An expectant crowd waits at the finish line in downtown Kailua-Kona. All they know of the great struggle taking place on the Queen K highway is what little information the race announcer provides in sporadic updates based on garbled two-way radio reports from the field. yet these crumbs are more than enough to captivate them.
While the multitude waits, the competitor who is currently in twenty-seventh place in the race encounters Dave Scott and Mark Allen and their silent caravan head-on (it’s an out-and-back course) and stops cold to watch them. He has devoted months of hard training to preparing for this day. For several seconds he claps and shouts like any other spectator, momentarily indifferent to his own performance.
A photographer leaps off the back of his chauffeured motorcycle and attempts to capture close-up images of the combatants while sprinting alongside them. Immediately he recognizes his mistake. Although young and fit himself, he quits in exhaustion after fifty yards. Before leaping back on his motorcycle, he watches the runners speed away down the road, the camera slung from his neck briefly forgotten.
Seated on the trunk of a convertible some fifty feet behind Dave and Mark, his shoes resting on the back seat, is Bob Babbitt, the 38-year-old publisher of San Diego–based Competitor magazine. His face is frozen in a faint grin. He believes he is watching the greatest race ever run. The cover line for the next issue of his publication has already come to him: Iron War.
Ironman in 1989 means more to the young sport of triathlon than any other major championship means to any other sport. It is virtually the sport itself—the only race that really matters. Fans and sponsors don’t care how many other triathlons you win if you don’t win Ironman. That’s why short-course specialist Mike Pigg, feared in two-hour races, is competing in this race even though it’s way too long for him. It’s why Scott Molina, winner of numerous events in cooler places, kept doing Ironman, despite being no good in the heat, until he cherry-picked a victory last year, taking advantage of Dave’s absence and Mark’s bad luck. Hell, even duathlon star Kenny Souza, dominant in run-bike-run events, feels compelled to try, and he can’t really swim.
Mark Allen is virtually unbeatable in other triathlons and has amassed nine wins in nine races this year ahead of Hawaii, two of those wins over Dave Scott. But those victories count for little in his reckoning.
“When you come to Ironman, you have to put everything you’ve done before it in the garbage can,” Mark told ABC Sports before the 1987 Ironman. “It all means zero.”
It is this race Mark wants, and he is snakebit here. Dave and the island have his number.
Dave Scott dominates Ironman as few athletes have ever dominated a major championship in any sport. Before today he has raced it seven times, won it six times, and finished second once. And then there’s how he wins—crushingly, wielding a force field of invincibility like a weapon. At the start of the marathon leg of the 1983 Ironman, trailing Scott Tinley by twenty seconds, Dave looked into an ABC television camera trained on him and snarled, “I’m going to bury this guy,” then promptly fulfilled the promise.