Famous Triathletes: Ian Emberson

Hawaii Ironman has become such a renowned event that folks from all walks of life, whether professional triathletes or otherwise, vie for coveted competitor slots year after year. But difficult as it may be to imagine, not everyone who join the race aim to earn a living or even become famous from it. There are actually folks like Ian Emberson who participated in a handful of Ironman races yet did not at all consider the event as a competitive race.

Ian Emberson(image via oceanswims.com)

Ian Emberson
(image via oceanswims.com)

Who is Ian Emberson?

Ian Emberson was born in Caracas in Venezuela. Growing up, he would spend much of his time swimming in the open waters of the West Indies and the Bahamas. He eventually moved with his family to Hawaii due to his father’s job. He would grow very fond of the island, its waters and beaches as well as its people that he would decide to stay in Hawaii for good.

Emberson would found the Maui Channel Swim while still in his early 20s. This event is the only the inter-island openwater relay race in the world to this day. Later on, he would also establish the Maui ‘Aumākua 2.4 Mile Swim and will be largely known to the sporting community because of these two accomplishments. But aside from these achievements, Emberson too, who at the time was working as a restaurant manager for a hotel in Honolulu, belongs to the original twelve finishers of the inaugural Hawaii Ironman.

Race day of the 1978 Hawaii Ironman

The water and weather conditions were favorable on that early Saturday morning in February 18, 1978. Most of the folks who enlisted arrived at the beach start before sunrise. Of the eighteen that originally signed up, three would decide to back out though.

The usual excitement pre-race hung in the air. Loud music was blaring from the speakers of a parked van owned by John Dunbar, one of the competitors. He would later change from his Superman costume to his swim gear as the race start time was nearing.

The fifteen competitors all raced to the calm water as soon as then-Commander John Collins signaled the start of the competition. With years of openwater swimming under his belt, it’s then no wonder how Emberson would splash out of the water first.

He would proceed to the second leg of the race using a women’s bicycle which he had borrowed and trained on a few days before the race. Prior to this cycle training, Emberson had no bike experience whatsoever.  But in spite of this, he would manage to complete this portion in 7 hours and 47 minutes.

At the start of the marathon, he changed into a pair of run-of-the-mill running shoes, slogged through the run portion, to finally nab the fourth place, clocking a finish time of 14 hours, 3 minutes, and 25 seconds.

Succeeding Ironman endeavors

Emberson would again join the 1979 Hawaii Ironman and again register an astounding swim time of a little over an hour. Having better training, he managed to complete the Ironman with an overall improved time, finishing 2 hours and 20 minutes earlier than in 1978.

In 1988, he got invited by then-owner of the Hawaii Ironman Valerie Silk to compete in the 10th anniversary of the event. To further illustrate just how much he does not consider the Ironman as a competitive race, he ran the marathon in canvas sneakers. But while this was the case, he managed to finish the race with an even more improved time as compared to his 1978 finish.

Contributions to the openwater swimming arena

Openwater swimming is no doubt Emberson’s first love. Through the years, he would not only serve as race director for the inter-island races which he founded, but he would join in the relay swims too. He’s now busily working in the financial sector, and though he’s relinquished his openwater race director duties to his wife Coco, he still manages to show up at events to inspire the new generation of openwater swimmers.

Sources:

Ian Emberson

Channelling Greatness

Ironman

Ian Emberson: From Day One, And Still Today, A Swimmer Extraordinaire

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: 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.

Sources:

Gordon Haller

Original Ironman still racing hard

Ironman

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.

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

Valerie Silk – USA Triathlon Athlete Profile

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: 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.

Sources:

Sarah Reinertsen

Jon Blais

Ironman World Championship

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: 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.

Sources:

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: 1981

The Ironman triathlon competitions in Hawaii became a much awaited yearly affair. The number of entries grew exponentially since its first staging. From 15 participants in 1978 and 1979, to 108 in 1980, entries increased to almost 500 for the competition’s fourth year in 1981.

Ironman Triathlon’s Increasing Popularity

Sports enthusiasts started to hear of the demanding three-sport endurance race that’s being held once a year in the scenic island of Oahu. The increased exposure of the sport can be attributed to Barry McDermott’s blow by blow account of the 1979 race which was featured on the prominent magazine Sports Illustrated. ABC Sports’ coverage of the January 1980 competition, which it showed on March 23 via its widely viewed show Wide World of Sports, played a huge role in disseminating Ironman Hawaii’s existence as well.

New Venue

More and more letters requesting to join the race poured in. And these were not only from folks around the country, but from the other parts of the world as well. It then became apparent that the location in Oahu, then already quite urbanized, was not enough to accommodate the special requirements and sheer size of the event. Valerie Silk, then the designated director of the endurance race, decided to relocate the competition to the less populated Big Island.

With the competition’s move, a new race course had to be designed. Silk made sure that the distances of the three legs will remain the same. Kailua-Kona Bay became the location for the 2.4-mile open water swim. A ride to and from the lava desert of Hāwī was assigned for the 112-mile bike leg. For the more than the 26-mile marathon, Big Island’s coast from Keauhou through Keahole, and then all the way back to the starting point in Kailua-Kona, was assigned.

Swim leg of the Ironman World Championship, now being held in Kailua-Kona since 1981. (image via www.wikipedia.org)

Familiar Faces and More Female Competitors

Gordon Haller, Ironman Hawaii’s 1978 winner, as well as Ian Emberson, a restaurant manager who has been joining consistently since the first Ironman, both competed. Chuck Neumann and Thomas Boughey, who placed 2nd and 5th respectively in 1980, were in attendance too. Over 20 women sports enthusiasts of varying ages participated as well.

Race Results

John Howard, an Olympic cyclist and a native of Springfield, Missouri, won the first place for finishing in 9 hours, 38 minutes, and 29 seconds. This was Howard’s second time in the Ironman competition. He competed a year earlier and placed 3rd in the 1980 race. In second place was Tom Warren, the San Diego native who took the 1979 Hawaii Ironman trophy. And in third place was Scott Tinley, who finished in 10 hours, 12 minutes, and 47 seconds.

Sources:

History of Ironman

1981 Nautilus International Triathlon Results

Ironman World Championship

John Howard

Wide World of Sports Highlights – 1980s