IRONMAN: 37 years of triathlon-toughness


With Port Elizabeth being the proud South African host-city for IRONMAN, it is worth noting the event’s humble beginnings; a beginning which would progress into one of the greatest multi-sport endurance events in the world.

In 1977, while at an awards banquet in Hawaii for the Waikiki Swim Club, John Collins, a naval officer, and his wife, Judy Collins, proposed the idea of combining three of Hawaii’s toughest races into one. The three races were the Waikiki Rough Water Swim (2.4 miles/3.8 kilometres), the Oahu Bike Race (112 miles/180 kilometres) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles/42 kilometres).

This proposed combination came in the wake of a debate over whether swimmers, runners or cyclists were the toughest.

Eventually, this testing challenge would materialise on the 18th of February 1978 (only yesterday, 37-years ago) in Kona, Hawaii, with fifteen athletes taking part. In the midst of the jaw-dropping challenge, a statement of Collins’ would be ever-present: “Whoever finishes first, we will call him the ‘Iron Man’.”

Of the fifteen who participated, 12 managed to complete the race with Gordon Haller, a United States Navy Communications Specialist, finishing first and claiming the title of “Iron Man”; a title which would stick in an event that now holds international recognition.


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