It was 44 years ago today that 15 men started the first Ironman race in Honolulu, Hawaii, with 12 completing the race. The brainchild of (Commander) John and Judy Collins, the idea for the race came from an argument that started up during the awards ceremony for a running race – who was the fittest athlete, a swimmer, cyclist or runner. Commander Collins suggested that they put together the Waikiki Rough Water Swim (2.4 miles), the Around Oahu Bike Race (which was 115-miles) and the Honolulu Marathon. If they shortened the bike course by three miles they could start the bike leg right at Waikiki beach – which gives us the current full-distance distances of 3.8 km (2.4-mile) swim, 180 km (112-mile) bike and 42.2 km (26.2-mile) run.
After suggesting the course, Commander Collins told the group that whoever finished the combination of all the events first would be the “Iron Man.” On Feb. 18, 1978, a few months after the Collins’ came up with the idea, the first race took place. There was a $5 entry fee and athletes had to bring their own T-shirt to get the logo screened on to it. John welded copper pipe trophies for all the competitors.
Gordon Haller, a US Navy Communications Specialist, was the first man across the line that day, finishing the race in 11:46:58. John Dunbar, a US Navy Seal, took second and US Marine Dave Orlowski finished second.
Judy Collins had joined John at the original triathlon events in San Diego in 1974 and 1975. She had to pull out of the inaugural event at the last minute, but was an integral part in the organization of that race. John finished ninth.
The following year 15 people would take part in the race again, with the Collins’ 16-year-old son Michael competing and Lyn Lemaire becoming the first woman to finish the event. That year the race was featured in Sports Illustrated, and the following year ABC Sports covered the race – that coverage would help build the prestige and popularity of the race, helping create the triathlon boom we all enjoy today.
Happy birthday, triathlon!