We want to help researchers to get it right when they write about the early years of triathlon and Ironman
This website presents what Judy and John Collins know now to be true as of September, 2019.
Because the early growth of triathlon depended largely on publicity and hype, much of what you find here will probably contradict what you have heard. In most cases, it will be less outlandish and more mundane than the legends. However, remember that we were actually there!!
Of Myths and Men
By John Collins
In 1978 Judy and I put on the first Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. The concept for this long-distance event emerged in February 1977. The idea of “triathlon” did not originate with us, but was imported from Southern California. We had been participants in a short triathlon at Mission Bay, San Diego in September 1974.
I was interviewed by telephone in 1983 regarding the origins of “Iron Man.” The interview appeared in the 1983 Race Program for the Ironman Triathlon in Kona. In that interview I answered all the questions in the first person (singular). My statements made it appear that the idea emerged, full-blown, in my mind at a drunken party of macho males. I helped that interpretation along with quotes such as, “after a lot of beers….” and , “the whole thing got a big laugh. “Actually, at the February 1977 awards meeting in question, the drink for the attendees was one small paper cup of beer or orange drink as we filed in to the area.
The nitty-gritty facts are that Judy had been discussing putting on an endurance triathlon in Hawai’i for some time. Judy had been sketching out triathlon routes in her head since 1974. The two of us had been put in charge of the February 1977 Sprint Run-Swim which was now 12 days away. Judy did not want us to be in charge of the Run-Swim again. She wanted us to volunteer to put on a long distance triathlon in February 1978. It would be for the non-sprinter runners and swimmers who did the Waikiki Roughwater and the Honolulu Marathon each year. Judy was discussing how to connect the Roughwater and Marathon legs of the triathlon with a bicycle leg. My contribution was to use most of the road bike course from the annual long-distance event of the local bike club.
In August of 2018 we found and read for the first time a Kona Race Program from 1982. The anonymous article credited me as the Founder of Ironman. It mentioned “THE CHALLENGE,” in all caps. The article said I had made a challenge at a Banquet Meeting of the Waikiki Swim Club in October 1977. The caller in 1983 may have asked me questions based on that 1982 article which I had never seen. I told the interviewer about the night we had made our Ironman decision in February 1977. We had made our decision and settled the details of our triathlon in between awards presentations at the O’ahu Perimeter Relays.
Much has been made of a challenge supposedly issued at the Relay Awards. For six years I believed that I had been heard to speak during the intermission. Since no one had heard me no one told me they had not heard me. The room was so noisy that we have not been able to find anyone who can remember hearing any announcements during the break. I did tell Judy what I had said after I returned to the table. Our decision had included the plan to make our triathlon a surprise announcement at the annual banquet meeting of the Waikiki Swim Club. Judy was less than happy that I had let the cat out of the bag. Then she realized no one could have heard me. We kept to the plan. The two of us announced our Around the Island Triathlon at the swim banquet in October 1977. There was a lot of laughter.
In the 1983 interview, I gave no credit to anyone except myself. I did not deliberately cut anyone out of the story. I was responding to the questions asked and expanding on themes from my own experience and memories. I did not think about the contributions of anyone else.
This is what was NOT the Ironman Triathlon story: It was not the idea of a man, not a dare, not a test, not an argument, not a Navy Seal event, not an announcement that was heard at the relay awards, not a party occasion, not fueled by beer, not entered by athletes who were not in shape, not considered impossible by the athletes and not considered impossible by those in our circle.
Some of the salient sentences and lines from the interview and the resulting article made good copy. Reporters passed it on in good faith. The content was eagerly grabbed by subsequent writers to become the default origins story.
The default origins story of Ironman was in print before we had ever seen a Kona Ironman. What I said about the work to plan and put on the Honolulu triathlons also sounded like a one-man show. I did not try too hard to correct or to add facts and details that included others, especially Judy.
Now, 35 years later, any account that does not begin, end or hinge on “THE CHALLENGE” is considered heresy. I accept the responsibility for that. Later we did tell our Two Founders story again and again. It fell on deaf ears. There was a willingness by media to seek the most colorful or outrageous phrasing or to say or write what was said last year. “What was said last year” ended up on the internet and on Wikipedia as gospel.
What we had come to call the “Media Myths” wherein I am the sole founder of the Ironman event can be traced back to that 1983 interview and the two Kona Race Programs. I gave many speeches and interviews over the following years, saying the same things in the same ways.
If I could do it over, I would give a much more inclusive accounting. It would give credit to Judy for being the impetus behind bringing triathlon to Hawai’i and endurance triathlon to the world.