The Race Within: A Look Inside the 1982 Ultraman

Somehow she got up, her legs wobbling. She ambled forward, but within 50 yards of the line she stumbled backward and fell again. With her body becoming less responsive, it took the help of a few volunteers to steady her before she could walk again. With less than 20 yards to go, she fell a third time. The crowd watched breathlessly as McCartney ran past; she didn't notice the fallen Julie because of the crowd gathered around her. McCartney only found out that she'd won when race officials put the gold medal around her neck and told her. ABC cameras showed her celebrating in complete surprise for a moment, then turn back toward Julie with a look of anxiety. What she saw, what the camera crew had so urgently rushed Weisman out to see—and what Valerie didn't see—would be seen around the world and hailed as the defining moment of Ironman's history. Julie had fallen for the last time. Unable to get up and cross the finish line on her own two feet, she did the only thing she could: she crawled.

Valerie found Julie in the medical tent afterward, sitting up on a cot after getting medical attention. She looked up at Valerie plaintively. "Valerie, do you think second place is good enough to get a slot to come back next year?"

"I told her 'Sure, Julie. You can come back next year.' But all I could hear was the voice in my heart saying 'Are you kidding? This is over. There's not going to be an Ironman next year'" I was certain that this was the end of everything," Valerie remembers.

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The crew from Wide World of Sports had a different view. Moss' finish changed everything. ABC rushed production of the Ironman segment and had it ready to go in two weeks. It turned out to be the most-watched episode of the show's history. People mistakenly believed they were seeing a live event and swamped the ABC switchboard asking if Moss was okay and demanding the network to continue coverage of her condition. In an unprecedented move, ABC aired the broadcast a second time the next week. Entry applications for the next Ironman race poured in from around the world. Ironman didn't die; instead, Iron-mania was born.

However, Moss' crawl to the line didn't fix everything. There was still the matter of Rodney Jacobs to deal with. He schlepped the Budweiser coverage—now formatted into a documentary—around to whatever local broadcast stations he could convince to play it. ABC received word of this and told Valerie to get Budweiser under control. She ultimately had to fly to Anheuser Busch headquarters in St. Louis. Though Valerie was contractually bound and had no legal say in how they used the footage, the AB executives determined that pursuing their own broadcast would create a battle with ABC that would damage Ironman. Taking a short-term loss on the one show could lead to a long-term profit with an event whose stock was rising. It was simply good business. So they told Jacobs to knock it off.

Weisman never spoke to Valerie again, nor made any gesture of apology. He later gave an interview to a newspaper about the telecast, which someone clipped and sent to her. At one point they asked him if he knew what they had when he saw it. "Absolutely," she remembers reading. "We instantly knew it was going to be a hit."

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About the Author

Jim Gourley

Jim Gourley is a four-time Ironman finisher and part of a four-man division that finished the Race Across America. He earned a degree in astronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and has written on science and technology in triathlon for four years. He is author of the book Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed.
Jim Gourley is a four-time Ironman finisher and part of a four-man division that finished the Race Across America. He earned a degree in astronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and has written on science and technology in triathlon for four years. He is author of the book Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed.

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