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Things only triathletes who raced in the 80s would remember

The days before Tri-bars, when you could mail an entry in for Kona, and when twins from Quebec ruled the sport!

Photo by: courtesy Lynn van Dove

While the first triathlon might have taken place in San Diego in 1974, the sport really took off in the 1980s. For those of us who are willing to admit that we are, actually, that old, here are a few fond memories from the good ol’ days!

We raced on bikes that didn’t have aero bars

OK, here’s how old I am. My first fully sponsored bike came from Racer Sportif in Toronto. It was a Concord “funny” bike that had 650 c front and 700 c rear wheels. It was so cool because that was the type of bike we saw the world’s best cyclists use for time trials at the Tour de France. These were the days before Boone Lennon from Scott developed the Scott DH bars that would revolutionize the sport. My “funny” bike was definitely an oddity in transition areas, though – for the most part triathletes at the time used regular road bikes with regular road bars. Once Canada’s Andrew MacNaughton won the 1987 Crawfishman Triathlon over Mike Pigg using a set of Lennon’s DH bars, triathlon bikes would change dramatically!

You can remember exactly where you were when ABC showed Julie Moss crawling to the line

Unless you were a triathlete in the 1980s its hard to explain just how dramatic an effect the dramatic coverage on ABC’s Wide World of Sports had on people. Moss’ determination to get to the finish line inspired so many people to try the sport. Once they did, they were hooked. Millions of North Americans watched the coverage of the Feb. 1982 Ironman World Championship, which many attribute to the surge in race entries we saw in the sport over the next few years. According to this story from the San Diego Union, Jim Lampley said the finish was “perhaps the most dramatic moment in the history of Wide World.” Can you remember where you were when that footage on Feb. 21, 1982?

You could mail in an entry to the Ironman World Championship

The first Ironman World Championship qualifying race took place in New Zealand in 1985. Ironman Canada became an official qualifier in 1986. Until that year it was pretty easy to get to Kona for the Ironman World Championship – you just mailed in an entry!

Two of the biggest names in the sport were twins from Quebec

Photo: Kevin Morris


Sylviane and Patricia Puntous finished first and second at the Ironman World Championship in 1983 and 1984 and were two of the most famous triathletes on the planet for much of the 1980s.

Mark Allen couldn’t win in Kona

Again, I’m showing my age. When I came across the finish line in Kona 1n 1987, I asked my wife how much Mark won the race by. She figured it was a sign of how dehydrated I was and helped me to the medical tent, where I ended up getting a couple of IVs on a cot next to Allen. Turns out that the huge lead he’d had over Dave Scott the last time I’d seen them on the Queen K would evaporate and he’d end up finishing second. Allen seemed to be able to win everywhere in the world other than Kona until the famous “Iron War” in 1989, when he finally managed to beat Scott. He would go on to win the race five more times to tie Scott’s record of six Ironman World Championship titles.

Races did swim tests before people could start

In 1983, before the first “Ultra” triathlon in Penticton, all 24 competitors were subjected to a swim test to make sure they could complete the 3.8 km swim. It’s hard to imagine how long it would take to complete all those swim tests now with anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 competitors at the race!

People gave up their Casio watches to get the new Timex Ironman

Prior to the first Timex Ironman Watch being released in 1986, finding a good watch for swim, bike and run training and racing was a challenge. For a couple of years Casio actually was the title sponsor of a half-Ironman race in Lake Placid, no doubt a move to try and promote its stopwatch offering. (Once again, an admission of my age – I finished third at the Casio Lake Placid race in 1986!) In 1986 Timex would release its first Ironman watch and, well, the rest is history!