Welcome to trihistory.com

History, it has been argued, is written by the victors. But In this case, it is being written by a few of us who were there and are willing to write it. A fool’s errand, perhaps.  Surely, the question will be asked and answered: Does anyone really care? Time will tell.  

Why trihistory.com?  Well, why history of anything at all? Historians are driven to remember, record, interpret. It feels almost genetic. You’re either interested in the past or you’re not. It means something to you or it doesn’t.  But if it does -- and particularly if it’s connected to a physical activity in which you are actively, perhaps even passionately, involved – you’re all in. We’re interested in the history of triathlon for the same reason we’re interested in the history of our families, our parents; it matters how it all came together. It matters because we are both players in the ongoing genealogical drama and products of all that has gone before. 

The Latest Features

TriHistory.com hosts founders and legends in a wide-ranging opverview of the sports first four decades. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Anniversary Roundtable was professionally filmed and recorded for future use.  

Forty years to the day after the first triathlon was held on the shores of San Diego's Mission Bay, the pioneers of the nascent sport that combined swimming, cycling and running into an Olympic event and a lifetime passion for millions of people worldwide returned to this city for a historic reunion to swap anecdotes and share experiences about the early days of triathlon.

Among the participants were Don Shanahan, who along with Jack Johnstone, came up with the idea for the world's first triathlon — 6 miles of running, 5 miles of cycling and 500 yards of swimming — and Bill Phillips, the overall winner of that inaugural Mission Bay triathlon — a 46-person race that had to be illuminated by car headlights because it took place after work, starting at 5:45 p.m. on Sept. 25, 1974.

"We didn't realize it was going to be dark," Shanahan said. "We had no police, no permit, no authority. We just showed up."

That fact was not missed by the organizers of this event, two-time Ironman world champion Scott Tinley and triathlon journalist Mike Plant, who gathered some 30 of the movers and shakers of triathlon from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s last night around a boardroom table at San Diego's Challenged Athletes Foundation at 6 p.m., precisely 40 years later, to reminisce about the early history of the sport for their website, trihistory.com.

Nina Kraft's long road back from doping disgrace

Monday, September 1, 2014

Nina Kraft in Clermont, Florida. "I want it to be like 2001, and have fun. I want to let go of what people are thinking." 

A somewhat shorter version of this story originally appeared in Inside Triathlon magazine in 2007 - Ed.

Scott Tinley's 40 Defining Moments of Triathlon 

Sunday, August 10, 2014
Wally & Wayne Buckingham at David Pain's Birthday Biathlon

Wally (left) and Wayne Buckingham were among the top club runners in the San Diego in the late 70's and 1980's. They embraced multisport competition eagerly and were regulars among the leaders David Pain's Birthday Biathlon -- Moment #1 on Scott's Top-40 list.  

I must admit, I chuckled when I read my partner and co-founder Scott’s list of 40 big moments. What the hell else had I expected? White toast and tea?  I fully expect many of Scott’s decidedly esoteric choices will be controversial. Heck , even I don’t agree with many of them, and our literary/journalistic partnership goes back more than three decades. But isn’t that what lists are for, really? They put a stake in the ground and challenge folks to expand the game, enlarge the boundaries, generate circular discussions and never-ending disagreements.

WTC CEO Andrew Messick talks with Triathlon History's Scott Tinley about Ironman's role in preserving (and making) the sport's history

Sunday, June 22, 2014
Andrew Messick

The Big Kahuna -- WTC CEO and Ironman-in-Chief Andrew Messick. "We have a responsibility to the institutional memory of the sport."  

Where does Ironman, the Corporation, stand in the area of doing triathlon's history? What role do they take as stewards of the Ironman Dream? TriHistory.com's Scott Tinley asked World Triathlon Corporation's CEO, Andrew Messick, pointed questions about WTC's role.

ST: For many Ironmen and women, their first time crossing the finish line is held up along such lines of personal history with graduations, marriage, and childbirth. What is it like having that kind of responsibility to produce events that mean so much to these athletes?


USAT Hall of Fame Inducts Five in Class of 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Triathlon Hall of Famer Mike Pigg and family at the Induction Ceremony in Chicago in June. 

An Historian's Dilemma
"An event enters 'history' when it is recorded. But there may be multiple, and competing histories; as there are multiple, and competing, eyewitness accounts." – Joyce Carol Oates

John and Judy Come Out Swinging
FIVE INDIVIDUALS WERE INDUCTED into the USAT Triathlon Hall of Fame at a ceremony on June 26 at Navy Pier in Chicago: Pro triathlon great Mike Pigg; age-group legend Sister Madonna Buder, the wonderfully eccentric Tom Warren, winner of the 1979 "Iron Man"; and John and Judy Collins, who were recognized by the Hall as co-founders of the Ironman, and who came out swinging in their acceptance speeches against any past, present or future telling of the Ironman Creation story but the official Collins-approved version.

In theory it is a hard point to argue. The Collins' were there, after all. Their place among the Founding Mothers and Fathers of Triathlon is irrefutable. But the story is nearly four decades old, and absolute authenticity is a slippery thing to grasp for any period of time, especially after multiple retellings. For those of us who hold and tell the history of the sport, the Collins' closing comments at the celebration raised significant questions for triathlon historians: Is the past retold more accurately, or less so, over time? And is it the details that matter most, or the historical impact? Do we settle for the story or revel in the myth?

McGillivray Introduces Mike Pigg
History was not the issue for Mike Pigg, whose induction into the Hall was an acknowledgement that nice guys sometime do finish first. In his acceptance speech, Pigg was as charmingly down to earth as he was during his competitive prime, eloquent in his lack of pretension. He gave special thanks to his wife, Marci, and his former business manager and now fellow Hall-of-Famer, Dave McGillivray, who flew into Chicago from Boston for the sole purpose of introducing his close friend and former client. Addressing his 16-old twin children, Chloe and Christian, from the podium, Pigg, using himself as the best possible example, encouraged them to 'follow your dreams, follow your hearts." Known and widely recognized for his fearless, go-for-broke racing style and for being the man who shattered the dominance of the Big Four back in the mid-1980's and early 90's, Mike Pigg is also much loved – for being... well, Mike Pigg. If that is not a way to teach your children well, then such a thing does not exist. Link HERE to Scott Tinley's recollection of the Pigg Man.

Sister Buder, Amazed and Amazing
As for Sister Buder, the honor apparently came as a genuine surprise. She seemed flabbergasted to be on stage, yet at the same time expressed a charming sense of entitlement, musing to the crowd that, upon reflection, she had, after all, been breaking age barriers in the sport for early 40 years. Neither the audience nor USAT needed to be convinced, although Buder was obviously still trying to get her arms around it. The fact is, Buder is a triathlon icon. She has been a PR bonanza for the sport since her early days in the 1980's with the Bud Light U.S. Triathlon Series, and the number of older athletes she has inspired probably cannot be counted. In her long career she has completed hundreds of triathlons and dozens of Ironman-distance events. She is the sport's Patron Saint of Back-of-the-Packers, a throwback to the early days when eccentricity ruled over physical prowess. True to triathlon form, Buder's acceptance speech focused not on teary-eyed nostalgia, but rather on her recent recovery from a broken hip and subsequent attempt to qualify, at age 83, for the 2014 Ironman in Kona. The power of prayer came up, of course. And she did cry a bit – at the end – when she called the people in the sport her family. It was corny, genuine, touching and absolutely perfect.

Tom Warren, Aging But Ageless
Warren, who doesn't like to fly and did not attend the ceremony, was recognized for winning Ironman #2 in 1979, but mostly for being in the right place at the right time, then knowing what to do with the opportunity. Put any four 60-year-old triathletes from San Diego in the same room and there will be Tom Warren stories bouncing off the walls within minutes. Warren's biker bar/tavern "Tugs" is a must-see stop on any magical mystery tour of the sport (the actual building is long gone, but the site still resonates), and ghostly shades from his Swim-Run-Swim biathlon still haunt the sands of San Diego's Pacific Beach. The USAT Hall of Fame would not be complete without Tom Warren; his touching appearance on a taped acceptance speech was likely the first time most of the younger members of the audience had ever laid eyes on him. That is regrettable; those of us who knew him in his prime knew an athlete, a philosopher, an individualist whose unique approach to life and competition helped shaped the first decade of what Time magazine once called a "cobbled-up sport." If not exactly a Founding Father, Warren was, at the very least, one of our most prominent cobblers. Follow link HERE to read an account of Warren's 1978 victory from Mike Plant's book, Iron Will

John and Judy Collins – A Quixotic Quest
For the Collins', who were introduced by their children, the podium became a something of a pulpit. Both offered passionate claims that the real story of How the Ironman Came To Be has never been accurately told, and that Judy's role has been appreciably and consistently understated.

In the sense that the Ironman concept unquestionably originated in the Collins household, it's hard to argue the veracity of their claim. It is their story, after all. And if John says Judy deserves more credit, whose place is it to contradict? Yet for years, John Collins praised this correspondent (and perhaps others) for doing the necessary homework, for cutting through the early myth and telling the story as it truly occurred. His current claim that "No one seems interested, really, in how it happened, where it happened and where it came from," is an unfortunate generalization.

Historically speaking, the Collins' are on a Quixotic quest. Despite their passion, they will never set the story "straight." The telling will never be "right," simply because the memories of everyone involved, including the Collins', are 37 years old. And even if a completely accurate version did exist in a vault somewhere, it would be unlikely to resonate because the Iron-myth that the couple is battling against so desperately – that of a drunken, muscle-bound barroom challenge -- is so bloody compelling.

Thomas Mann said, "For the myth is the foundation of life." If the Ironman is still around in 50 years, the story of the First Race will likely be better than ever, and even farther from the truth, no matter how hard the Collins' or anyone else try to make it otherwise. History is programmed to march toward exaggeration. The men will be bigger, stronger and drunker, the women will look like characters in a Frank Frazetta painting, and there will be dead bodies on the floor. It won't be anywhere near what it really was, but it will be a helluva lot more fun.

In any case, as of 1985, Chapter 4 of my book "Iron Will – Triathlon's Toughest Challenge" – was the closest thing to an accurate, carefully researched narrative of the how the first Ironman came to be. The chapter may not track with the current telling of the tale, but at the time, it was close, at least. The hours of interview tapes with the principal characters, including former Commander Collins, still exist. Hopefully, it's still good reading. See PDF  link below.

Paratriathletes Walked A Hard Road To Shine on World Stage

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Blind paratriathlete Patricia Walsh, top, from Austin, Texas swims in perfect syncronicity with her guide at the ITU World Triathlon in Chcago on June 28, 2014.  Walsh won the PT5 division and is a top contender for a spot on the 2016 U.S. Paratriathlon team in Rio. -- Mike Plant photo 

With Paratriathlon set to debut at the Paralympics in Brazil in 2016, the sport has claimed a level of legitimacy and popularity not even remotely anticipated two decades ago. At the ITU World Triathlon event in Chicago on June 28, an international field of 60 or so elite paratriathletes in five categories opened the weekend's competition with an impressive show of strength, talent and unflinching support by the able-bodied triathlon community.

All this is as it should be, of course. But it was not always so. In many cases, disabled athletes had to fight their way into races, overcoming resistance that today seems pathetically contrived: insurance issues, dangers to other athletes, entrenched skepticism and, at times, outright hostility. In some cases, the battle on the race course was literally joined between wary race directors and activist athletes.

One early disabled triathlete, Jon Franks, was an outspoken pioneer, a militant activist whose manner was controversial and whose methods even his supporters often questioned. Did Franks help or hurt the cause? Would any of the paratriathletes racing in Chicago in June even recognize his name? Read the profile in the accompanying piece (PDF link below), "Angry Man In An Uneasy Chair" in the Oct.27, 1989 issue of The Plant Report . We've included the entire issue of that publication; it's an interesting look back at what blogs were like before there were such things as...blogs. – MP


Sunday, July 27, 2014

American pro Gwen Jorgensen is still improving as a complete triathlete, but her running prowess is giving her the leading edge on the international World Cup Circuit. Mike Plant photo 

If prehistory refers to the time before written records, what do you call something you observe in the present time that you believe with reasonable certainty will be of historical value in the future?

I suppose "history in the making" will have to suffice. I knew I'd witnessed an historic event at the Ironman in 1988 when Paula Newby Fraser finished 11TH overall, 12 seconds behind the great Pauli Kiru. I had that same feeling last October in Kona when Mirinada Carfrae ran by me (I was watching, not competing) on her way to a 2:50:38 marathon, third fastest run overall, and an 8:52:14 total time, both course records.

At the Olympic-distance ITU World Triathlon in Chicago on June 28 I was witness again to a memorable performance by a woman. Gwen Jorgensen of the U.S. became the first woman in history to win six ITU titles. It was her third win in a row in 2014 (she extended the streak to four with a win in Hamburg Germany on July 12).

But it wasn't the victory itself that I found historic. It was the combination of how Jorgensen won the race, and Jorgensen herself, the athlete, that made the goose bumps run up and down my arms. Coming off the bike 67 seconds in arrears, she ran down the best field in the world, then added 17 seconds to that to win going away. Tall and lean, Jorgensen is a beautiful runner, with the form and speed of the track-trained distance runner she is. Perhaps most astounding, this 2012 Olympian and now leading light of the ITU, is still polishing off the rough edges, advancing as a swimmer, cyclist, and with room for improvement in transition. It's crazy to think that an athlete in Jorgensen's position is still on the way up, but that seems to be the case. If I had to bet, I'd say we'll be talking about her in 20 years the way we talk now about Newby-Fraser, Mark Allen, Chrissie Wellington, et. al.

To know more about Gwen Jorgensen, this is a good place to start: http://www.gwenjorgensen.com/about/

For race details from USAT, click HERE.  

The Eternal Flower

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The 32nd running of the Wildflower Triathlon Weekend unfolded in curiously sweet and organic fashion between May 2nd and 4th. As an icon in event history, Wildflower remains as unassuming as it is unique. With a West Coast drought reducing San Antonio's lake level to prehistoric lows, organizers moved the swim to the one remaining deep water locale. Swimmers then ran 2 ½ miles to the traditional T1 and benefitted with a shortened final run. Not surprisingly, athletes embraced the necessary change. Good things love water and find it where they can. At WF, you tend to check your formalisms at the gate. We're not sure who won the races. But I'm sure they were fast. Results are HERE

While overall attendance was down 10%, the Woodstockian vibe was at full volume. Few events in the sport have retained their homespun roots in the recent corporate run on multisport event ownership. If you've been to the Flower you will understand how and why. TriHistory.com is wondering how many other events have been run more than 30 years straight. Let us know. -- ST

(For a nicely done history of this classic race, check out the history section of the Wildflower website HERE)

Chronicling a Country’s Past

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Multisport Dreaming: The Foundations of Triathlon in Australia is a book just out (Write Press, QLD, AUS 2014) from Dr. Jane E. Hunt, an Assistant Professor at Bond University in Australia. But it's not just another entry into the crowded "multisport" category. Hunt has penned an historical work of some significance; a highly-researched and crisply-written chronicle of the rich events, faces, episodes, and politics that shaped triathlon in Australia. Dr. Hunt's exhaustive work will be chronicled in detail in a future TriHistory.com entry but we suggest for now that her tenacious efforts of getting the past right signal a shift in how our global sport is increasingly being approached and explored from a perspective well beyond wattage output and a coach-of-the-month milieu.
Australia's contributions to the growth and maturation of triathlon are immutable. And its colorful characters from Curl Curl's Marc Dragan to our indomitable imp, Greg Welch, to 2012 Ironman World Champion, Pete Jacobs, are just part of Hunt's detailed romp through one country's triathlon history. Limited first printing certain to sell out. Read more HERE -- ST