Famous Triathletes: Erin Baker

Back in the early days of triathlon, female triathletes were few and far between. Though there were a handful of women who joined modern triathlon’s inaugural race in 1974, female triathletes didn’t figure as much in the following races that were staged. In fact, it was not until 1980 that a female triathlete in the person of Lyn Lemaire competed at the second ever Hawaii Ironman race.

Triathlon has since then been regularly participated in by women. There’s Karen Smyers, for instance, as well as Julie Moss. And then there’s Erin Baker, who was not only well-loved for her astounding performance in races, but was also well-known for her advocacies that would later change the way triathlons were conducted.

Erin Baker (image via legendsoftriathlon.com)

Erin Baker
(image via legendsoftriathlon.com)

Who is Erin Baker?

Erin Baker, a native of New Zealand, is considered by many as one of the best female triathletes the sport has ever seen. Baker’s first foray into the sport of running was in the early 1970s. During an annual picnic for the company where her father worked, Baker decided to join the friendly track and field race usually held to cap off the gathering.

Along with the mixed crowd of children and adults, Baker would run her fastest and would finish the race in first place. Clearly showing potential for said sport, she would later be encouraged by her mother to pursue running competitively. Following her mother’s advice proved to be auspicious for three years later at 15 years old, she would be declared champion during her first ever cross-country competition.

Professional triathlon career

Erin Baker holds the distinction of winning a total of 104 out of the 121 races she joined. But of these races, a few stand out for this remarkable female triathlete. 1984 was memorable for it was her first entry into the sport as a professional triathlete.

Racing in the world championships in Nice, France was noteworthy, too, as it was from this competition that she bagged three long course championship titles. She no doubt would have added another Nice championship title to her feat had she not refused to start at one race. She did this to protest the inequitable distribution of prizes, for it turned out, the winner in the men’s division was going to be awarded a brand new car while the winner for the women’s won’t receive a similar reward. Due to her protests, the organizers changed the directive and instead ruled that whoever gets to the finish line first gets to win the car.

In 1986, she entered and won her very first Ironman triathlon competition in New Zealand. Though Hawaii Ironman had shot to worldwide fame in 1982, Baker could not travel to the island state. This was due to a 1981 conviction she received for throwing explosive devices during a rally to protest the arrival of South Africa’s rugby team in New Zealand.

Through the help of the Hawaii Ironman organizers, she’d be able to travel to the island state in 1987 and consequently win the championship for the women’s division that year. She’d go on to take another Hawaii Ironman championship title in 1990, as well as three second-place wins in the competition.

In 1989, she became the first ever ITU World Champion. Due to this feat as well as her other contributions to the sporting world, New Zealand’s Halberg awards would choose her as the New Zealand Sportsperson of the Year.

In 1990, she represented her native country to the Commonwealth Games and bagged the Women’s Demonstration Triathlon prize. She would go on to take two more New Zealand Ironman championship titles before her retirement in 1994.

For a great podcast interview with Erin Baker, visit the “Legends of Triathlon” podcast.

Sources:

Triathlon Champ Erin Baker Becomes A Woman On The Run

Erin Baker

New Zealand’s Wonder Woman

Erin Baker interview

Catching up with the greats: The ITU’s first World Champion Erin Baker

Famous Triathletes: Julie Moss

Hawaii Ironman did not immediately become popular. The inaugural race only attracted over a dozen brazen folks. Though the number of competitors doubled the following year in 1979, half of them backed out due to stormy weather. It wasn’t until 1980 that more than a hundred competitors signed up, all thanks to the Sports Illustrated article about Tom Warren. But what really brought the event to world renown was broadcast media’s coverage of Julie Moss.

Julie Moss(image via einestages.spiegel.de)

Julie Moss
(image via einestages.spiegel.de)

Who is Julie Moss?

Hawaii Ironman may have been started by a group of fiercely athletic military men, but not all pioneer triathletes are hard core sporty folks. Julie Moss is one such example. Then a graduate student in 1982, her passion was surfing. But aside from this, she was not really into competitive sports.

She flew to Hawaii for two reasons. First, she wanted to experience firsthand the rigors of this race for she was doing a thesis on the training and physiological requirements of endurance sports. Second, joining the Hawaii Ironman was her way of bonding with her then-boyfriend Reed Gregerson, a triathlete. As it would turn out, her participation in the race will prove to be pivotal, both for her and for the sport of triathlon.

Race preparation

Moss firmly believes that she works most efficient when under pressure. So instead of going into training as soon as she and Gregerson signed up, she didn’t start until 20 weeks from the race. Her first plunge into training was a half-Ironman triathlon in Santa Barbara, California in September 1981, where she did fairly well. She then proceeded to join the December 1981 Oakland marathon, one that ended in disappointment after experiencing exhaustion and dehydration at mile 20 of the course.

She almost decided not to pursue the big race when on Christmas eve, Gregerson broke up with her. Though devastated, the desire to graduate was more urgent. After all, her mother who works as a teacher and put her through school single-handedly had already put a lot of money into her Kona race. So instead of sulking, she did a race in Mission Bay in San Diego, California in January 1982 to further prepare.

Two weeks before race day, she flew to Hawaii where she stayed at least 35 miles from Kailua-Kona. Intending to utilize the remaining one week to ramp up her performance on the bike, she decided to add said commute distance to her planned bike training, which overall amounted to almost 400 miles the week before race.

Race day

Moss was among the group of leading women when she emerged from the water after 1 hour and 11 minutes. Donning a Lycra skinsuit someone sourced for her instead of the usual bike shorts and tank top she initially planned to wear, she finished the second leg in 5 hours and 53 minutes. While transitioning to the marathon phase, Moss’ bra strap broke. She pleaded with a volunteer to lend hers, which the latter reluctantly surrendered.

She was trailing marathon leader Pat Hines, a professional cyclist and a member of the first ever elite triathlon group Team J David, during the third leg. However, a few miles into the run, Hines dropped out due to severe leg cramps. Moss only became aware that she was leading the race about 8 miles from finish although news crews on helicopter and camera van have already been tailing her after Hines’ departure.

Six miles from finish, Moss would start to deteriorate. She’d labor from aid station to aid station, occasionally asking those near how far her closest opponent was, who turned out to be elite athlete Kathleen McCartney of Team J David. Though she joined the race with no ambitions of winning it, it all changed when she became the marathon’s forerunner.

Running only on bananas and water the whole day as well as lacking rest pre-race, her legs would start to give in one mile from finish. She would fall a handful of times yet still be able to maintain her lead. But as she was nearing the finish line, she would stagger and buckle and eventually would be unable to hold her legs up.

Though well meaning spectators rushed to her aid, she shooed them away for she didn’t want to get disqualified. Finally, 10 yards from finish, with only her arms having their strength, she started to crawl. As she was struggling her way through the crowds, McCartney, who had no idea about Moss’ plight, ran past and claimed the women’s first prize. On all fours, Moss would plod through and crawl and cross the finish line 29 seconds after McCartney.

Moss may not have gotten first prize, but her indomitable spirit was captured on camera. The race, which is by far the most dramatic and remarkable in Hawaii Ironman history, would eventually be shown on Wide World of Sports and inspire thousands to take up the sport of triathlon.

Sources:

17 Hours to Glory

Triathlon: Winner Who Didn’t Finish First

Julie Moss’ Agony in Defeat Was Appalling, But Love’s Labor Made Her a Star

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: 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”.

Sources:

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: 1982

Important milestones in the sport of triathlon took place in 1982. During this year, one of the most memorable races took place. A sanctioning body for this newly emerging endurance sport got established as well.

February 6, 1982 Race

Julie Moss, a graduate student researching on training and physiological requirements of endurance races, decided to join the 1982 event as part of her study on the subject. Moss, while at first wasn’t really aiming on acing the race, nonetheless found herself first in the pack of runners for the final leg of the competition, leading the others by at least 20 minutes.

440 yards from the finish line, Moss started deteriorating, perhaps due to her meager diet of bananas and water for that entire day. She frequently buckled from running, but only to stand up again and do an evidently agonizing walk-run maneuver.

Julie Moss crawling towards the finish line during the 1982 Hawaii Ironman Race. (image via womensadventuremagazine.com)

Only 10 yards from the finish line, Moss’ legs again gave in. While she was struggling to get back on her feet, she was overtaken by Kathleen McCartney. McCartney, after crossing the finish line and awarded with the medal, had to be told by race volunteers that she’d won the women’s division.

Amidst all the fanfare for McCartney’s victory, there was Moss on the ground. She was on all fours and crawling towards the finish line, which she indeed successfully crossed 29 seconds after McCartney.

Moss’ finish was all caught on ABC Sports’ cameras. The event was then aired on February 21, 1982 via the program Wide World of Sports. Needless to say, Moss became the symbol for strength and resolve, and many were inspired to try the sport because of her.

April 9, 1982

A series of high profile coverage on print and broadcast media brought the grueling sport of triathlon to the public. There was Barry McDermott’s piece about Tom Warren and the 1979 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon on Sports Illustrated magazine. Since 1980, ABC Sports has been covering the competition as well, further propagating knowledge about the sport.

With triathlon rapidly developing, it became apparent that the sport had to be formalized and given more institutional structure. This way, crucial standards such as for competition rules and safety, can be established.

On February 16, 1982, the U.S. Triathlon Association was formed through the initiative of John Disterdick and James Gayton. Only weeks after, another organization with the same aim, was established as well. It was named American Triathlon Association by its founders Michael Gilmore, Jarold Johnson, and Penny Little.

On March 15, 1982, the founders of these two groups met and decided to combine said associations into one and officially call it United States Triathlon Association.

Sources:

February 6, 1982 Ironman Results

TRIATHLON; Winner Who Didn’t Finish First

Julie Moss – Back To Kona To Celebrate Her Defining Moment

USA Triathlon