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The Beast from the East

Sunday, October 16, 2016

There was a post in mid-October on the excellent French triathlon Facebook site, Triathlon : plongée dans l'histoire avec les légendes à bord featuring USAT Hall-of-Famer Ken Glah on a vintage cover of Triathlete magazine, and with a reference to Glah as “The Beast from The East.” 

For most triathletes, that’s probably an obscure reference.  The term extends back to at least 1982, and is framed within the context of the Ironman World Championship in Kona. Back then, the Ironman (and there was only the one race) was primarily an American affair, and pretty much all the top athletes were from the West Coast of the U.S. -- mostly California. Boulder, Colorado hadn’t happened yet, and Dave Scott, Scott Molina, Scott Tinley, Mark Allen, et al hailed from the Golden State. Indeed, of the top 10 men finishers in Oct. 1982 only Jody Durst, from New Jersey, did not list a home town in California, and he was training full time in San Diego.

Five out of the top ten women in that race were Californians, including the top four.   

In any case, the term “Beast from the East” referred to a hypothetical triathlete from the East Coast of the U.S. (Europe hadn’t happened yet, either), who would arrive in Kona, unknown and unheralded, and blow the Californians into the lava fields.  

In my lead article about the Oct, 1982 race in the premier issue of Triathlon magazine, I used and explained the term in the opening paragraph:

“There was no Beast from the East. The mythical superman with a 2:18 marathon and world-class swimming and cycling credentials to his credit remained, at least for another year, merely a rumor among triathletes who gathered at Kailua Pier each morning before the October 1982 Ironman.”

We thought the "Beast" reference was a good excuse to revisit the Triathlon story in its original form. Coincidentally, on the same day as the Ken Glah post appeared, a TriHistory reader, David Nathan, from (where else?) San Jose, California, asked us to post the same piece. The stars seemed aligned. Check out the PDF below. We’ve included the full spreads from all the pages of the article, so you can see the words and pictures in the original context, old ads and all.