This is the kind of story we tell each other over a beer. It’s a triathlon classic from the wooly early days of the sport, when the world was just waking up to the notion of triathlon, and even folks in the business were learning as they went. It was on-the-job training for everyone,...Read More
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.
"When the will and the imagination are in conflict, it is always the imagination that wins" -- Emile Coue'
The short history of triathlon might be written in the long search for style. How the sports’ participants sought a certain look, a feel, and a coveted approach to physicality offers a four-decade platform to review how we arrived at 2108 looking so fine. The sport of triathlon, baptized in ‘74 on the boggy shores of San Diego’s Mission Bay, may seem a distant dinosaur when compared to todays’ high-tech hyperbole. Shiny-legged, cartoon and carbon fiber heroes look fast standing still when set against triathlon’s 70s sodbusters. Similarities, however, are found in the quest for both speed and style, for standing beyond the seething masses through a public presentation of parts. From aero bars to body parts, triathletes didn’t just embrace the notion of fashion-as-function. They invented it.
Consider the story of spandex. Once reserved for pool decks and the lessor of drawers, triathlon offered career runners, lifeguards, Navy SEALs, and the fittest of barkeeps to don Lycra Speedos in service of performance with little concern for conservative appearance. Musculature as topographical map signified that triathletes were concerned with moving quickly across aquatic and terrestrial planes… and doing so with panache.
What the one-piece spandex outfit did for triathlon in the early 1980's is analog to what the Colt revolver did for law enforcement in the American West: it enabled the outside public to visualize the capacity of the inner states. A pistol in your hip signified the carrier’s willingness to draw upon that .45 caliber bullet; an imprinted stamp on a changing culture. To show up at a triathlon on Mission Bay in 1982 sporting a spandex onesy was akin to donning a Stetson “Boss of the Plains” cowboy hat on the streets of 1865 Laredo.
All oral history is lost. Those cataclysmic moments when a parent or a preacher, a crook or cop pulled us aside and spoke to us of better times, of worse periods, of something or somebody or some idea that came before us, before Snapdoodle was our source of historical inspiration, are dead. Speaking in a human voice to another human being for the sake of their (and our own) humanity have gone the way of the town crier—left for the elderly and the luddite and the less-than-hip.
It was sad to hear that running great Tom Fleming died last month of a heart attack at the still-young age of 65. Fittingly, he died while coaching a track meet. If he’d had a choice, I’m sure that venue for a finale would have been among his top three picks
This is the kind of story we tell each other over a beer. It’s a triathlon classic from the wooly early days of the sport, when the world was just waking up to the notion of triathlon, and even folks in the business were learning as they went. It was on-the-job training for everyone, athletes and race promoters alike. We’ve peered into most of the corners by now; most of us understand where the dangers lie. But back in the early 1980’s bad things could jump up out the dark and bite you hard, unexpectedly, in the strangest places.
In my home office closest, gathering dust and the fur of my support staff, sits 23 years’ worth of Triathlete Magazines, 1987 to 2009. Recent life events had me staring at the carefully dated boxes. What made me start keeping the magazines and why are they still in my house?
In the history of triathlon there is perhaps no more significant race than the first U.S. Triathlon Series event on June 12, 1982 at Torrey Pines State Beach in San Diego, California. It was, in retrospect, a rudimentary production, little more than a somewhat tentative proof of a wild-eyed concept born in the brain of one James M. Curl, an entrepreneurial endurance runner and non-practicing lawyer from Davis, California.
I had the opportunity to talk with Julie Moss the other day (Feb 6, 2017 to be exact). I was working on another piece for TriHistory. “Sorry I missed your call, Mike,” Julie said. “I was doing my anniversary ride with Kathleen.”
That would be Kathleen McCartney, Julie’s partner in triathlon legendry. And while it took me just a minute, the significance of the date finally struck: Feb 6. The Anniversary. Of course.