ever gold for his home country USA during the 2003 Pan American Games conducted in the Dominican Republic.

Hunter Kemper during the marathon leg of a triathlon
(image via www.usatriathlon.org)

Zemaitis becomes overall champion

A cross country and varsity swimmer during his college years, Joseph Zemaitis is no stranger to the sport of triathlon. Zemaitis set the goal to conquer the grueling Hawaii Ironman when he was only 12 years old. As soon as he hit the age of 18, he signed up for the 1998 Hawaii Ironman and flew to the Big Island to follow his longtime dream.

Incidentally at the time, Zemaitis was the youngest to have ever signed up for the race. And his efforts were well rewarded when he finished the course in less than ten hours, making him the second-best American finisher that year. He again made his country proud in 2003 when he became the Overall Amateur Champion at an Ironman race held in Langkawi, Malaysia.

Australian triathlon renamed in memory of triathlete

Luke Harrop, a native of Australia, was an emerging triathlete. He was the twin brother of Loretta Harrop, an Olympic triathlete who placed fifth overall during triathlon’s inaugural race at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

On a fateful day in January 13, 2002, Harrop was hit by a speeding car while training on Gold Coast Highway in Brisbane, Australia. The driver, Sandra Wilde, who was at the time driving a stolen vehicle, and was without a license and on bail for various offences, fled the scene and left Harrop bleeding to death.

Harrop suffered extensive head trauma and was taken off life support a day after the accident. He was 24 years old. To honor the triathlete’s legacy, the popular Australian Gold Coast Triathlon was renamed the Gold Coast Triathlon – Luke Harrop Memorial in 2003.

Snowsill snags the gold

Emma Snowsill, another Australian native, emerged as the champion at the 2003 Queenstown ITU Triathlon World Championships. Certainly not a stranger to the grueling race, Snowsill first made herself and her country proud when she brought home the gold during the 2000 Perth ITU Triathlon World Championships in the 16-20 age group category. She was voted as Australia’s Triathlete of the Year 2000 as well. Snowsill was Luke Harrop’s girlfriend at the time of Harrop’s tragic accident.


Hunter Kemper Athlete Bio

Joe Zemaitis

List of professional cyclists who died during a race

Anger over 18 months’ parole for driver of stolen car who killed triathlete

Focus on Emma’s win, not Luke’s death: Harrop

Woman Charged in Luke Harrop’s Death

Gentle Reminder In Memory Of Luke Harrop

Emma Snowsill, Loretta Harrop’s special bond

History of Triathlon: 2000

The history of triathlon won’t be complete without the landmark events of year 2000. It was a significant year, not just for triathletes, but most importantly for the sport and its main movers. Finally, after prudent lobbying with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and years of developing and refining the myriad aspects of the sport, from its competitive rules, to officiating, to risk management, triathlon finally takes the stage in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

2000 Sydney Olympics
(image via australia.gov.au)

Six triathletes chosen

Six triathletes, specifically three women and three men, were chosen from the series of US Olympic Triathlon Team Trials.

Jennifer Gutierrez

First to be selected was Jennifer Gutierrez of San Antonio, Texas. Gutierrez participated in the April 16, 2000 Sydney ITU World Cup where she was the first American woman to cross the finish line. This achievement in the ITU World Cup, an Olympic-qualifying competition, officially got Gutierrez into the US Olympic Triathlon Team.

Sheila Taormina

On May 27 to 28, the first US Olympic Triathlon Team Trials kicked off in Dallas, Texas. The women’s race, which took place on May 27, was dominated by Sheila Taormina. Taormina had already competed in the 1996 Olympics and took home the gold for the women’s division of the 4×200 meter freestyle swimming.

Joanna Zeiger

Taking second place during the 2000 Dallas Olympic Trials was Joanna Zeiger. Zeiger was a competitive swimmer all through her college years in Brown University. In 1993, however, Zeiger had a shoulder injury, so she was forced to take up running to replace her workout regimen. This eventually led her to the world of triathlon and since then has been dominating her age group in triathlons until she officially made it to the first ever US Olympic Triathlon Team.

Hunter Kemper

Hunter Kemper immediately qualified for the US Olympic Triathlon Team when he placed 7th during the April 16, 2000 Sydney ITU Triathlon World Cup. This achievement was also instrumental as it automatically secured three spots for the men’s team. He proceeded to competing in the April 30, 2000 Perth ITU Triathlon World Championships and placed 11th, further getting additional points. While he no longer needed to compete during the Dallas Olympic trials, he did so for the points and to vie for the prize purse. Kemper dominated the men’s race held that last Sunday of May 2000.

Nick Radkewich

Radkewich secured the second spot on the Olympic team by being the second American man to cross the finish line of the Dallas trials. Radkewich is no stranger to the sport. He was the first ever IronKids senior division champion in the early 90s. He’d long set his sights on entering the Olympics as a triathlete long before the sport even got considered by the IOC as, according to him, he just knew that the sport would eventually make it to the Olympics.

Ryan Bolton

Bolton was an All-American cross country athlete during his college years before he took to the triathlon races. Bolton has an impressive resume. He has a silver medal from the 1993 ITU Triathlon World Championships amateur division, and top 6 and top 8 finishes in 1998 World Cup races. His victory in the 2000 Dallas trials, being the third American male to cross the finish line, was indeed remarkable considering that he was sidelined for practically two years because of an illness.

Olympic triathlon results

Simon Whitfield led the men’s race and took home the gold for his country Canada. Switzerland’s Brigitte McMahon, meanwhile, won the women’s race that year.


History of Triathlon Timeline

Triathlon History

Jennifer Gutierrez Triathlon Captain

Sheila Taormina – Reflections

1st American: Joanna Zeiger recalls the debut of the Olympic Triathlon in Sydney

Joanna Zeiger Athlete Bio

Olympic Sports

Hunter Kemper Athlete Bio

Meet the U.S. Men’s Olympic Triathlon team

History of Triathlon: 1992

Triathlon’s inclusion in the Olympic program just the prior year made the endurance sport even more popular. In 1992, the first ever championship competition in the most populous continent in the world was staged with the help of the sport’s official governing body International Triathlon Union (ITU). The year also saw the participation, not only of professional endurance racers, but of amateur triathletes who will later become prominent names in the sport.

First Asian Triathlon Championships

Triathlon may have become a widely popular multi-discipline sport but it was not until 1991 that an overall governing body was established in Asia. Through the initiative of then International Triathlon Union (ITU) President Les McDonald, the Asian Triathlon Confederation (ASTC) was created, with representatives from China, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, and India taking the key leadership positions.

In 1992, the first ever Asian Triathlon Championship was held in the City of Hasaki in Japan. Nine countries namely China, India, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Malaysia, Korea, and Singapore took part in this ITU-recognized race.

The year’s notable triathletes

Hunter Kemper

Hunter Kemper has been competing in triathlons since he was young. In fact, he dominated the IronKids Triathlon National Championships consecutively for five years since he was 10 years old. In 1992, he took the first prize at the USA Triathlon National Amateur Championship which was held in Cleveland, Ohio.

Hunter Kemper has certainly carved a name for himself in the history of triathlon. As of 2012, it will be his fourth year to represent the United States of America to the Olympic Games. In fact, Hunter Kemper is distinguished for being the only triathlete to make it to the U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team for four times, representing the country consecutively since the sport’s debut in the 2000 Olympic Games which was staged in Sydney, Australia.

Hunter Kemper (image via www.teamusa.org)

Mark Allen

In 1992, professional triathlete Mark Allen takes home his fourth Ironman World Championship gold. This competition in Kailua Kona was memorable as he broke his personal record, completing the race six seconds earlier than his 1989 finish.

Charlie Futrell

Charlie Futrell, a retired public school teacher who hailed from Montgomery County, Maryland, competed in his first ever Ironman World Championship in Kailua Kona in 1992 at the age of 72. In this race Charlie Futrell finished with a time of 15 hours, 35 minutes, and 23 seconds, placing 1st in the United States and 3rd overall for his age group category.


Asian Triathlon Confederation History

Hunter Kemper Bio

Mark Allen

Charlie Futrell, Senior Triathlete

92 Year Old Triathlete Charles Futrell Passes Away