A Brief History of the Ironman World Championships

<strong>Mark Allen crosses the finish line in 1992 for his fourth consecutive Ironman World Championship.</strong><br><br />Lehtikuva/AFP/Getty Images

Born, as most challenges are, out of debate (in this case: which athlete is more fit?), the idea for an uber-triathlon was hatched during the awards ceremony for the 1977 Oahu Perimeter Relay. Navy Commander John Collins, having participated in triathlons in Southern California along with his wife, Judy, determined that by combining the courses of the Waikiki Rough Water Swim (2.4 miles), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (112 miles, originally over two days) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles), the debate might be sufficiently settled.

"Whoever finishes first, we'll call the Ironman," said Cdr. Collins.

On February 18, 1978, 15 men toed the line for the inaugural race, though only 12 finished. Competitors were required to have their own support crews, and provide their own nutrition and hydration. The pre-race rules and course description included a handwritten note on the last page: "Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life!"

1978

  • Winner: Gordon Haller -- 11 hours, 46 minutes, 58 seconds

1979

  • 15 competitors
  • Lyn Lemaire becomes first Ironwoman, fifth overall -- 12:55:38
  • Overall winner: Tom Warren -- 11:15:56
  • Sports Illustrated reporter Barry McDermott, on the island covering a golf tournament, writes 10-page story for the magazine. Story garners widespread national attention.

1980

  • ABC's "Wide World of Sports" takes Ironman into living rooms across the world
  • 26-year-old Dave Scott beats out 106 men and two women with winning time of 9:24:33
  • Robin Beck is top female finisher, 12th overall -- 11:21:24

1981

  • Ironman is moved from Waikiki to the lava fields of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii
  • Competitors are no longer required to come with their own support crew
  • The Valentine's Day race draws 950 volunteers and 326 athletes
  • Ironman's slowest finish record is set by its oldest competitor, 73-year-old Walt Stack, who completes the course 26 hours and 20 minutes after starting

February 1982

  • Race grows to over 500 contestants and attracts its first title sponsor, Bud Light
  • College student Julie Moss fights fatigue and dehydrate as she nears the finish in first place. Just yards from claiming victory, however, she staggers, then falls to the ground and is subsequently passed by Kathleen McCartney in the smallest margin of victory in race history: 29 seconds. The image of her determinedly crawling to the finish line becomes an inspiration to millions of future competitors.
  • Scott Tinley passes Dave Scott in the marathon and wins in 9:19:41

October 1982

  • In an assist to athletes from colder climates, the race is moved to October.
  • Cutoff time of 18 ? hours is introduced
  • Dave Scott claims second title with a record-setting swim (50.52) and overall course record of 9:08:23

1983

  • Dave Scott: third title, new course record -- 9:05:57
  • First international women's winner, Sylviane Puntous of Canada, sets women's course record at 10:43:36
  • Qualifications standards are enacted and cutoff time is lowered to the current 17 hours

1984

  • Dave Scott is first to break nine-hour barrier, winning fourth title in 8:54:20
  • Sylviane Puntous wins again, lowering women's record to 10:25:13
  • Over 1,000 triathletes start race for first time

1985

  • Scott Tinley set new course record of 8:50:54, first competitor to use aerobars

1986

  • Dave Scott becomes the first to break 2:50 mark in the marathon, wins in 8:28:37
  • Paula Newby-Fraser of Zimbabwe sets a new women's course record of 9:49:14

1987

  • Dave Scott takes sixth title in 8:34:13
  • Erin Baker of New Zealand drops women's course record to 9:35:25

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