History of Ironman
It is much easier to trace the history of triathlon than explain its phenomenal growth. Every year hundreds of thousands of triathletes will compete in thousands of triathlons held throughout the world. To date there are 26 Ironman events (WTC accredited) held around the world and 36 in the Ironman 70.3 series. The Ironman World Championships are held each year in Kona, Hawaii and the 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas.
Early triathlons were held as offbeat training exercises for runners. The first known swim, bike and run triathlons were held at San Diego’s (California) Mission Bay in 1974. Organized by members of the San Diego Track club, the events were held on summer evenings and were intended as no more than light-hearted breaks in the normal grind of training for marathons and 10ks. One athlete who raced at the first Mission bay Triathlon, John Collins, was very influential in the further development of the sport. Collins, a U.S. naval officer, took the triathlon concept to Hawaii and used it several years later to combine three of Oahu’s endurance events:
- The Waikiki Rough Water Swim
- The Around-Oahu Bike Ride and
- The Honolulu Marathon
into one race : THE IRONMAN
Only twelve men completed the first race held in January of 1978. In 1979, 13 men and one woman crossed the finish line. A Sport’s Illustrated article by Barry McDermott in May 1979 increased the 1980 field into the hundreds and brought ABC’s Wide World of Sports to Hawaii for the first of an unbroken string of annual network broadcasts. In 1982, the last year no qualifying was needed to compete at Ironman, the dramatic footage of Julie Moss crawling on her hands and knees to a second-place finish at Ironman, triggered an explosion of interest. The same year also witnessed the birth of Triathlon Magazine, the sport’s first national publication, the founding of the U.S. triathlon series, the first national racing series.
The decade that saw phenomenal growth in triathlon, the 1980’s, ended with a step toward the future. In 1989, after several failed attempts, triathlon formed an international governing body. Twenty-five nations were presented at the founding congress of the International Triathlon Union in Avignon, France, in April. The focus of ITU was to gain acceptance by the international Olympic Committee and have triathlon accepted by the Olympic program. The first step in that process would be to create a World Triathlon Championship. The race took place four months later in Avignon, with Mark Allen of the United States and Erin Baker of New Zealand winning the inaugural World Championship. The Ironman may be triathlon’s most recognizable event, but the Olympic distance is the sport’s most popular. The 1,5K swim, 40K bike and 10K run is triathlon’s international standard and the format used at the Triathlon World Championship and eventually the Olympics.
In 1991, the IOC recognized the ITU as the sole governing body for the sport of triathlon at its 97th session in Birmingham, England. In 1993 the Pan American Games approved triathlon for competition at the 1995 Pan Am Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina. The first Goodwill Games Triathlon was held in St. Petersburg, Russia on July 23, 1994. Then in October of 1994, triathlon was named to the Olympic program as a medal sport at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney Australia.
The sport has progressed over the years and athletes pushed themselves far beyond what people thought was possible. Breaking the nine hour barrier became breaking the eight hour mark as triathletes perfect their minds and bodies and push the limits. Ironman has broken into the world of endurance sport and taken it to levels thought impossible.