Famous Triathletes: Judy Collins

Many credit then-Commander John Collins for the creation of Ironman, the most grueling multi-sport competition in the world right now. If not for his wild idea to combine the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the Around Oahu Bike Race, and the Honolulu Marathon in one nonstop race, there wouldn’t be an Ironman in existence.

The unlikely concept for a race may be credited to John Collins, but handling the many aspects of the competition, specifically during the first two staged in 1978 and 1979, may be attributed to Judy Collins.

Who is Judy Collins?

Judy is none other than then-Commander John Collins’ wife. A housewife tending to two teenage kids in the mid 1970s, Judy would still find time to pursue her interest in sports. In fact, joining athletic competitions would become a family affair for the Collinses then, with husband and wife, as well as their two children Michael and Kristin, running in track meets together.

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

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

Participation in the first modern triathlon

John Collins was in 1974 stationed in San Diego, California. Both avid health buffs, John and Judy would practically be in every masters athletic competition in and around the area, which back then weren’t that many. Having gotten wind of the 1974 Mission Bay Triathlon organized by Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan, the couple eagerly signed up.

Race day was a late Wednesday afternoon on September 25, 1974. Judy, then 35 years old, placed 30th while the Commander was somewhere in the 22nd or 23rd place. Their children Kristin and Michael placed 33rd and 34th, respectively.

Contributions to Hawaii Ironman

The Collins family had to move to the scenic island of Oahu in Hawaii in the late 1970s due to the Commander’s job. In the island, it was not uncommon for families of armed forces personnel stationed there to each take turn to organize athletic competitions.

Having issued the unlikely concept for a race during a 1977 Oahu Perimeter Relay, the Commander would often get asked by those who have heard about it. Finally, in 1978, it was the Collins family’s turn to host an event, and the husband-and-wife team ultimately decided on staging the Ironman.

Preparation for the first Ironman was of course tedious. After disseminating information about the event, Judy helped organize manpower for the upcoming competition. Fortunately, Hank Grundman and Valerie Silk, then-owners of a chain of fitness shops in Hawaii, agreed to extend support.

Then crucial details for the event such as race course, rules, and other guidelines had to be straightened out. Judy was involved in ironing out said aspects. She also assisted in the tedious tasks like assembling trophies from scratch, the design of which was created especially by the Commander.

John Collins took part in the first ever Hawaii Ironman. Judy did not join the race though. Instead, she was her husband’s support crew that day.

Triathlon in Panama

In 1980, the Collinses again had to move for the Commander got assigned back to the mainland United States. Years would pass and the couple would have no idea how popular and successful the event they had conceptualized had become. Though Kristin and Michael would represent the Collins family to a handful of Hawaii Ironman competitions for years to follow, the couple would remain unacquainted of the event’s renown.

In the mid 1990s, John and Judy were already residing in Panama, in the scenic port city of Portobelo in Colon Province. Seeing as how the city was an ideal location for a triathlon, they wasted no time in organizing competitions there. John and Judy assisted in setting up a local triathlon association as well and eventually handed down the race organizing to the said group. In 1997, John and Judy would return to Hawaii Ironman and from then on would serve as ambassadors for triathlon, traveling to other countries to further spread the sport.

Sources:

Triathlon – The Early History Of The Sport

An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins

Right Time, Right Place. Triathlon’s Roots Run Deep In San Diego.

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.

Sources:

Lyn Lemaire

Ironman

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

US National Time Trial Championships 1975-1981

US National Track Championships

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.

Sources:

Triathlon – The Early History of the Sport

An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins

From Unlikely Challenge to International Sensation

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.”

Sources:

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.

Sources:

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.

Sources:

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: 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.

Preparations

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.

Sources:

An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins

Ironman Triathlon

Triathlon

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.

Sources:

Triathlon

What Is Your Triathlon History?

Story of the First Triathlon

San Diego – the birthplace of triathlon