Countdown To Kona: Almost Like Yesterday (1980)

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

With the Ironman World Championship set to take place 29 days from today, we take a look at back at each race from the past three decades. Today, we get Bob Babbitt’s perspective of the 1980 race in Oahu. All of the following photos and text are taken from the book, “30 Years of The Ironman Triathlon World Championship” by Bob Babbitt.

[imagebrowser id=77]

Okay, I admit it. I had absolutely no idea we were supposed to finish the whole damn thing in one day. I remember thinking when I found out that these people were absolutely, positively out of their skulls.

The year was 1980, there were only 108 of us in Oahu for the start of the third annual Ironman Triathlon, and who would have figured that EVERYONE would try to swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 and run 26.2 one right after the other? My plan was to, hopefully, dogpaddle my way through the swim, ride to the other side of Oahu, maybe 60 miles or so, then camp out. I’d get up in the morning, ride the rest of the way back to Aloha Tower and then run the marathon. Now, doesn’t that sound more sensible? It sure did to me.

But when I got to the starting line that morning and met my support crew (everyone had to have one), they suggested that they carry the sleeping bag and the rest of my goodies in their Fiat convertible. Since they were going to be close by, I thought why not?

The day before the race, my roommate Ned Overend and I were standing on the balcony of a hotel overlooking the stormy Pacific in downtown Waikiki. The race organizers had called us together for a pre-race briefing. As Ned and I watched wave after wave hammer by, we both suddenly realized that the chances of us getting through the surf of the Waikiki rough water swim course in storm conditions were somewhere between slim and none. So when the race director announced that the Ironman swim was being moved to Ala Moana Channel, Ned and I were ecstatic.

The deal was this: ABC was over in the islands to film cliff diving on Sunday. If this Ironman thing went off on schedule on Saturday, ABC could film it. If the weather forced a delay to Sunday, there was no way. So they moved the swim to Ala Moana Channel, which was protected from the surf.

While Ned and I were excited to be given a chance to get out of the water alive, the hardcore swimmers weren’t happy at all.

“What a wussy even,” they grumbled. Obviously, those dudes hadn’t done all their swim training in a 120-lengths-to-the-mile condo pool like Ned and I had. The biggest wave we ever had to deal with was when Mr. and Mrs. Curran jumped into the pool at the same time one day and almost propelled us out onto the deck. But that’s another story.

When I finally came out of the water on Ironman Day, I was just slightly ahead of Olympic cyclist John Howard, who spent half an hour washed up on the coral. I ran to the shower and, after waiting my turn behind a father and his son (who just happened to be in the park at the time), put on a long-sleeved shirt, my tennis shoes, jammed enough Hawaiian sweet bread into the pocket of my shirt to feed Guatemala, mounted up and took off.

I was actually starting to get into this long-distance cycling routine when a member of my support crew set up on the side of the road for a food hand-off. I’d seen this sort of thing in the Tour de France. I readied myself, reached out with my right hand and, before I knew what hit me, became the proud owner of a white bag with golden arches on it. How did I know that a Big Mac, fries and a Coke weren’t on the Ironman diet? It sure tasted good to me. At mile 80 my crew followed up with a root beer snow cone.

By this point, I’d given up the notion of making this a two-day adventure. My crew was so into it I couldn’t imagine pulling over and setting up camp just yet. And anyhow, I was enjoying the heck out of myself.

When I pulled into the transition area at Aloha Tower, my crew had a major surprise waiting for me: A full-on oriental massage, complete with soothing music and massage oils. They laid me down on a bamboo cot and preceded to give me the best massage I’ve ever had. Twenty minutes later, I started out on the run.

I trotted through Waikiki and out onto the Honolulu Marathon course. I ate Hawaiian sweet bread, drank water and simply ran and walked my way through the first 20 miles. All of a sudden, though, just past 20, I felt this urgency to pick up the pace. I ran through the Hawaiian darkness silhouetted in the lights of my support crew’s car. Those last six miles just seemed to fly by. Suddenly, I came upon a white chalk line drawn across the street. I slowed and looked to my right. In the park, underneath a light bulb strung from a telephone pole, san and official-looking guy with a pad of paper in his hand.

“Hey, are you in the race?” he yelled. “Yeah!” I replied. “Well you’re done. Good job,” he said.

I walked towards the voice and sat on the grass for a minute to catch my breath. There were four other finishers lying there chatting with their support crews. No one was moving or saying much except one guy who, for some unknown reason, was doing handstand push-ups. After the official wrote my name down, my crew poured me into the back of the Fiat and took me back to the hotel.

I trudged up the stairs to my room. I vividly remember the moon coming through the window and illuminating the red-as-a-lobster scorched outline of Ned’s back. I asked him how his race had gone.

“Well, Pam (his girlfriend, now wife, and support person) had a hard time getting through the traffic in Waikiki. She didn’t catch me for awhile,” Ned said.

“When did she catch up to you?” I asked. “At mile 80,” he laughed. “And then she lost me again in the marathon!”

I can’t believe it’s been 29 years. It seems like only yesterday.

To see the complete Countdown To Kona series click here.

Trending on Triathlete