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Sat 4th Dec 2021
Hawaii Ironman 2008: The history
Posted by: Annie Emmerson
Posted on: Monday 29th September 2008

Tags  Dave Scott  |  Erin Baker  |  Mark Allen  |  Mike Pigg  |  Paula Newby-Fraser  |  WTC

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Hawaii Ironman's history - where does one start? What an event, what a sport... If an alien was looking down from space he would surely have to say what a crazy event, a 3.8km open water swim, 180km bike and a marathon just to finish it off, and to add to that you have to deal with high humidity and the tough terrain which is synonymous with the volcanic island of Hawaii. Nevertheless, the Ford Ironman World Championships has become a major event on the international sporting calendar.

In 2007, 1780 competitors completed the race compared to the 12 that finished in 1979. Ok, so it may not quite have the following of that of a major annual international sporting event, but it comes as no surprise that WTC (World Triathlon Corporation), who purchased the Ironman triathlon from Valerie Silk in 1989, was recently bought out by Providence Equity Securities,(a $21 billion private equity company), for what is estimated at somewhere in the region of $50-$80 million.

Without a doubt, there's just something very special about the event, unlike no other, that keeps drawing people back year-after-year. With that in mind and with just under two weeks to go until the 2008 Ford Ironman World Championships, we'll be taking a look back over the history of the Hawaii Ironman, past winners, course highlights, a 2008 race preview and all the news from the GB athletes in Kona.

The History: 1978 - 1989

1978 - A momentous year for Ironman as the race is put together following a long discussion at a Hawaii running race following a dispute as to who was fitter, swimmers, runners or other athletes. Navy commander, John Collins and his wife Judy invent the race to settle the argument. Fifteen men participate in the initial event and it was decided by Collins that whoever finished first would be called the Ironman. Twelve men finish the race which is won by Gordon Haller in a time of 11 hours, 46 minutes and 58 seconds. Could Collins and his wife ever have imagined what they'd started?

1979 - Word was out on the street and interest in the race began to grow. Fifty athletes had signed up but bad weather meant the race had to be postponed a day. The following day the race began with just 15 of the original 50. Tom Warren smashes the time set by Haller the previous year by over 30 minutes and finishes in a time of 11 hours, 15 minutes and 56 seconds. A championship cyclist from Boston, Lyn Lemaire is the first Ironwomen finishing the event in fifth place overall. Following a ten page article about the event written by Barry McDermott from Sports Illustrated, Collins receives hundreds of enquires about the race.

1980 - Ironman gets worldwide recognition when John Collins gives ABC's Wide World of Sport permission to film the event. He did warn ABC executives that, "watching the race is about as exciting as watching a lawn-growing contest," but ABC's coverage is somewhat more dramatic. The event draws 106 men and two women. Dave Scott, a 26-year-old masters swim coach from Davis, California wins the event in 9:24:33. Robin Beck wins the women's division in 11:21:24, finishing 12th place overall. As people become familiar with the Ironman Triathlon, other triathlons of varying distances begin to take place around the world. Ironically, Collins isn't at the event, as the Navy transfers him to Washington, D.C. He entrusts the race to the owners of a local heath club.

1981 - The Ironman is moved from the tranquil shores of Waikiki to the barren lava fields of Kona on the Island of Hawaii. The decision behind the move comes from Valerie Silk, one of the health club owners, who decides this is the best option to avoid the Honolulu traffic hazards. Silk also annuls the requirement that each competitor provide his or her own support crew and on February 14th approximately 950 volunteers are drafted in to support the 326 athletes in the race. Former cyclist John Howard, wins the first big island race in 9:38:29. Linda Sweeney, one of 20 female competitors, wins the women's race in 12:00. The oldest competitor to finish the race is Walt Stack (73), his time of 26:20:00 is the Ironman slowest ever finish.

1982 - The race is moved to October to give athletes from colder climates better training conditions. Cutoff times are introduced and the contestants must finish the race in 18 hours and 30 minutes. Dave Scott wins in a record time of 9:08:23 and also sets a new swim record of 50:52. Julie Leach, 25, sets a new bike record of 5:50:36 and wins in a time of 10:54:08.

1983 - The cutoff time is shortened once again and the competitors must finish in 17 hours or under. For the first time in the race's history a qualification system goes into effect restricting entry. Dave Scott wins his third Ironman in a record time of 9:05:57 and for the first time in the women's race the event is won by a non-American, Sylviane Puntous of Canada, in a new course record of 10:43:36.

1984 - Valerie Silk assumes race chairmanship and appoints Kona resident Kay Rhead as race director. Despite the boycott of the 23rd Olympics by some East European countries, the Eastern Bloc sends its first participant to the Ironman: Vaclav Vitovec, a 31-year-old Czechoslovakian. Californian Jennifer Hinshaw, 23, sets a women's swim record of 50:31 that will remain unbroken until 1997. Dave Scott wins his fourth Ironman in 8:54:20, becoming the first person to break the nine-hour barrier. Sylviane Puntous wins the women's title again, also in a record time of 10:25:13.

1985 - Scott Tinely wins and starts a new trend... Aerobars! Tinley's wining time of 8:50:54 is a new course record. Joanna Ernst, 26, from California wins the women's race in 10:25:22. The four time winner Dave Scott decides to sit out this year's race and commentate for ABC's Ironman coverage instead. Participants from over 34 countries and 46 states compete in this year's event. This year's major highlight is the debut of international qualifying races: the Double Brown Ironman in Auckland, New Zealand and the Yanman Ironman at Lake Biwa in Japan.

1986 - Dave Scott comes out of retirement to take more than 20 minutes off the existing course record in a winning time of 8:28:37. His marathon time of 2:49 was a first as no other athlete had gone under 2:50. Controversy hit the women's race when Patricia Puntous from Canada was disqualified for drafting. The then relative newcomer, Paula Newby-Fraser, was announced as the winner, her time of 9:49:14 was a new course record. The overall prize money receives a big boost when an anonymous donor donates $100,000, and a new international qualifying race, Ironman Canada, takes place in Penticton.

1987 - A record 1,381 athletes start the event and 1,283 finish within the the 17-hour limit. Athletes from over 44 countries and 49 states take part in the race. Dave Scott kept the race organisers and his competitors in suspense as to whether he would race and only announces his participation the week of the event. He once again proved his dominance of the race by overcoming a strong field, including Mark Allen and Mike Pigg, to add another victory to his tally of six Hawaii Ironman victories. Erin Baker smashes the previous course record and wins in a time of 9:35:25.

1988 - Ironman Hawaii's tenth anniversary sees it's largest contingent of Eastern Europeans take part. One of the big favourites Dave Scott is forced to pull out of the race the night before due to a knee injury. Scott Molina, 'The Terminator', wins in a time of 8:31:00 after the pre-race favourite, Mark Allen, experiences bike problems. In the women's race, Paula Newby-Fraser smashes her own bike course record by 25 minutes and becomes the first women to break five hours on the bike. Her time of 9:01:01 makes it evident that women can break the nine hour barrier. In Europe, Ironman Roth is established as the fourth international qualifier for Hawaii.

Outside of Elite racing one of the most awe inspiring and emotional achievements was taking place. Rick Hoyt was born in 1962 as a spastic quadriplegic, with cerebral palsy, and was an unlikely candidate to take part in the Ironman but with the help of his father Dick Hoyt, (a recently retired lieutenant colonel in the air nation guard), he did just that. Team Hoyt have gone on to complete six Ironmans and well over two hundred triathlons, not to mention hundreds of running races including 66 marathons. Be warned, you may need to get the Kleenex ready!

1989 Triathlon legends Dave Scott and Mark Allen race neck-and-neck for eight hours. Following six previous attempts at the #1 spot Allen has his day and overcomes Scott just two miles from the finishline, winning in a world record time of 8:09:15. Scott finishes just under a minute later in 8:10:13. Allen also set a marathon record of 2:40:04. Paula Newby-Fraser continues to break records winning in a time of 9:00:56, five seconds faster than the previous year.

Watch the story of Allen and Scott's 'Iron War' epic battle below.

Tomorrow we'll take a look at the Hawaii Ironman through the 90's and beyond.

The information from this article was sourced from For more Ironman information go to:

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