Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time chatting with a variety of athletes and recording their thoughts for posterity. In honor of Triathlete magazine’s 30th anniversary, I’d like to share some of my favorite sound bites from the past three decades. Enjoy!
My longtime buddy Tom Gallagher was racing Ironman in Kona way back in 1986. He was nearing the end of the bike ride on Ali’i Drive when a taxi turned into him, totaled his bike and knocked him to the ground. He was lying there on the pavement with no idea what to do besides scream at the taxi driver. There was a policeman standing over him. “I can’t ride this bike,” screamed Gallagher. “What do I do?” The policeman wasn’t fazed. Since there is no outside aid at the Ironman, his advice was pretty simple: “You better run, bro.”
Gallagher put his bike on his shoulder, took his bike shoes off and ran the last two miles in his socks to the bike finish. He ran a 3:25:40 marathon, went 9:24:10 and finished 13th overall. And no, he didn’t tip the taxi driver.
Jim Knaub is not a triathlete. He was an Olympic trials pole vaulter who, after getting hit by a car while on his motorcycle, ended up becoming the best wheelchair racer in the world, winning the Boston Marathon five times and the Los Angeles Marathon three times. During a number of our interviews, Jimmy had a couple of sound bites that every endurance athlete can connect to. He was asked one time what pain sounds like. “It sounds like an old friend,” he said.
His other classic? “The person who wins the race isn’t the one who goes the fastest. … It’s the one who slows down the least.”
Mike Reilly and I were onstage before the Ironman World Championship and with us were Ironman world champion Mark Allen and übercyclist Jurgen Zack of Germany. We asked Jurgen about his plans for race day. “I’m going to make the bike ride so hard that I will take away Mark Allen’s running legs.” Allen’s response? “Jurgen is here to win the bike ride. I’m here to win the race.” (He did.)
Julie Moss and Kathleen McCartney Hearst had an epic Kona race in 1982 that helped put Ironman on the map. Julie had a huge lead in the run, but Kathleen came from behind to catch and pass Julie in the final yards while Julie was crawling to the finish. I asked Kathleen when she finally saw Julie, and she said that she never saw Julie. There aren’t many athletes coming down Ali’i Drive at that point—how did Kathleen not see the woman she needed to pass? “I never saw Julie because I’m not used to looking down to see my competitors.”
And we couldn’t have a collection of sound bites without two-time Ironman world champion and chief trash talker Chris McCormack. After losing the 2006 Ironman World Championship to Normann Stadler of Germany by 71 seconds, Macca vowed to come back in 2007 and take care of business: “I think he’s fragile,” said McCormack. “I’ll stay on him all season and he’ll crack. I don’t think I have to beat him because he’ll beat himself.”
At the ’07 Kona race Stadler dropped out on the bike, and McCormack won his first Ironman World Championship.
Bob Babbitt is the co-founder of Competitor magazine, the co-founder of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the host of Competitor Radio and an inductee into the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame and USA Triathlon Hall of Fame. To hear his interviews with more than 500 endurance legends, visit Competitorradio.com. Look for his “Never a Bad Day” column every month in Triathlete magazine.