Famous Triathletes: John Collins

Modern triathlon’s first staging in San Diego was a huge success. And a husband-and-wife team, who later on will be instrumental in setting the direction of the sport of triathlon, was among the forty six eager participants who showed up on race day of the 1974 Mission Bay Triathlon.

John and Judy Collins
(image via www.ironman.com)

Who is John Collins?

John Collins, then a Commander of the United States Navy, got posted in San Diego, California in the 1970s. A fitness enthusiast, John, along with his wife Judy, would regularly join the athletic competitions in and around the Pacific Beach community. John Collins would later retire as a Captain of the US Navy.

Participation in the 1974 Mission Bay Triathlon

On September 25, 1974, John, Judy, along with their kids Michael and Kristin, then only 13 and 12 years old, eagerly signed up for the race organized by Jack Johntone and Don Shanahan.

Then-Commander Collins successfully finished the race. However, his name didn’t get included in the official results, which incidentally, also bore no one in the 35th place. After learning that Judy was the Commander’s wife, organizer Jack Johnstone listed John as the overall 35th finisher with a time of 79:19 minutes. Years later though, Johnstone would receive a call from Judy, saying that John was certain, as were others present at the race, that he finished in 71 minutes, thus placing him in the 22nd or 23rd place.

Concept for the Ironman

John Collins got posted from the mainland United States to Hawaii and so the family had to leave the bustling sporting community of San Diego. While new in Oahu, John Collins nevertheless continued to actively participate in the various athletic competitions held in the island.

At the awarding ceremonies of the 1977 Oahu Perimeter Relay, John and Judy were sitting at a table with close friends and colleagues. At the banquet, the argument on which athlete, the runner or the swimmer, was fitter, came up. Collins, having read about champion cyclist Eddy Merckx’s incredible oxygen uptake, mentioned that cyclists may just be the strongest. Of course, Collins’ input didn’t help the friendly discourse one bit.

That’s when the off the wall idea for the Ironman came to Collins. He thought; why not incorporate the three major athletic events held in the island into one? Surely, racing the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the Oahu Perimeter Relay, and the Honolulu Marathon continuously, would finally help settle their argument as to which athlete was fittest.

Clearly inspired with the idea, he went to the stage during the commissioned band’s intermission. He then issued the challenge and said that whoever gets to the finish line first will be aptly called the Ironman.

First ever Ironman race

John’s idea didn’t immediately take off though there were a handful of persistent folks who would regularly ask the Commander about when they would finally do the three-part race. Finally, in 1978, it was the Collins family’s turn to organize an athletic event in the island, and so they went right into preparing for the first ever Ironman race.

Race day was practically humdrum, with only 18 competitors showing up. Of these, three would drop out prior to commencement of the event, and three would be unsuccessful in finishing the course.

John Collins, the creator of this crazy grueling race, would finish in a little under 17 hours. Meanwhile, Gordon Haller, a taxi cab driver who was a retired Communications Specialist of the US Navy, dominated the race after having finished the course in 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 58 seconds, becoming the first ever Ironman in history.

Handing over the Ironman

The Collins family again staged the Ironman in 1979. Originally, 50 athletes signed up for the race. Many dropped out due to bad weather on race day though. This competition was meanwhile won by Tom Warren.

The following year in 1980, John Collins and family again had to move out of Hawaii due to the Commander’s job. But prior to leaving, Collins entrusted the show box full of race entries to Hank Gruenman, the fellow who owned the Nautilus Fitness Clubs that helped out during the two prior Ironman races.

No money exchanged between the two though Collins made sure to lay down two conditions; that his family could enter the race whenever they wanted; and that slots always be reserved for folks who aren’t professional athletes. Gruenman would consequently hand over this shoe box to then-wife Valerie Silk, who will later play a huge role in making Ironman the popular race that it is today.


Triathlon – The Early History of the Sport

An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins

From Unlikely Challenge to International Sensation

History of Triathlon: 2005

2005 saw regular folks conquer their goal of finishing the Hawaii Ironman and as a result became a crucial part of the history of triathlon. It was also during the year that a longtime triathlete made remarkable records in the sport.

Female amputee completes Hawaii Ironman

The Hawaii Ironman race circuit has always been open to regular folks.  This is all thanks to the race’s creator Commander John Collins, who, upon passing on the organization of the Ironman to Valerie Silk in 1980, expressly stipulated that slots always be allotted to regular folks who’d like to compete.

And recreational athletes aren’t the only ones who’ve been joining. Even physically challenged folks have graced the race circuit such as the male amputee Pat Griskus who completed the race in 1984, or wheelchair sportsperson John MacLean who finished the course in 1995.

Meanwhile, in 2004, saw the first female amputee in the person of Sarah Reinertsen join the grueling endurance race. Reinertsen failed to make the bike qualifying cut-off by 15 minutes though. Not to be deterred, she underwent months of training that proved well worth it when she became the first female amputee to complete the course in 2005.

ALS-stricken triathlete’s Hawaii Ironman victory

Smitten by the multi-discipline sport, Jon Blais moved to California from his native Seekonk, Massachusetts to be nearer to the triathlon races. In 2004, Blais was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, an illness that kills the nerves that control the body’s voluntary muscle movements.

Not the type to be dissuaded, Blais signed up for and got approved to compete at the 2005 Hawaii Ironman. Though his fingers have already been severely affected by the advancing disease, Blais was able to complete the course in 16 hours, 28 minutes, and 56 seconds.

Blais became the first ALS-stricken athlete to conquer Hawaii Ironman earning him the nickname of “Blazeman”. He was also responsible for popularizing the “log-rolling” move called “Blazeman-Roll” to the finish chute as well, which many triathletes still do a few feet to the finish line to this day.

Jon Blais finishes the 2005 Hawaii Ironman
(image via feinberg.northwestern.edu)

Badmann takes her sixth gold

Natascha Badmann, as can be remembered, became the first European woman to dominate the Hawaii Ironman race in 1998. Winning the gold since then, she would only be defeated by Canada’s Lori Bowden in 1999 and 2003. Meanwhile, in 2004, she was declared the first placer when German Nina Kraft admitted to EPO use.

In 2005, Badmann, who has always been a crowd favorite for her pleasant conduct on the course, took home her sixth and last Hawaii Ironman gold, making herself and her native Switzerland proud.


Sarah Reinertsen

Jon Blais

Ironman World Championship

History of Triathlon: 2001

Triathlon’s debut on the 2000 Sydney Olympics was memorable. Canada’s Simon Whitfield and Switzerland’s Brigitte Mcmahon dominated the men’s and women’s race, respectively. USA’s women’s team, on the other hand, didn’t’ take home any medals though they took the 4th, 6th, and 13th places. USA’s men’s team, meanwhile, took the 17th, 25th, and 40th places.

2000 US Olympic Triathlon Team
(image via joanna-zeiger.com)

Meanwhile, in 2001, prominent personalities took to the race circuit once more. The International Triathlon Union (ITU) was plagued with controversies during the year as well.

The Collins compete

Commander John Collins and wide Judy have been away from Ironman since 1980. But on the event’s 20th year, the couple returned for the first time to participate in the race. They have been drawn back since their return and have since roamed the world as Ironman’s ambassadors. In 2001, the couple again graced Ironman’s race circuit in New Zealand.

Spencer Smith hospitalized

England’s Spencer Smith got entangled in a legal battle in 1999 to clear his name of doping charges. In 2000, Smith was officially cleared of the allegations by the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). In 2001, he decided to compete in the upcoming Ironman South Africa. Days before the race though, he fell ill and had to drop out. This would have been his comeback Ironman competition since he got stripped of his 5th place finish in the 1998 Hawaii Ironman.

Controversies in the ITU

Triathlon’s world governing body has had its share of controversies since its founding in 1989. But the disagreements during this year within the organization’s leadership stand out as these set off a chain of events that jeopardized triathlon’s future status on the Olympics.

The trouble started in 2000 when several national federation representatives were refused entry and subsequent right to vote during ITU’s Congress in Perth, Australia. This eventually led to seven national federations filing lawsuits on a Canadian court against the ITU citing election rigging and funds misuse. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) learned of the issue and devised a concession to reconcile erring parties, but to no avail.

While this was happening, longtime issues regarding ITU’s inadequate drug testing mechanism cropped up. The IOC called for ITU’s doping control officer Mark Sisson’s resignation citing conflict of interest, for the latter was found to be the owner of a company selling nutritional supplements.

Appeasing the indignation and subsequently assuring the IOC that the ITU was in good order was crucial. Though triathlon became a full medal sport in 1994, this status was provisional. Triathlon was in a position where it can be expelled anytime the IOC deems justifiably appropriate.

To remedy the situation, then ITU President Les McDonald requested an audience with the IOC. Prior to the scheduled meeting, three national federations withdrew their lawsuits against the ITU. One was Germany who did so after being offered a position on the Executive Board. Mark Sisson’s resignation was accepted as well.

And on December 2001, McDonald flew to Switzerland to meet with top IOC officials. The talk presumably ended well for then IOC President Jacques Rogge emerged from the meeting, saying that “the problems are now on the way to being resolved.”


An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins

Spencer Smith article archive

Olympics article archive

Triathlon’s Olympic ‘oblivion’

History of Triathlon: 1998

1998 was a memorable year for the sport of triathlon, specifically for the Hawaii Ironman World Championships. The race was attended by Ironman’s original creators. Astounding race records were also made that year.

Ironman’s royal couple returns to the race

Commander John Collins and wife Judy have always wanted to stay close to Ironman but were unable to. But 1998 was a special year as it was Ironman’s 20th anniversary. They accepted Valerie Silk’s invitation and the Collins devised a triathlon in Portobelo in Panama in 1997 to prepare for the race. And in 1998, Ironman’s royal couple as well as their son Michael participated in the race.

First ever European woman takes home the gold

1998 was the year Natascha Badmann won her first ever gold in the Hawaii Ironman. Representing her native Switzerland, she waved and smiled to spectators throughout the race thus becoming an instant crowd favorite for her positive attitude and friendly demeanor.

Natascha Badmann crossing the finish line (image via sportsillustrated.cnn.com)

Chris Legh races again

Australian elite triathlete Chris Legh has been participating in triathlon races since 1989. In the mid to the late 90s, Legh was among the well renowned Australian professional triathletes and held the championship title for the country’s long- and Ironman-distance triathlon for five years.

Legh’s participation in the Ironman of the prior year was quite memorable though. Minutes to the finish line, Legh lost consciousness due to bowel collapse caused by severe dehydration. He had to undergo emergency surgery shortly after the race to take out a part of his large intestine that had turned gangrenous.

Fortunately, Legh recovered and again took to the Hawaii Ironman race in 1998. Despite some bike mechanical problems he encountered, Legh remarkably finished 6th overall with a time of 8 hours, 40 minutes, and 45 seconds.

Youngest Hawaii Ironman competitor

Hawaii Ironman has long attracted athletes of all ages. For instance, the 1992 Hawaii Ironman saw Charlie Futrell successfully complete the demanding endurance race in 15 hours, 35 minutes, and 23 seconds, placing him 1st in the US and 3rd overall in the 70-75 age group category.

1998, meanwhile, was when Joseph Zemaitis signed up for the race. Zemaitis, then 18 years old, was the captain for the Lake Forest College’s varsity swim and cross country teams. Zemaikis, at 12 years old, set a goal to conquer Hawaii Ironman, which he successfully did in 1998.

He was the youngest competitor to ever join the race, completing the course in 9 hours, 57 minutes, and 10 seconds. This garnered him the honor of being the second-best American finisher, and placed him 8th overall for the 18-24 age group category.


An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins

Natascha Badmann

Sports Illustrated – Faces In The Crowd

Chris Legh’s Story: Injury Lessons That Apply To Every Triathlete

Kona Ironman Triathlon World Championships – 1998

Mechanical Problem on Alii Drive, Part 20

Joe Zemaitis

History of Triathlon: 1997

1997 was a dynamic year for the sport of triathlon. It was when a legendary figure returned to the sport. Amazing world records were created during the year as well.

John Collins returns to triathlon

Hawaii Ironman’s creator Commander John Collins was unfortunately unable to continue organizing the competition after he got an assignment transfer back in 1980.  Commander Collins and wife Judy really didn’t have an idea of just how much the Ironman became a hit. They wanted to actively participate but time and distance made doing so impossible.

But then-default Ironman owner Valerie Silk would persistently invite them. Commander Collins and Judy would eventually accept, though not readily as they knew they would have to prepare for the grueling race.

Around this time, the Collins were in Panama and they thought the country, specifically Portobelo in Colón Province, was a perfect place for a triathlon. So they went ahead and organized a local event with the original goal of using it as their training for Kona. And much like what happened in Oahu in 1978, the triathlon event became a big hit and is to date a huge crowd drawer.

The Collins have since handed over the event to the newly established local triathlon association in Portobelo. Since their return to the sporting circuit in 1997, they have become the sport’s staunch ambassadors, roaming the world to continue spreading the word about triathlon.

Luc Van Lierde sets new Ironman record

1996 was a remarkable year for Belgian Luc Van Lierde as he took two gold and two silver medals from four elite competitions that were only a month apart from each other. In 1997, he again took home the gold from Ironman Europe, but only this time, he clocked in a new world record of 7:50:27, which will remain undefeated for more than a decade.

A repeat of the Ironman crawl

The 1982 Hawaii Ironman was memorable as it saw Julie Moss on all fours as she struggled to reach the finish line. This dramatic crawl will again be repeated in 1997. Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham, just yards away from the finish line, were both clearly in severely depleted physical states. Both were zigzagging and falling yet would amazingly stand on their feet again, only to fall once more. After repeated unsuccessful attempts at standing up, Ingraham would eventually just crawl after which Welch would follow in the same manner. Ingraham finished ahead, and just sat against the post. Welch would come in seconds later, collapsing after touching the finish-chute carpet, after which she would be dragged away by her support crew.

Wendy Ingraham and Sian Welch during the 1997 Hawaii Ironman (image via www.triathlete-europe.competitor.com)

Elite athlete collapses yards from Ironman finish

Welch and Ingraham ended up okay after collapsing. But such won’t be the case with professional triathlete Chris Legh. Yards from the finish line, Legh would fall a handful of times and would end up on all fours too. But after only minutes of crawling, Legh would collapse. He would be brought to the medical tent and be put on a bed of ice for a handful of hours while unconscious the whole time. After he came to, he was sent to his hotel to rest, only to come down with extreme fever again. He was finally sent to the hospital wherein a large part of his colon had to be taken out for it literally died due to lack of oxygen.

Chris McCormack dominates ITU-sanctioned races

Australian Chris McCormack had a busy race schedule in 1997. He joined a handful of triathlons in Switzerland and France. That’s not counting the eight ITU-organized races he participated in that year. He would go on to win two golds from the ITU Triathlon World Cup and ITU Triathlon World Championships, making him the only athlete to win both the World Cup and World Championships within a year.


An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins

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

The Physiological Impact Of An Ironman On The Human Body

Belgian Man Breaks an Ironman Record

Interview with Gatorade Commercial Star Chris Legh

Chris McCormack ITU Results

Macca – Tales from the Tour – Triathlon 1998

History of Triathlon: 1990

1990 was witness to a crucial transition period in the sport. It was the year that saw a change of leadership within the Triathlon Federation USA. Around the same time, Ironman Hawaii was transferred to its new owners as well.

Ironman Hawaii sold

Valerie Silk became the default owner and organizer of Ironman Hawaii since 1980. This was after Commander John Collins, Ironman’s creator, got posted to a different assignment and therefore could no longer handle the event in Hawaii.

According to Silk, she was apprehensive in taking over Ironman Hawaii as she was then quite busy handling two fitness clubs in downtown Honolulu which she and then husband Hank Grundman owned.

But while she only took the responsibility reluctantly, there’s no denying that the endurance competition flourished under her management. It was under her leadership that Ironman became wildly popular after garnering coveted coverage in both print and broadcast media. Ironman became a professional sporting competition under Silk as well, making the event highly profitable.

All the same, Silk decided to sell Ironman Hawaii, formally called Hawaiian Triathlon Corporation. In 1990, Dr. Jim Gill, an ophthalmologist and regular Ironman competitor, acquired the Ironman brand from Silk for $3 million. Gill then proceeded to establish the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), the for-profit organization that now handles and holds Ironman competitions around the globe.

Logo of the Ironman, a brand now owned by the World Triathlon Corporation (image via www.ironman.com)

Changes to the Officials Program

The triathlon Federation USA established its Officials Program and subsequently held training and certification for its officiating personnel as early as 1987. Through the program, the referees’ myriad functions were made clear. Not only were they tasked with officiating competitions, but it is their recommendations that ultimately predict whether or not a race organizer’s application for sanctioning will be approved or declined. Needless to say, the Officials Program served to solidify the referees’ authority.

With the leadership changes, however, were modifications to the Officials Program and competitive rules. The appeals section of the rule book was modified, a move which the pioneers and supporters of the original Officials Program saw as a way to accommodate elite athletes and a shortcut to making Tri-Fed’s rules more suitable for the International Triathlon Union.

These changes inevitably affected the referees and essentially reduced their role in the sport. The new Executive Director, perhaps in an effort to bridge the gap within the leadership, assigned an Officials Coordinator. But this was received negatively as the others only saw it as a maneuver to take control away from the Board of Officials, thus furthering the misunderstanding within the federation’s leaders, a rift which lasted for nearly two years.

Triathlon-themed fashion line for women

Triathlon’s effect was far-reaching and even influenced women’s fashion. In 1990, Danskin, a leading manufacturer of women’s dance wear, released a fashion line especially dedicated to women triathletes. Danskin organized women-only triathlon competitions in various cities in the U.S as well.


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

World Triathlon Corporation

The History of Competitive Rules 1985-1990

The Triathlon Officials’ Program 1983-1998

Women in Triathlon

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.


An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins

History of Ironman

Ironman Triathlon

History of Triathlon: 1978

John Collins’ concept for a grueling endurance competition all started from a discussion over which athlete was fittest – a swimmer, a runner, or a cyclist. The Commander’s idea of merging the disciplines swimming, running, and cycling in one continuous race was not easily accepted in the beginning.

The Collins family’s turn

The year was 1978 in Hawaii. It wasn’t uncommon for families of U.S. military forces stationed in the state to take charge of organizing local athletic events in the area as well as participate in the races themselves. During this time, it was the Collins family’s turn to stage a competition.

John and Judy Collins (image via www.ironman.com)

A date is finally set

Military and local athletes would often ask Commander Collins about when they’d finally do the “three-part thing”. Continued urging from colleague Dan Hendrickson, so that one of their distance runner friends scheduled to leave the state can join, was ever present too. Also, the fact that it was his family’s turn to organize an athletic event further convinced Commander Collins to finally stage Ironman in Hawaii. It was to be on February 18, 1978, to be held on the third largest island of Oahu.


Commander Collins, together with his wife Judy, and children Michael and Kristin who were only 13 and 12 then, started the groundwork for the event. Race supplies and materials were procured. Commander Collins also designed his very own trophy for the winners which the entire family helped assemble from scratch.

Participants were asked to prepare their own bicycle helmets for the competition. They were asked to provide their own t-shirts for the race as well. Days before the event, the shirts were collected and brought to the Collins residence for printing. There they stamped the logo and other details of the competition on the shirts using the silk screen that Commander Collins made himself. Of course, “Finisher” wasn’t yet printed on as this was to be added post-race.

The race

On the eve of the event, the Collins family distributed electrolyte powder to the athletes. On race morning, 18 folks showed up at the designated starting area in the beach. The participants were each given a three-page handwritten briefing detailing competition rules and race course. On the last page was slogan “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life”.

Of the 18 that were drawn to the race, three decided not to pursue, according to Commander Collins. Of the 15, three failed to finish the race. The official results of the Hawaii Ironman, as the event is known today, records 12 finishers, with Gordon Haller, a Communications Specialist of the U.S. Navy, declared as the first ever Ironman in history.


An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins

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.


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.



Historical Triathlon Results – 1978

Historical Triathlon Results – 1979

History of Triathlon: 1974

Modern triathlon emerged relatively late. It’s not even in its 50-year mark yet, but it’s one of the most widely received sports in the world right now. In fact, no other sport is as extensively supported and participated in than triathlon.

Triathlon’s appeal is undeniable. Triathletes flock by the hundreds to local competitions, and by the thousands to international events. But have you ever wondered how this three-disciplined sports competition came about?

Jogging Craze

Jogging was all the rage in the 70s. Track clubs and meets were commonplace back then. This was especially the case in the Pacific Beach community in San Diego, California. Sports enthusiasts and fitness buffs would organize regular track competitions which were normally capped off with dips in the ocean to cool off.

San Diego Track Club

One of these clubs was the San Diego Track Club (SDTC). It wasn’t unusual for members to devise their own special races. They then enlist these on the club’s calendar of events to both inform and invite fellow members to participate.

Jack Johnstone

One of them was Jack Johnstone. He, like all the other health buffs then, was into jogging. He was once a university swimmer too. Having joined the Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon the two prior years, Johnstone wanted to come up with a similar event.

Jack Johnstone and David Pain circa 1975 (via triathlonhistory.com)

However, he wanted to put equal focus on both swimming and running. Plus, he wanted to have multiple alternating legs, with each leg having longer distances than the biathlon he previously joined.

After designing his very own event, Johnstone spoke with SDTC’s Calendar Chairman Bill Stock. Stock agreed to put his event on the club’s calendar. Stock suggested that he call Don Shanahan as the latter also had an idea for a race.

Don Shanahan

Don Shanahan was one of the board members of the SDTC. Shanahan decided to engage in cycling as a cross training routine for when nursing running injuries. Shanahan’s idea for the race was to have a cycling leg after the biathlon.

Mission Bay Triathlon

Johnstone agreed to incorporate Shanahan’s idea and they decided to stage the competition on September 25, 1974. They ran a notice on SDTC’s newsletter which read “Run, Cycle, Swim: Triathlon Set for 25th.

Needless to say, the first ever modern triathlon event, the Mission Bay Triathlon, was a success. Though it was publicized just two weeks prior, and was done on a weekday evening, it drew an impressive 46 participants. It was won by Bill Phillips, the same fellow who previously dominated the Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon. John and Judy Collins, who years later established the Ironman Triathlon, had participated in the event as well.



What Is Your Triathlon History?

Story of the First Triathlon

San Diego – the birthplace of triathlon