40 Years of Ironman – How a Crazy Idea Became Epic Sports History



The 18th of February marked the 40-year anniversary of the day 15 crazies competed in a ridiculously long swim-bike-run race in Oahu, Hawaii. Only 12 of them crossed the finish line.

To celebrate, we want to share the story of the birth of Ironman plus some videos about great moments in Ironman, and triathlon, history.

Gordon Haller won the 1978 triathlon with a finish time of 11:46:40, becoming the first Ironman. John Collins, the man who schemed up the idea of the race, crossed the finish line at exactly midnight. He clocked a 17:00:38.

This wasn’t the first triathlon. There were swim-bike-run events in the San Diego area a few years earlier that John was well aware of. He and his wife, Judy, organized a triathlon in Coronado, California in 1975. The San Diego Track Club organized a race in Mission Bay, and they may have been the first group to use the word “triathlon.” Similar events occurred in France decades earlier.

He Announced the First Ironman Championship to a Laughing Crowd

Like many other great ideas in history, Ironman began with a bunch of jokers sitting around a table with beers in their hands.

John conceived the first Ironman competition on Valentine’s Day, 1977. He and his wife, Judy, were at the Oahu Perimeter Relay awards ceremony in Hawaii. At their table, they were having a tongue-in-cheek debate about whether runners or swimmers were in better physical shape. It wasn’t the first such debate for this crowd. This time, John added bicyclists to the conversation. Five of them were from Coronado and were well aware of the triathlons there.

This is when John had an epiphany. He recalled the moment in a 2003 interview with Ironmanlive correspondent Nick Munting. “We were sitting around and sure, there was some beer there, and we were waiting for some more awards to be handed out. It struck me that if we put the Waikiki Rough Water Swim, which was a nominal 2.4 miles, together with the Round the Island Bike race at 115 miles, and knocked off about three miles, we would be at the start of the Honolulu Marathon.”

The idea was a hit with everyone at the table. The favourable response prompted John to take the microphone at the awards ceremony and announce the new event, which would occur a year later. The audience erupted in laughter, and it can be assumed that not everyone was laughing AT John. It was a fun, and crazy, idea.

Due to the novelty of the length of the event, there was no cut-off point for finishers. If the first Ironman happened this year, John would have been disqualified 38 seconds before finishing. They didn’t have the foggiest idea what an acceptable finish time was.

The Ironman triathlon moved to Kona, Hawaii in 1981. This has been the home of the Ironman World Championship ever since.

In the year 2000, Sydney became the home of the first Olympic triathlon.

Watch the History of Triathlon

Triathlon: Eyes of the Elite

An in-depth documentary that traces the evolution of triathlon, and triathletes, beginning with the San Diego Track Club members who organized the original Mission Bay Triathlon in 1974.

Ironman Triathlon History in 1 Minute

This is Joe Moya’s video editing experiment showing great moments in Ironman History. Joe added this note to the description:

“At the end, the two finishing the Ironman are a father and son team. They are the Hoyt’s. And… yes, the father pulls his full grown handicap son on a small boat for the swim… and, has a specially designed bike to carry his son… and, pushes his son in a wheel chair for the entire 140.6 miles. They are multi-ironman finishers and follow the same mandatory cut off times as the other competitors. They are unbelieveable.”

1982 Footage from Kona – Julie Moss

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