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A Look Back At 40 Years of Triathlete Magazine

With almost four decades of print magazines behind us, we've collected the thoughts, stories, and tall tales from some of the men and women who helped create the sport's longest-lasting publication.

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“From cannon shot to finish line.”

These six words appeared on the cover of the first issue of what was then called Triathlon magazine, and for almost 40 years, Triathlete has published a magazine covering every single thing in multisport. While the regular print edition is ending, the coverage you’ve come to expect isn’t going anywhere. (Well, OK, it’s going online.) To look back over the decades, we asked some of the past editors to reflect on their time at the helm.

Video: 40 Years of Triathlete Covers

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How It All Started

Harald Johnson
Founder & editor, 1983-1988

Back in 1979, I didn’t know we’d be creating the first national and international magazine about the new sport of triathlon.

We were already publishing a swimming magazine for fitness and open-water swimmers (SWIM SWIM), but when Dave Scott made an offhand comment to me about something called the Ironman race he was training for, it got me and my two co-publishers (Penny Little and Mike Gilmore) thinking. And then paying more attention to the rise in popularity of multisport events: run-swim-runs, biathlons (now duathlon), and, increasingly, triathlons. We asked ourselves: How about a magazine just for this emerging phenomenon?

The “Triathlon” staff in the early 1980s. (Photo: Harald Johnson)

So we tested the idea with special one-off publications over the next two years and finally flew to Hawaii for the October 1982 Ironman to finalize things. Penny and I participated, Mike schmoozed advertisers and money people, and by the end of February 1983, the first issue of Triathlon hit the streets. The sport of triathlon now had its own magazine.

Soon after Triathlon came out, we heard there was another publication getting started. It was produced by William R. Katovsky in Northern California (San Francisco Bay area), and I finally saw it at an event that summer (1983). A free, monthly tabloid, it aimed to be “the Rolling Stone of triathlon,” Bill would tell me later.

Tri-Athlete soon went to an all-glossy format like us—but I got along fine with him. We would frequently end up bumping into each other on the dance floor at the same after-race parties. Bill was a character, for sure. But then, weren’t we all?

RELATED: From Swim-Bike-Run to Triathlon to Tri-Athlete: How The First Magazines of Multisport Came to Be

However, by 1986, we realized the market wouldn’t support two competing magazines operating in the same arena. So the two publishing groups started meeting and ultimately worked out a deal to merge. There would now be one, single magazine. I became editorial director of the new publication, which left no role for Bill (although he would come back years later). The merged Triathlete (no hyphen) magazine debuted in July 1986.

The magazine thrived, but because things—and lives—change, I left Triathlete in mid-1988 for fresh adventures. But some of my best memories from that time are of the people I worked with. We were a team. With a shared purpose of chronicling the birth of a new sport, of an active lifestyle that continues to this day. And now, almost 40 years later, I’m proud to have been part of that.

Harald Johnson is a co-founder of Triathlete and currently the author of historical fiction, time travel, and suspense-thriller novels.

When Tinley Talked

T.J. Murphy
Assistant editor & editor-in-chief, 1996-1999, 2003-2008

I got my start at Triathlete as an assistant editor in the spring of 1996. At the time, the office was in downtown San Francisco, and the internet was just heating up. One job of mine was to perform a first edit on “Tinley Talks,” Scott Tinley’s long-running column. Tinley didn’t email his articles. Rather, they burbled into the office every four weeks through a fax machine stationed near my desk. It was handwritten, a dashed-off scrawl of storytelling intermixed with philosophy. It was like I was typing up the Dead Sea Scrolls, with certain words and phrases edging into the indecipherable.

Tinley eventually took to email, but it was the pre-fax era of the column I found amusing. The founder of Triathlete, the late Bill Katovsky, told me the first iteration of the column was not faxed. It was not even written. Scott recorded his thoughts onto a cassette tape and mailed it in.

In 1998, I had become the editor of Triathlete, when Scott pitched a feature for the magazine’s 15th anniversary. I had first raced a triathlon in 1982, and through the ‘80s and into the ‘90s had been a big fan of Tinley and all the other early stars of the sport: names like Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Scott Molina, Paula Newby-Fraser, and Erin Baker. So working with Tinley on the “Soul of Triathlon” story, and picking photos by going through thousands of pictures in the magazine archive, as well as shoeboxes of photos Tinley had brought in, is one of my favorite memories of working on the mag. Both Tinley’s words and the photos we picked captured the shared joy and anguish of a sport that uniquely brought together what had become a global community of triathletes.

T.J. Murphy went on to serve as editor-in-chief for LAVA Magazine and today is a freelance writer and author of multiple books.

The August 1998 “Soul of Triathlon” issue.
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A Hell of a Lot of Fun

Christina Gandolfo
Managing editor & editor-in-chief, 1998-2003

It’s July 1998 and I’m walking into the Triathlete offices in Cardiff, California, for the first time as a proper employee, about to begin a five-year tenure, initially, as managing editor.

After being welcomed at the front desk I hear a raised voice.

“Well, f*ck ‘em. They’re idiots! It’s great — it’s the best thing we’ve done. Period.”

Publisher John Duke is in his office, back to the door, headset signaling he’s at mission control. He’s shouting through a shared wall to editor-in-chief T.J. Murphy. They’re discussing emails from readers (20 years before social media would drive the conversation).

The latest issue of Triathlete has just hit subscriber mailboxes.

The cover features Ironman Canada winner Lori Bowden in a confident stance. Her expression seems to say, “Yes, I’m Canadian, and I’m gracious and polite. But I will catch you on the marathon, and I will run you down.”

She’s wearing a wetsuit. It’s made of body paint. The outline of a nipple is undeniable.

A cropped image of Lori Bowden’s 1998 “Triathlete” cover.

Some people are upset. They find it in poor taste. Misogynistic, even. Not what they expected their mail carrier to deliver that day.

I haven’t yet formed an opinion about the cover in question. But one thing is clear: My new boss is a force. He defends his people and his decisions, and the office culture I’m entering is like nothing I’ve experienced in almost 10 years as a working journalist.

This job, I tell myself, is going to be a wild ride.

When I think back on my time at Triathlete magazine from 1998 to 2003 (two years as managing editor; three as editor-in-chief) the word that comes to mind is camaraderie. Maybe there was no way to know it then, but there was a solidarity among the talented and eccentric staff that was singular. It was a fun bunch. A hell of a lot of fun.

As we well know, triathlon was birthed by big personalities. By a curiosity and a thirst for friendly competition rooted in bravado. A desire to test limits and revel in what is possible when you push. Really push.

At Triathlete in the late ’90s and early 2000s we were holding tight to an early spirit that was beginning to shift. Ironman races were multiplying. Many competitive age-groupers now had six-figure incomes instead of side-jobs to support their endurance habit.

And while we aimed for growth in our sport, we were adamant that the engine of progress be fueled by the playful swagger that launched triathlon.

Whether or not our editorial efforts resulted in accolades, the intention was always the same: To push ourselves, to test the sport’s boundaries, and to never stop having fun while doing it. A hell of a lot of fun.

It’s a time I will never forget. Thank you, Triathlete.

Christina Gandolfo is primarily a photographer these days and a founding member of TheLuupe, which connects brands with female photographers and creators.

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Cheers to the Finish Line

Julia Polloreno
Editor-in-chief, 2010-2016

For six-and-a-half years, I had the good fortune of guiding Triathlete as editor-in-chief. Coming from a publishing background and having discovered a personal obsession/passion for triathlon, it was truly a dream job. Not a single day passed that I didn’t appreciate the fact that I got to geek out on triathlon for a living. 

Looking back, I can appreciate this singular time in the magazine publishing world (2010-2016). The media landscape looks a lot different today, and as a diehard “print person” I feel incredibly lucky for the opportunity to make my own mark on this brand’s legacy. 

My time at Triathlete gifted me some of the most impactful experiences, both professionally and personally, and meaningful friendships. What I’ll continue to miss most is the ritual of shipping week, those frenetic few days when we sent the month’s issue to press. Our small but mighty team would scour every page, taking painstaking care to make sure it was our best work, worthy of the permanence of the printed page. 

Towards the end of my tenure, we started a new tradition: After the last page was uploaded to the printer, we’d pop a bottle of wine and cheers another finish line. And with the final issue of this magazine going to press, I raise a glass to the past, present and future of Triathlete

Julia Polloreno is now the vice president of content production for the IRONMAN Group.