IRONMAN Hawaii: Beginnings

The Idea

IRONMAN inventer John Collins

IRONMAN inventer John Collins

The idea for the first IRONMAN triathlon was born in 1978 on Oahu Island, Hawaii, when during the awards ceremony for a running challenge competitors were arguing about who is more fit: swimmers, runners or other athletes. In the process US Navy Commander John Collins remarked that the great Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx was said to have the highest oxygen uptake ever measured and that therefore cyclists were probably the fittest athletes. Collins and his wife Judy had already taken part in a couple of short-distance triathlons in the previous years. Thus familiar with the concept Collins proposed to settle the debate by a race combining the three long-distance competitions already existing on Hawaii: the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 miles / 3,85 km), the Around Oahu Bike Race (115 miles / 185 km; originally a two-day stage race) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles / 42,195 km). Collins suggested that the bike race, by leaving out 3 miles of its original course, could start at the finish of the ocean swim and end at Aloha Tower, the traditional start of the Honolulu Marathon. As a result the cycling course was reduced to 112 miles (180 km), now the standard bike distance of an IRONMAN triathlon.

"Whoever finishes first we'll call him the 'Iron Man' ", Collins said.

First Race

15 men participated in the initial event held on 18 February 1978 on Oahu Island. Twelve completed the race, led by the first 'Iron Man', Gordon Haller. His winning time: 11 hours, 46 minutes and 40 seconds. John Collins finished in just over 17 hours.

1978 IRONMAN Hawaii Results
Pl. Name Nation TOTAL
1 HALLER, Gordon USA 11:46:40
2 DUNBAR, John USA 12:20:27
3 ORLOWSKI, Dave USA 13:59:13
4 EMBERSON, Ian USA 14:03:25
5 LEWIS, Sterling USA 14:04:35
6 KNOLL, Tom USA 14:45:11
7 FOREST, Henry USA 15:30:14
8 DAY, Frank USA 16:38:31
9 COLLINS, John USA 17:00:38
10 HAPAI, Archie USA 17:24:22
11 HENDRICKSON, Dan USA 20:03:28
12 IRVING, Harold USA 21:00:38


In 1981 IRONMAN Hawaii was relocated from Honolulu on Oahu Island to Kailua-Kona on Hawaii Island.

Hawaii is the largest and eponymous island of the Hawaii archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, the archipelago being the 50th state of the US. In order to distinguish Hawaii Island from the whole archipelago or state, respectively, it is customarily called 'Big Island'.

Two Races in 1982

From 1978 to 1982 IRONMAN Hawaii took place in February before race date in 1982 was moved to October in order to give athletes from colder climates more time to prepare in better training conditions. As a result of this shift there were two events in 1982.



REFERENCE:  Media Information Guide of the FORD IRONMAN Triathlon World Championship. Copyright © WTC.
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