Famous Triathletes: John Dunbar

The Hawaii Ironman that we have come to love actually has very humble beginnings. Back then, the race was practically humdrum, quite unlike the grandiose event that gets staged today. Competition rules regarding race getup or acceptable hydration beverages were nonexistent as well. But the race, especially the first two conducted in 1978 and 1979, were nonetheless interesting because of some colorful personalities who dared to take the unlikely challenge given by then-Commander John Collins.

Who is John Dunbar?

Dunbar was a 24 year old college student back in 1978. An avid health buff, he would frequently join athletic competitions in Hawaii. A soft-spoken and a good natured fellow, he had no qualms about running in an all-women’s charity race while donning a shirt that read “Token”.

John Dunbar(image via www.triatlet.com)

John Dunbar
(image via www.triatlet.com)

Dunbar was stationed in the island when he became a member of the US Navy SEALS. Having been in this military organization, Dunbar was then no stranger to grueling training. Upon hearing of the race that Commander Collins devised, Dunbar immediately signed up.

Race day of the 1978 Hawaii Ironman

Dunbar was certainly ready to take on the competition though he had been up practically the rest of the night organizing his race supplies. An excellent swimmer, he took to the ocean as soon as then-Commander Collins signaled the start of the race. He would consequently dominate this portion, with an astounding lead of 20 minutes over Gordon Haller, his closest opponent during this leg of the race.

Dunbar would not immediately get to start the bike leg of the competition for he had to first borrow a pair of cycling shorts. Throughout this and the marathon leg, Dunbar would be chased furiously by the older Haller. And the latter would catch up on Dunbar four times, first when he had his legs massaged by his support crew, and second, when he badly needed to make a stop to urinate.

But Dunbar’s prospects of winning first place would soon become dim during the marathon leg. His support crew was somewhere out there lost. Having no one to give him the badly needed hydration, he would slowly deteriorate.

Finally, his support crew found him. But ten miles to the finish line, already quite disoriented from both exhaustion and dehydration, Dunbar’s crew would inform him that his drinking water had run out. Having nothing else but beer in the van, his support crew had no choice but to give him two cans of the alcoholic beverage.

This would prove disastrous for it would worsen Dunbar’s physical condition. He would stumble into parked cars and would accuse his crew of attempting to poison him and sabotaging his race. But he would slog through, and would eventually complete the race 34 minutes after Haller crossed the finish line, thereby securing second place for himself.

Race day of the 1979 Hawaii Ironman

Dunbar was livid for losing the first place to Haller in 1978. So the following year in 1979, he would sign up for the race once more. But he vowed to himself that this would be his last Ironman and so prepared furiously for it.

Race day would be postponed the following day Sunday because of extremely stormy weather. But fans and competitors all the same gathered that Saturday. Dunbar, who is friends with Haller, also a retired Navy, challenged Haller to do the course, just the two of them, one on one.

That Sunday morning, the storm had not completely subsided yet. With the announcement that the race will proceed anyway, Dunbar would gather his swimming trunks from his van with blaring music to change from his Superman costume. The swim leg was particularly perilous, with competitors slicing through six feet high waves. Dunbar would finish third during this leg.

At the bike leg, Dunbar would chase Tom Warren furiously but he’d be overtaken by the only woman competitor that day, Lyn Lemaire. Warren would subsequently finish first in the bike, followed by Lemaire.

At the marathon, Dunbar would chase Warren at high speed. But the older Warren would prevail and Dunbar would complete the course almost 50 minutes after Warren crossed the finish line.

Dunbar, much like Haller and all the other folks who joined the first two Ironman competitions, would remain largely in the background. But Dunbar would continue to be active in the triathlon arena long after even though he vowed that the 1979 race would be his last.



Famous Triathletes: Lyn Lemaire

The sport of triathlon, specifically the Ironman, has always been dominated by men. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the unlikely concept originated from a close circle of friends and colleagues, led by then-Commander John Collins, a group composed mostly of men. But while this was the case, there are actually a handful of women whose contributions cannot be discounted.

There’s Judy Collins, John’s wife, who assisted the Commander in organizing the first Hawaii Ironman competitions in 1978 and 1979. There’s Valerie Silk as well, who handled the Hawaii Ironman race from 1980 to 1990 and is partly responsible for making the event the most popular triathlon competition in the world.

Female triathletes too have made significant contributions to the sport.

Who is Lyn Lemaire?

Lyn Lemaire, a native of Santa Monica, California, has always been into sports since she was a little kid. In high school, she took interest in swimming. She excelled in the sport and took part in four US national championships while still in high school.

In college, she attended UCLA and took up biochemistry. She took to the sport of basketball this time. Again, she did extremely well in this discipline that she actually played various positions at collegiate games.

In her senior year, she took her bike and did a 1,500-mile cycling trip from Vancouver, Canada all the way to Los Angeles, California. She loved the experience so much that she did the cycling trip again, only this time, she traveled around England and northern Europe. Though she covered a lot of miles on her bike, she did not really consider competing in the sport at first. For one, she thought the sport was “silly” for those who raced needed to train really hard. For another, she did not know of any women who actually did competitive cycling back then.

Then in 1975, Lemaire entered the US National Time Trial Championships and consequently placed second at the 25-mile individual cycling event. The year after, she again qualified for said competition. This time, she placed first and simultaneously set a new record for finishing in an astounding time of 1:00:06.7. The same year in 1976, she qualified for the US National Track Championships and placed third overall for the 3,000-meter track event.

She defended her title in the US National Time Trial Championships the following year in 1977. In 1978, she again took part in said event as well as the US National Track Championships, placing second and third, respectively.

First female to complete an Ironman

Being active in the sporting arena, it did not take long for Lemaire to get wind of the Ironman triathlon held in the island of Oahu. Excelling in all three disciplines included in the Ironman, she was confident that she can conquer this competition as well. So she flew to Hawaii and enlisted for the 1979 Hawaii Ironman race.

1979 Hawaii Ironman

1979 Hawaii Ironman
(image via running.competitor.com)

The race was moved from January 13 to January 14 due to stormy weather. Originally, 28 folks signed up. But thirteen dropped out, one of them a woman, because the bad weather that Sunday morning still hadn’t subsided. This left Lemaire as the only female competitor that day and the first ever since Ironman’s inception a year prior.

Race day at the swim leg, Ian Emberson emerged first. Tom Warren soon splashed out of the water, followed by John Dunbar, Mike Collins, and finally, Lyn Lemaire. Gordon Haller, 1978’s winner, was still left zigzagging in the swells of the ocean for his navigator had to be rescued out of the water.

At the bike leg, Warren was leading the race and he was closely followed by Dunbar. But Lemaire soon gained in on Dunbar. Lemaire managed to maintain top speed at the bike, and was just ten minutes behind Warren. However, she had to stop eight times at the last ten miles due to leg cramps, causing her to finish second in this race.

Though Lemaire had a twenty one minute lead over Dunbar, he soon ran past her at the marathon portion. At 23 miles into the run, she hit the wall from exhaustion. Though it crossed her mind to drop out, she did not. She continued to slog through, eventually finishing the run in 5 hours and 10 minutes, subsequently securing the fifth place finish for herself.


Lyn Lemaire


The Fifth Best Iron Man Is a Woman, Versatile Lyn Lemaire

US National Time Trial Championships 1975-1981

US National Track Championships

Famous Triathletes: Tom Warren

The Ironman triathlon did not immediately become popular. In fact, its first staging in 1978 was fairly unexciting and the competition went rather unnoticed. Except for a short piece in a Honolulu paper about the race which was won by Gordon Haller, not much media coverage was dedicated to it. But the multi-sport arena will forever be changed when sports journalist Barry McDermott decides to cover the 1979 Hawaii Ironman and its winner Tom Warren.

Who is Tom Warren?

Tom Warren, a native of San Diego, California, was a 35 year old fitness fanatic during the late 70s. Back in his native San Diego, Warren managed Tug’s Tavern, a business he’d owned for 10 years. A popular hangout among locals, it featured a bar on one floor where Warren would be every night serving the regulars himself. On another floor was a health club complete with its own sauna and a whirlpool bath, as well as weight machines.

Tom Warren

Tom Warren
(image via www.digplanet.com)

Living in San Diego which had a bustling sporting community, it was inevitable for Warren to hear of the Ironman event held in Hawaii. In 1979, he packed his gear and spent $1,000 to travel to the island of Oahu.

Eve of the 1979 Hawaii Ironman

Race day was supposed to be on a Saturday, January 13, 1979. However, Then-Commander John Collins decided to postpone it to Sunday, January 14, to allow for the stormy weather to subside.

That Saturday night, fans as well as participants of the Ironman all gathered at the welcome dinner. The fans’ attention was all focused on Haller and John Dunbar, who during the 1978 competition, raced against each other furiously to the finish line.

Among those who gathered was Barry McDermott, a journalist for the Sports Illustrated Magazine. McDermott was originally in Hawaii to cover a golf tournament in Honolulu. Having gotten wind of the upcoming Ironman, McDermott decided to stay and see the race for himself. Warren, on the other hand, having only joined in 1979, and the fact that he was an unknown in Hawaii’s sporting community, was not given any notice.

Race Day of the 1979 Hawaii Ironman

With the storm not having fully subsided, the participants gathered at the starting line at the beach. Incidentally, thirteen dropped out leaving only fifteen of the original twenty eight who signed up.

It was 27 year old Ian Emberson who got out of the water first. Warren soon followed after four minutes. John Dunbar would follow immediately after, staggering from exhaustion and cold. Haller, the original Ironman, would be left zigzagging in the ocean for nearly two hours after his navigator had to be rescued out of the violent seas.

During the cycling leg, Warren would overtake Emberson, an exceptional swimmer but quite inexperienced at cycling. Warren’s closest rival during the second portion of the race was Lyn Lemaire, the first ever woman to compete in the Ironman and the only female during this particular event. Warren would go so fast that his support crew of two would have difficulty chasing after him.

Warren ditched his bike at the finish line of the second leg and immediately took to running. Certainly no stranger to marathons, he had run from his native San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico and then back just for the fun of it.

As Warren slogged through, a local marathoner Johnny Faerber would join in and offer the former encouragement. But Warren didn’t really need this, for he’d already decided that he’d win the race. Having only eaten a piece of roll and a fresh orange, he plodded through, though the pain in his legs was becoming more severe. Finally, he reached the finish line in 11 hours, 15 minutes, and 56 seconds, to the astonishment of a group of spectators who had been waiting to see who would lead the race – Haller or Dunbar.

Dunbar would come in second, followed by Emberson at third, and Haller at fourth place. After the race, Haller and Warren would set off to relax in a Jacuzzi and exchange stories about their training regimen until midnight. Warren soon got hungry so he tried to find someone to accompany him. But no one was strong enough yet after the grueling race. So Warren set off on his own at 1:30 a.m. to look for a place he could grab some really early morning breakfast.

Tom Warren, the unknown San Diego native who conquered the second Ironman triathlon, would be featured heavily by journalist Barry McDermott in his article with the Sports Illustrated Magazine, which incidentally, was the first ever coverage of the race by the mainstream media.



Famous Triathletes: Gordon Haller

The Ironman triathlon finally got staged in 1978. Though it was only contested by 15 folks, three of whom unfortunately failed to complete the course, this competition will forever be remarkable for it is where some of the legends of triathlon came from.

Who is Gordon Haller?

Gordon Haller was then a 27 year old fitness enthusiast. A graduate of Physics from the Pacific University, Haller joined the US Navy as a Communications Specialist. He would later retire and do an assortment of jobs while in Hawaii.

In 1978, Haller was a taxi cab driver working the night shift. During the day, he would sleep and wake up past noon to do his workouts which would usually be running, cycling, or swimming. He’d then have a nap before going back to work.

Haller would often join local athletic competitions in the island, which back then, weren’t that many. At the Honolulu Marathon in 1978, Haller signed up along with a friend. But midway through the race, his foot injury acted up. Figuring he wouldn’t be able to do his usual fast pace, he decided to drop out as an official entrant. Still, he wanted to accompany his friend all the way through the course. Haller was at the local bike shop waiting for his friend to emerge. That’s when he overheard the shop owner talk about the dare then-Commander John Collins made.

Haller immediately thought that, indeed, he definitely can do this type of race. After all, he was already training in swimming, running, and cycling. The only difference is that this time, all three disciplines will have to be done continuously.

First ever Ironman triathlon

Haller was quite confident for aside from his usual workout routine, he’d been offered free training by the Nautilus Fitness Club in preparation for the race, courtesy of then-owners Hank Grundman and Valerie Silk.

Race day was on February 18, 1978 at the island of Oahu. Of the eighteen that had originally confirmed, only fifteen would proceed to start the race. After splashing out of the water, Haller proceeded to a nearby hotel to take a shower and change into his bike getup.

He then hopped on a borrowed high-geared bike. He had to switch to his trusty Raleigh tour bike which he normally uses to go to work when he reached the steep hills for the other bike became too difficult to pedal.

All the way through the two legs, Haller would be chasing John Dunbar, a college student who was his toughest opponent. Haller caught on Dunbar when the latter was having his legs massaged. He got past him too when Dunbar stopped to urinate. Surely he must be faster than this younger fellow for he kept catching up on him, Haller thought.

Gordon Haller and John Dunbar
(image via blog.naver.com)

Lastly, at the final leg of the race, Dunbar started to crumble from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Though his support crew finally found him after getting lost, their water supply for Dunbar had run out. Having no water to give him, they handed him beer, which Dunbar thirstily downed. He’d later become delirious, stumbling at parked cars.

Haller was meanwhile gunning it to the finish line. He mustered all his strength and completed the remaining 5 miles in astounding 31 minutes, finishing officially at 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 58 seconds. Dunbar would finish second at 12 hours and 20 minutes.

Second Ironman triathlon

The 1979 Ironman triathlon was fraught with logistical issues. Then-Commander Collins even had to move the race a day later because of extremely bad weather. The seas were perilously high making it impossible for a seasoned Navy officer to steer his sea vessels which he volunteered for the race out of the harbor. With only one rescue boat, thirteen of the original twenty eight competitors dropped out.

Haller was one of the brazen souls who would continue. He plunged into the high seas along with his navigator Jamie Neely. Unfortunately, Neely had to be rescued, leaving Haller without a guide in the ocean. This caused him his race, taking him almost two hours to swim back to the beach.

Tom Warren, a San Diego native, would snag the first place. John Dunbar, who donned a Superman costume during the race, and Ian Emberson, finished second and third respectively. Due to a disastrous swim, Haller would finish fourth.

Haller would continue to join triathlons and marathons, even flying to other countries like New Zealand just to do so. But unlike younger contemporaries who have enjoyed generous coverage for their athletic pursuits, Haller would remain in the background. But though this was the case, he’d successfully earned the distinction of being the first ever Ironman in history.

For a great podcast interview with Gordon Haller, visit the “Legends of Triathlon” podcast.


Gordon Haller

Original Ironman still racing hard


Ironman’s first champ, Gordon Haller, looks back 25 years

Competitor Radio interview with Gordon Haller

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: 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.


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.


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.


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.


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: 1985

Modern triathlon was by this time in its 11th year. But while having only existed in such a short time, more than 250,000 folks have already taken up the multi-discipline sport by the end of 1984. By 1985, further enhancements in the area of race safety, events sanctioning, as well as strengthening the overall membership of the federation were sought.

Early 1985

The year started off with Mike Ryan assuming the chairpersonship of Tri-Fed’s Board of Governors. Each state was now allowed to elect two representatives to the Board of Governors. This change was made to encourage smaller local triathlon organizations to participate in Tri-Fed’s endeavors. And to further persuade members to hire recruits, a sweepstakes was organized. First prize was a pair of two-way tickets to the 1985 US National Short Course Championship, while second price was two hard-shell bike cases from Bike Kase.

Tri-Fed’s newsletter underwent some major changes in the early months of 1985 as well. It now got named Triathlon Times and was to be released every four months starting February 1985. Triathlon publications such as the Guidebook for Safety Standards and Competitive Rules, as well as the Race Directors Manual, were also made available to provide definitive guidelines for folks looking to stage their own competitions in their localities.

Mid 1985

June 1985 saw the first ever assembly of the National Board of Governors. Crucial tasks such as setting race safety standards and competitive rules were detailed during the meeting. Plans for sponsoring competitions as well as providing a centralized hub so that technical and training information will be made easily available were also charted. Income generating schemes such as collecting sign up fees were also identified.

Tri-Fed’s leaders were pushing towards creating a national triathlon team around mid-1985 as well so that an official American representation can be sent to compete during international races. As part of the effort, The International Triathlon Team Cup (ITTC) was organized, with the 1985 Chicago USTS Bud Light Triathlon, and the 1985 Kona Hawaii Bud Light Ironman World Championship, as the venues for scouting triathletes. Tri-Fed’s newly recruited national team then competed in and dominated the Chicago USTS race held in August.

Kona, Hawaii, site of the annual Hawaii Ironman Triathlon

Latter part of 1985

Tri-Fed’s Board of Governors again met in September. The governors decided on increasing the number of regions to include New England, South East, North Mid-West, Mid-East, South Mid-West, Mid-Atlantic, Rocky Mountain, and South and North West.

October saw the creation of detailed policies and procedures for approving state and regional membership applications as well as sanctioning the competitions that said smaller organizations stage.

By November, a set of official distances were charted. Short course triathlons will officially include 1-2K swim, 25-50K bike, and 5-10K run. Distances for long triathlons will now include 2-4K swim legs, 50-100K bike legs, and 30+K run legs. Lastly, ultra distances will now entail a 4+K swim, a 100+K bike, and a 30+K run.


USA Triathlon History

Triathlon Federation History: 1982-1987

USA Triathlon History of Competitive Rules 1985-1990

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.


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 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.


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 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 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.


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.


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)


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.


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.


USA Triathlon History

Triathlon Federation History: 1982-1987

USA Triathlon History of Competitive Rules 1985-1990

History of Triathlon: 1983

1983 saw the slow but steady growth of triathlon. Magazines solely dedicated to the multi-sport endurance race were created. The sport’s sanctioning organization went through crucial stages of development as well.

Triathlon Magazine

Triathlon magazine came into circulation in early 1983. It was founded by some of the folks who established the American Triathlon Association the year prior. Unfortunately, Triathlon magazine got discontinued after one of its investors got entangled in a financial scandal.

Scott Molina crossing the finish line of the 1983 United States Triathlon Series Championship. This photograph appeared on Triathlon magazine’s winter 1983 issue. (image via www.basslaketri.com)

Tri-Athlete Magazine

Meanwhile, another magazine called Tri-Athlete was made available to the public as well. William Katovsky, after having watched Julie Moss’ crawl to the finish line on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, decided to join Ironman Hawaii too. Needless to say, Katovsky’s experience changed him and led him to found the magazine so as to provide a definitive voice for the sport.

Lacking the crucial start-up funds, Katovsky first ascertained that he had sure buyers for his magazine. He placed advertisements on other local magazines and frequented marathon events to hand out subscription fliers.

Within a few weeks, subscription stubs along with the fees started pouring in the mail, which later totaled 300, prompting Katovsky to proceed with the publication. Still, he wrote letters to race directors around the country to inform them of the magazine’s upcoming publication.

Tri-Athlete magazines were distributed at the Ricoh Ironman race in Los Angles, California. The very first issue had 32 pages, 8 of which were in full color. It contained interviews as well as photographs, commentary, race results, and a race calendar as well.

Katovsky later decided to sell part of his share to a Belgian-owned company publishing sports magazines. This move resulted in an international circulation of the Tri-Athlete, which was by then already printed on color glossy.

Early stages of the sport’s governing organization

Triathlon was slowly but steadily gaining popularity. And Americans weren’t the only ones joining. The organizers of Ironman Hawaii alone would receive letters from folks who hailed from the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, asking to sign up for the upcoming annual event. Triathlon competitions were also popping up across the other states. Triathletes rose from 10,000 at the end of 1982, to close to a quarter of a million by 1983.

Risk management for the sport

The sport’s continued growth prompted the United States Triathlon Association (USTA) to seek insurance and risk management for the competitions in early 1983. USTA also put more focus on setting up safety standards as well as guidelines for sanctioning events.

Name change

In August 1983, USTA was changed to Triathlon Federation USA. This change was made to prevent mix-up with the U.S. Tennis Association.

Efficient representation

The Board of Directors of Tri-Fed established East, West, and Central Regions with five governors each. This move was made to facilitate representation as well as fast-track the sanctioning process of competitions that are turning up in the various parts of the country.

Official publication

In September 1983, Tri-Fed USA released its first ever official newsletter, further strengthening the effort to bring together practitioners and enthusiasts of the sport.

“Triathlon” in the dictionary

The Ninth Edition of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, which was released on October 1983, featured the word “triathlon”.


Return to Fitness: Getting Back in Shape After Injury, Illness, Or Prolonged Inactivity by William Katovsky

Triathlon’s Secret Sugar Daddy

The More Things Change

Triathlon Federation History: 1982-1987

History of Triathlon: 1984

Triathlon’s official governing body was at this time barely 2 years old, having only been created in mid-1982. The early stages of the association’s development saw its name changed from the United States Triathlon Association (USTA) to the Triathlon Federation USA to avoid confusion with another sporting organization. A move from Los Angeles to San Diego, modern triathlon’s birthplace, took place as well.

As early as 1983, Tri-Fed’s leadership focused its attention on creating race standards as well as sanctioning competitions. Tri-Fed partnered with another organization, the United States Triathlon Series (USTS) and designated the latter’s Bass Lake Triathlon as the official 1983 US Short Course National Championship event.

A USTS photograph of Scott Tinley and Scott Molina during the 1983 USTS National Championships/1983 Tri-Fed USA National Championships in Bass Lake, California (image via www.basslaketri.com)

Early 1984

Tri-Fed held an election for the primary leadership positions at the start of the year. Responsibilities of the new Board of Directors were detailed and expanded as well. Aside from ensuring the goals of Tri-Fed are met, the members of the board were to regularly liaise with the ever growing number of state associations as well. Of course, each was tasked to work towards securing new members to sign up.

Tri-Fed published and mailed its second official newsletter to its members in February. Around the same time, the sanctioning body also undertook a deal with US Amateur Athletic Travel Card. Because of the agreement, specially discounted travel tickets exclusive only to Tri-Fed members were made available.


Mid-1984 saw more and more folks signing up for Tri-Fed. By this time, members were close to 3,000 from 1,500 in 1982. The Board of Governors doubled too, signifying an increase in the number of triathlon organizations being established across the various states in the country.

By May, Tri-Fed’s third official newsletter was released and was again sent by snail mail to each and every member of the organization.

Also, Tri-Fed’s partnership with the USTS was again repeated in 1984 and designated the latter’s Bass Lake Triathlon in California as the official venue for the US Short Course National Championship.

Latter part of 1984

Triathlon competitions were routinely cropping up in various locations in and around the country. For instance, there was the 1984 Cape Cod Endurance Triathlon held in September. The race is notable as it was the very first Ironman distance triathlon participated in and completed by an amputee named Pat Griskus.

Meanwhile, in October, Tri-Fed’s leadership structure underwent some changes again. Denis White, then Executive Director, resigned from his post. An Interim Steering Committee took over to facilitate the organization during this transition until the new Executive Director Verne Scott got elected in December. Scott’s leadership of Tri-Fed is noteworthy as the number of members as well as sanctioned competitions grew considerably under his direction.


Triathlon Federation History: 1982-1987

1984 Cape Cod Endurance Triathlon

Bass Lake Classic Triathlon Race History