Ironman World Championship
The Ironman World Championship is a triathlon held each year in Kona, Hawaii, that combines a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race and 26.2 mile run. Considered the ultimate endurance test for athletes, the Ironman was first held in 1978 after a group of local athletes decided to combine the courses from three events into a one-day competition. The Ironman is now organized by World Triathlon Corporation, and participants need to qualify for the event through one of 50 triathlons staged worldwide. Dave Scott and Mark Allen have each won six Ironman races, while Paula Newby-Fraser has been the women's champion a record eight times. The 2011 Ironman champions were Craig Alexander (men) and Chrissie Wellington (women).
The origins of the Ironman World Championship date back to 1977, when John Collins introduced the idea of a new endurance race to a group of friends gathered for an awards banquet at the Waikiki Swim Club. While there had been combination swim/run events in the past, Collins and wife Judy suggested adding a third component by combining the courses of three separate competitions -- the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the Around-Oahu Bike Race and the Honolulu Marathon -- into a single, one-day event.
Collins suggested that whoever finished first in such a competition would be called "the Ironman." Collins was joined by 15 other participants on Feb. 18, 1978, for the first "Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon." The race included a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike leg and a 26.2-mile run. Fitness enthusiast Gordon Haller crossed the finish line first in that race, completing the course in 11 hours, 46 minutes and 58 seconds.
The 1979 race was postponed one day, which limited the number of competitors involved. But that year's Ironman included the first female entrant -- cyclist Lyn Lemaire from Boston -- who finished fifth overall by clocking in at under 13 hours. A feature article in Sports Illustrated on the '79 race brought some fame to the Ironman, and organizers allowed ABC's Wide World of Sports to cover the race the following year.
Valerie Silk took over organizing duties for the race from Collins -- after he was transferred by the Navy from Hawaii to Washington, D.C. -- and moved the Ironman from Waikiki to Kona, on the big island of Hawaii, in 1981. With the event gaining popularity and similar triathlons of varying lengths being started across the country, the Ironman secured Bud Light as a title sponsor in 1982 and attracted over 500 competitors for the first time. That year's race featured one of its most memorable moments. Women's leader Julie Moss -- staggering toward the finish line -- fell to the ground just yards from the finish. After failing to get up and being passed by eventual winner Kathleen McCarthy, the exhausted Moss crawled to the line to complete her time and demonstrated the courage and determination of the event's competitors.
The 1982 event featured a second Ironman triathlon in October. Race organizers decided that year that a permanent move to the fall for the annual event would provide athletes from colder climates better training conditions for the race. Cutoff times for the triathlon were also introduced, with participants given 18.5 hours to complete the 140.6-mile race to be considered an official finisher. That time was reduced to 17 hours in 1983, when a qualification system for entry was first put in place and the top finishers from the Ricoh Ironman U.S. Championship ( in Los Angeles) earlier in the year were chosen to race in Ironman World Championship in Kona.
A couple of international qualifying races (in New Zealand and Japan) were in place by the 1985 Ironman World Championship, when athletes from 34 countries took part. Scott Tinley set a course record of 8:50:54 after taking the top spot that year, and Canada's Sylviane Puntous won a second consecutive women's race. Tinley's record time was bettered by more than 20 minutes the following year when Dave Scott captured his fifth Ironman title.
Scott won for a sixth time in 1987, but knee problems kept him from a chance at three consecutive Ironman World Championships in 1988. That year, Paula Newby-Fraser broke the women's course record by finishing in 9:01:01, and Ironman Europe (in West Germany) was added as an additional qualifying event. Newby-Fraser repeated as women's champion in 1989, and Mark Allen outlasted defending champion Scott to win the men's race in record time, 8:09:15.
Allen went on to win a record five straight Ironmans from 1989 to 1993, during which time Gatorade became title sponsor for the endurance event, Ironman Australia was added as another international qualifying triathlon and NBC began televising the race. Newby-Fraser continued to dominate the women's race, and became the first woman ever to finish the 140.6-mile race in under 9 hours in 1992, setting a record time of 8:55:28.
While Newby-Fraser won her fourth consecutive Ironman in 1994, Allen took a year off from competing in the race. Australian Greg Welch was top finisher for the men that year, in which 77-year-old Jim Ward become the oldest athlete to complete in the Ironman (finishing in 16:48). The first wheelchair competitor took part in the 1994 race. Jon Franks missed the bike cutoff time that year (and did not finish the race), but he did complete the full 112-mile bike course using a hand-cranked bike.
The physically-challenged division of the Ironman World Championship received test runs from 1994 to 1996, when Australian John MacLean finished within the overall limit of 17 hours. The 1996 race was noteworthy for Newby-Fraser, who captured her eighth Hawaii Ironman and still holds the record for most titles by an individual. Belgium's Luc Van Lierde became the first European to win the event by setting a course record at 8:04:08. The next year, when a formal division was set up for physically-challenged individuals, MacLean became the first to use a hand-cranked bike and finish each portion of the triathlon within the cut-off times for each section.
Event the founder, Collins, returned for the 20th anniversary in 1998, competing with six others from the inaugural race. Peter Reid of Canada and Natascha Badmann of Switzerland each won their first of multiple titles that year, when a number of new races were added to the list of qualifying events, including the Ironman Lake Placid and Florida triathlons. Ironman Austria was added to the international roster of events.
Reid went on to claim first place in 2000 and 2003, while Badmann dominated the women's division for years by winning five of six races between 2000 and 2005. In 2005, 16 different age group records were set in the Ironman World championship. Robert McKeague, 80, became the oldest athlete to finish the Ironman (at 16:21:55) and Sarah Reinertsen was the first female amputee to complete the course within the time guidelines.
Chrissie Wellington became the first British athlete to win the Ironman World Championship in 2007, performing well in the bike and run legs to finish in 9:08:45. She finished out the decade by outperforming the field in 2008 and 2009 and took three consecutive titles. On the men's side, Australian Craig Alexander captured two straight men's races (2008, 2009), as the Ironman World Championship moved past the 30-year mark. In 2011, Alexander set a new course record, finishing in 8:03:56.
The Swim Course
The first leg of the Ironman World Championship is the 2.4-mile swimming portion, which takes place in Kailua Bay. Competitors begin about 60 yards from shore on the east side of Kailua Pier and head south for over one mile before rounding a turnaround vessel and returning toward the pier. The completed route forms an elongated rectangle around marked buoys on the 100-yard wide course.
The Bike Course
After competitors exit the transition area following the swim, they begin the 112-mile bike leg, traveling up Palani Road to Kuakini Highway. The beginning portion of the second leg of the race is a circular loop that leads competitors down Makala Boulevard and Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway before turning them back onto Palani Road. Bikers then head south on Kuakini Highway for a short stretch before returning back on the same road.
A turn on to Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway leads competitors north along the coast for the main section of the leg that runs all the way to Hawi. Racers complete the bike turnaround in Hawi -- which is one of the official checkpoints of the race -- before returning south on the same road and toward Kona.
The bike route ends with a right turn onto Makala Boulevard and another right onto Kuakini Highway that leads to Palani Road and back to the transition area near the pier. Along the 100-plus miles are several small hills to challenge racers, along with a number of aid stations located at seven-mile intervals throughout the course.
The Marathon Course
The third leg of the Ironman is a marathon-length road run that covers 26.2 miles in the Hawaiian heat. (Aid stations are located approximately one mile apart throughout the marathon course.)
Like the bicycle leg, the running course begins with competitors traveling up Palani Road to Kuakini Highway. Runners then turn onto Hualalai Road and on to Ali'i Drive, heading south to Kahalu'u Beach to reach the first of the turnarounds in the run portion (and one of the checkpoints of the event).
After heading back on the same roads returning toward Kona, runners turn on to Kuakani Highway and then Palani Road to reach Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway. This road takes runners further north along the coast and on to Otec Road and the Natural Energy Lab of Hawaii Authority. Competitors travel in and out of the facility's site before turning around to head back toward town on the same roads. From Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, runners turn right on to Palani Road, left on Kuakini Highway and then successive right turns on to Hualalai Road and Ali'i Drive to reach the finish line for the Ironman World Championship.
Year-by-Year Ironman World Championship Men's Division Winners
|1999||Luc Van Lierde||8:17:17|
|1996||Luc Van Lierde||8:04:08|
|1982 (Oct.)||Dave Scott||9:08:23|
|1982 (Feb.)||Scott Tinley||9:19:41|
Year-by-Year Ironman World Championship Women's Division Winners
|1982 (Oct.)||Julie Leach||10:54:08|
|1982 (Feb.)||Kathleen McCartney||11:09:40|
Alexander, Wellington return to top
Australian Craig Alexander set a course record to win his third Ironman World Championship and first since 2009. In the women's division, Chrissie Wellington, who missed last year's race, won her fourth title. Story »
IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP QUICK FACTS
First Held: 1978
Location: Kona, Hawaii
Distance: 140.6 miles
Swim: 2.4 miles, Kailua-Kona Bay
Bike: 112 miles
Run: 26.2 miles
2012 Event: Oct. 13