While Hilary Brown was the first Canadian woman to compete at the Ironman World Championship, two women really put Canada on the Ironman map through the 1980s – Sylviane and Patricia Puntous. They finished first and second in Kona in 1983 and 1984. Sylviane would take second in Kona three more times (1986, 1987 and 1989), while Patricia was first across the line in 1986, only to be disqualified after the race for drafting. Throughout the 1980s the pair were amongst the biggest names in the sport, routinely finishing first and second at the races they entered.
After the 1989 Ironman World Championship they moved away from triathlon, but have remained competitive runners.
In August, 2016, Triathlon Magazine Canada editor Kevin Mackinnon caught up with the Puntous sisters at Ironman Mont-Tremblant. Below you’ll find the story he wrote after their interview:
Ironman legends Sylviane and Patricia Puntous finished first and second at the Ironman World Championship in 1983 and 1984. The two remain inseparable – they are each others best friend, training partner and room mate. There’s a reason so many of us who have been in the sport can’t help but refer to them as the “Puntous twins” whenever we talk about them – they always seem to be together. When they first started working as nurses, the hospital management tried to put them on different surgical teams – only to be told by the doctors that the two are much better together. Now, when they’re in an operating room, Sylviane is always the one working next to the doctor, while Patricia takes care of everything else and is able to get her sister what she needs, seemingly without having to communicate anything.
They continue to be endurance junkies, but their focus is on running these days. They routinely train 120 km a week. In July they finished a 100 km race and took on the Montreal Marathon this fall, a regular event in their schedule. If one is ever injured, they take to walking – up to three hours a day.
They live next to their parents, taking care of them when they’re not working or training. Surprise of all surprises, their 90-year-old father and 87-year-old mother walk every day. “I think we have good genes,” Patricia laughs.
“I think we’ll compete until we’re 100 years old,” Sylviane adds.
The two were swimmers growing up, and even competed at the Canadian swimming championships as young teenagers. Then, when they were 15, they started running track at school and realized that they were better runners than swimmers. At 19 they did their first marathon, finishing that in 2:48:49. Shortly after that they saw the dramatic ABC coverage of Julie Moss crawling to the finish line of the Ironman World Championship and decided they’d found their sport. Two years later Sylviane took the title, with Patricia just behind.
A recent trip to Mont-Tremblant to check out the Ironman race reminded them of just how much the sport has changed since they competed.
“The equipment has changed to much, and things are so expensive,” says Patricia. “It was easier to get into the sport when we started. We never changed bikes every year – it’s not the bike that makes all the difference, it’s your legs. We went 9:20 with all that old equipment and now people aren’t going that much faster. It’s all about the training. For us it was never about the money. We have always wanted to be healthy and to do something that we enjoyed.”
It wasn’t totally about just health and fun, though. The two are incredibly competitive.
“We didn’t want to lose – we hate to lose,” Sylviane says. “If one finished first and the other was fourth, we lost. If we both finished on the podium, that was a win. We never competed with each other – just in training. We pushed each other harder in training than racing.”
Considering all the times they won, and continue to win, that’s a scary thought.
This story appeared in the November, 2016 issue Triathlon Magazine Canada.