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Recalled: Simpler Times At The Hawaii Ironman

  • By Bob Babbitt
  • Published Apr 4, 2014
Eventual winner Scott Tinley runs toward the turnaround as Ken Shirk, aka Cowman, finishes the bike in this classic image of the 1985 race, the last year of amateurism at Ironman Hawaii. Photo: Lois Schwartz

The 1985 Hawaii Ironman marked the end of an era in Ironman racing.

The year was 1985 and Scott Tinley (“S.T.”) was leading the eighth ever Ironman Triathlon. By the finish, Tinley’s gap over Chris Hinshaw would end up being about 26 minutes. I was in a convertible covering the event while chatting with S.T. as he cruised the marathon with his huge lead. Next to me was Lois Schwartz, the lead photographer for the magazine we both worked for, Running and Triathlon News. As Ken Shirk, aka Cowman, approached on his bike, Schwartz captured this classic image of Cowman heading toward the finish of the ride with Ironman champion Tinley running toward the turnaround.

We didn’t think much of it at the time, but the photo symbolizes what the Ironman had always been about. John and Judy Collins, Ironman’s creators, had always envisioned fast guys and gals up front battling for the win while average, everyday folks joined them on the same roads simply to do something they thought was impossible. It didn’t matter how much money.

In 1976, Cowman became the second runner (sans horse) to complete the Tevis Cup 100 mile horse race from Squaw Valley to Auburn, Calif. True to his adventurous nature, in 1979 Cowman went to Oahu and finished the second Ironman in 16:41. But 1985 would prove to be a pivotal year for the Ironman. Dave Scott had won his fourth title (and third in a row) in 1984 and became the first person to break nine hours. He went 8:54:20 with Scott Tinley in second and Mark Allen in fifth. For his win, Scott received a trophy. Other races were offering prize money, and Scott, Scott Molina, Allen and Tinley were making a living as professional triathletes. The Nice Triathlon, with international TV and big money, was hoping to replace Ironman as the most important event in the sport.

In 1985, Tinley was the only top pro racing Ironman. Scott didn’t race because he was getting married that October, and he was actually working for ABC that day. But his absence in the race was making a statement. The races he participated in had to offer prize money, even one he had dominated three years in a row.

But it was Scott who got Tinley to buckle down, even with his huge lead. “Dave was yelling at me to get serious,” Tinley recalls. “He wanted me to break his course record so he could come back and break mine.” With Scott urging him on, Tinley broke his record in 8:50:54.

The 1985 race was the last year of amateurism at the Ironman. The next year, there would be a $100,000 prize purse, and Tinley received $2,000 just for showing up. Also in 1986, Scott and Allen would return to Kona, and Scott would win his fifth title with an 8:28:37—more than 20 minutes faster than Tinley’s 1985 record. After Tinley passed Chris Hinshaw five miles into the marathon, the 1985 race was basically over. His 21-mile parade lap turned out to be a great moment to reflect on both the past and the future.

Technology, money, media and the masses were coming fast, but the classic image of Cowman on the bike wearing his miniature cow horns in the same frame as the eventual champion never gets old. Even 28 years later, it continues to capture the spirit and define the event known as Ironman.

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