Monday, January 11, 2010

The beginning of IRONMAN by Navy Captain John Collins and wife Judy.

During an awards banquet in 1977 for an around-the-island running competition, a lively debate broke out as to whether runners or swimmers were more fit. Collins added that he had just read in a magazine that Eddy Merckx, the champion cyclist, was the fittest athlete in the world.

As the good natured debate continued, Collins began playing with the idea of combining the three toughest endurance races on the island into one race. Deciding to seize the moment, he leapt onstage during a band break and half-jokingly made the challenge. He proposed tying the 2.4 mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim with 112 miles of the Around Oahu Bike Race (originally a two-day event and 114 miles), followed by a 26.2 mile run on the same course as the Honolulu Marathon.

“The gun will go off about 7:00 a.m., the clock will keep running and whoever finishes first we’ll call the Ironman,” Collins recalls.

On February 18, 1978, 15 competitors, including Collins, came to the shores of Waikiki to take the Ironman challenge. Prior to racing, each received three sheets of paper listing a few rules and a course description. Handwritten on the last page was this exhortation: “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life!”

Collins and 11 others finished the entire course. Gordon Haller, a taxi cab driver and fitness enthusiast, crossed the finish line first in 11 hours, 46 minutes and 58 seconds to become the “original” Ironman. Collins finished the race in a little under 17 hours.

Having lost only $25 on that first race, Collins agreed to organize a second event in 1979. Unfortunately, bad weather postponed the race for a day, and more than half the race-field dropped out; this left only 15 to race for the second straight year. Among the remaining 15 athletes was Lyn Lemaire, a cyclist from Boston, Mass. The first female finisher maintained second place for much of the race before finishing fifth overall. The winning time of 11:15:46 posted by Californian Tom Warren, improved upon Haller’s first-year mark, and Warren became a minor celebrity when he and the race received exposure in Sports Illustrated.

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