Recalled: A Few of Triathlon’s Firsts
Build up your tri trivia arsenal by reading up on these famous firsts.
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The First: First triathlete to go under 3 hours in the Ironman marathon
The Athlete: Joseph Kasbohm (1981)
For a brief span in the sport of triathlon, the notion of dipping under the three-hour mark in the grueling marathon leg of an Ironman seemed like an elusive, if not impossible, feat. After all, Gordon Haller, the very first winner of the Hawaii Ironman in 1978, ran 3:30–and that was considered quite commendable at the time. But in 1981, Kasbohm, a 19-year-old community college student from Bloomington, Minn., posted a 2:59:48, although his split went relatively unnoticed because he placed 116th overall (out of 299 finishers) with a 13 hour, 31 second finish, clocking a comparatively pedestrian swim split of 1 hour, 49 minutes and biked for 7 hours, 11 seconds. Three years later, Dave Scott made much more of a splash with his 2:53:00 split en route to winning the race for the third time.
It took another 15 years before a woman cracked the 3-hour mark, and that honor went to Canadian Lori Bowden who laid down a 2:59:16 split in her first of two Ironman World Championship titles in 1999. Bowden’s mark stood as the course record for almost a decade before Chrissie Wellington broke it with a 2:57:44 in 2008.
The First: First American to win a World Triathlon Series Race
The Athlete: Gwen Jorgensen (2013)
Three years before she became the first American triathlete to win an Olympic gold medal, Jorgensen snapped up this honor in April, 2013 at a race in San Diego where she beat out international stars like Non Stanford, Emma Moffat, and Anne Haug to break the tape. The then 27-year-old was in just her third season as a pro athlete, but had been swiftly and assuredly making a statement in the sport. While this win solidified her legitimacy as one of the world’s best, it wasn’t until 2015 when “Gwensanity” really became a thing once she went on an unprecedented tear of 12 wins in a row on the World Triathlon Series stage before ultimately grabbing Olympic gold in 2016.
The First: First Olympic Champs in Triathlon
The Athletes: Simon Whitfield and Bridgette McMahon (2000)
With the Sydney Opera House serving as the backdrop, the inaugural Olympic race, held in September, 2000, was as memorable as they come. Sure, the setting was rather epic, but the fireworks set off in the final stretches of both races were legendary. In the men’s race, the lead pack remained tightly bunched basically from the start and just one minute separated first to ninth place once it was all said and done. The winner? 25-year-old Canadian Simon Whitfield, who found another gear with meters to go to blaze past a fading Stephan Vuckovic of Germany and beat him by 13 seconds (11 seconds after that, Jan Rehula of the Czech Republic ran in for the bronze).
The women’s race set off even more sparks with just two seconds separating gold and silver. Switzerland’s McMahon and Magali Messmer as well as Australia’s Michellie Jones ran shoulder to shoulder for the latter half of the run, with McMahon and Jones eventually dropping Messmer. At that point, a heated footrace ensued as both women refused to relent. One final surge by McMahon got the 33-year-old to the line first in front of a roaring crowd rooting on their countrywoman Jones, who had to settle for silver. Messmer came in 26 seconds later to round out the first-ever Olympic podium.