Ironman Triathlon

From Academic Kids

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Ironman Triathlon, Kailua Kona, Hawaii

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Swimmers cross the waters of Kailua Kona Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii in the first leg of the Ironman Triathlon world championship.

The Ironman Triathlon is an annual event held in the state of Hawaii and featuring three endurance events: swimming, biking and running. It is based in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, involves a 2.4 mile (3.86 kilometer) swim across Kailua Kona Bay, a 112 mile (180.2 kilometer) bike ride from Keauhou to Hawi and back, and a 26.2 mile (42.2 kilometer) marathon along the coast of the Big Island from Keauhou to Keahole Point to Kailua Kona.

"Ironman Triathlon" is a trademark of the World Triathlon Corporation. Due to the popularity of the Ironman Triathlon, several other events have been established around the world to serve as qualifying events for the world championship venue in Hawaii. The generic name for competitions having the same format and distances as the Ironman is Iron Distance Triathlon; there are also various other triathlons of a similar format but shorter distances.



The Ironman Triathlon was the first major competition of its kind. The first Ironman Triathlons were held in Honolulu, Hawaii from February 1978 to 1980. In 1981, the competition was moved to the less urbanized Big Island by Valerie Silk. The following year, Silk moved the race date from February to October. There were two Ironman Triathlons in 1982 as a result of the change.

The idea for the original Iron Man Triathlon arose during the awards ceremony for the 1977 Oahu Perimeter Relay (a running race for 5-person teams). Among the participants were numerous representatives of both the Mid-Pacific Road Runners and the Waikiki Swim Club, whose members had long been debating which athletes were more fit, runners or swimmers. On this occasion, U.S. Navy Commander John Collins pointed out that a recent article in Sports Illustrated magazine had declared that Eddy Merckx, the great Belgian cyclist, had the highest recorded "oxygen uptake" of any athlete ever measured, so perhaps cyclists were more fit than anyone. Cdr. Collins and his wife, Judy, had taken part in the triathlons staged in 1974 and 1975 by the San Diego Track Club in and around Mission Bay, California, as well as the Optimist Sports Fiesta Triathlon in Coronado, California, in 1975. A number of the other military athletes in attendance were also familiar with the San Diego races, so they understood the concept when Cdr. Collins suggested that the debate should be settled through a race combining the three existing long-distance competitions already on the island: the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 mi./3.85 km), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (115 miles; originally a two-day event) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 mi./42.195 km). It is worth noting that no one present had ever done the bike race; Cdr. Collins calculated that by shaving 3 miles off the course and riding counter-clockwise around the island, the bike leg could start at the finish of the Waikiki Rough Water and end at the Aloha Tower, the traditional start of the Honolulu Marathon. With a nod to a local runner who was notorious for his demanding workouts, Collins said, "Whoever finishes first, we'll call him the Iron Man." Of the fifteen men to start off the in early morning on February 18th, 1978, twelve completed the race and the world's first Ironman, Gordon Haller, completed in 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 58 seconds.

With no further marketing efforts, the race gathered as many as fifty athletes the following year. The race, however, was postponed a day because of bad weather conditions—only fifteen competitors started off the race Sunday morning. San Diego's Tom Warren, age thirty-five, won in 11 hours, 15 minutes, and 56 seconds. Lyn Lemaire, a championship cyclist from Boston, placed sixth overall and became the first "Ironwoman."

Collins planned on changing the race into a relay event to draw more participants, but Sports Illustrated's journalist Barry McDermott, in the area to cover a golf tournament, discovered the race and wrote a ten-page account of it. During the following year hundreds of curious participants contacted Collins.

The Ironman Triathlon inspired the addition of the triathlon sport (though over shorter distances) at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

Qualifying events

In 2002 there were sixteen Ironman Triathlon qualifying races throughout the world: Ironman Australia in Forster-Tuncurry, Ironman Austria in Klagenfurt, Ironman Canada in Penticton, Ironman France in Gerardmer, Ironman Germany in Frankfurt, Ironman Lanzarote in Canary Islands, Ironman New Zealand in Lake Taupo. Other races using different names are held in Brazil, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa and the United States among others.

In 2003 Ironman Coeur d'Alene was added to the roster of qualifying events.


The Ironman format remains unchanged and the Hawaiian Ironman is still regarded as the most important triathlon event worldwide. For the 25th anniversary on October 18, 2003, nearly 1500 athletes were enlisted, many of which had to go through qualification competitions (and some through a lottery).

The Ironman Triathlon is a gruelling event that pushes its participants to the limits of endurance. Some, however, find the prescribed distances fall short of these limits. Hence, events such as the double Ironman triathlon have come about. Double is not, however, the most extreme form: there are in fact triple, quadruple, quintuple, deca and "15 x" events that are literally multiples of the original Ironman triathlon distance. The world records in the quintuple and deca ironman races are held by a woman, Astrid Benöhr.

Legendary Ironman triathletes

  • Paula Newby-Fraser:
    • 8-time winner of the Ironman Hawaii (overall record)
    • 6 consecutive victories in Hawaii (overall record)
    • 23 Ironman victories overall (overall record)
  • Dave Scott
    • 6-time winner of the Ironman Hawaii (men's record)
    • Nickname is "The Man"
  • Mark Allen
    • 6-time winner of the Ironman Hawaii (men's record)
    • 5 consecutive victories in Hawaii
    • Nickname is "The Grip"



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