With the Ironman World Championship set to take place 30 days from today, we take a look at back at each race from the past three decades. Today, we look at the early years of 1978 to 1980, during which the race took place on the island of Oahu. All of the following photos and text are taken from the book, “30 Years of The Ironman Triathlon World Championship” by Bob Babbitt.
See a photo gallery from the Oahu years below.
Imagine: It’s February 1978 and you are one 15 brave souls standing on Sans Souci Beach in Waikiki. It is exactly 2.4 miles from where you are to where your bike is sitting with your support crew. The waves are rolling and your stomach is rolling over. After hopefully completing the swim, you will mount up and ride 112 miles around a big chunk of the island of Oahu. If you somehow come through that unscathed, then all that is left to do is the Honolulu Marathon, a mere 26.2 miles, this time on foot. If you finish? You’re an Ironman.
Lewis and Clark and Captain Cook are called explorers. The Fanatic 15 could relate. This eclectic collection of military men and regular folks was seriously going where no man had ever gone before. Lyn Lemaire, the first woman, wouldn’t join the party until the following year, 1979.
People ask all the time: How much has the Ironman changed in 25 years?
The answer is simple: A lot… and not much. Yes, the bikes are better, people now know how to train and what to eat, and some actually have an idea as to their approximate finish times for each of the three disciplines.
But the forces behind the Ironman still make the day a crapshoot at best. In shorter races, the professionals have their race and their times down to a science. Not in Hawaii, not in the Ironman. The best in the world have at one time or another been relegated to the brink of collapse, to walking the marathon – light stick bouncing on their chest, chicken soup at the ready.
That’s why the finish line is so important, so special. Whether you’re shooting for the $120,000 first-place check like Chris McCormack in 2007, hoping to be presented with the first ever hole-in-the-head trophy like taxi driver Gordon Haller in 1978, or hoping to be the first 81 year old to cross the finish line under 17 hours like Robert McKeague, the Ironman to this day is a beacon for that adventure gene in all of us.