Countdown To Kona: Ironwar (1989)

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With the Ironman World Championship set to take place 20 days from today, we take a look at back at each race from the past three decades. Today, we go back to 1989 and the year Dave Scott and Mark Allen swam, rode and ran shoulder to shoulder. All of the following photos and text are taken from the book, “30 Years of The Ironman Triathlon World Championship” by Bob Babbitt.

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With the black nothingness of the Big Island’s lava fields as a backdrop and an entourage of spectators on mopeds and bicycles hovering behind, Mark Allen and Dave Scott moved swiftly through the third act of the three-part Ironman play. Their swim times for 2.4 miles were 51:17 and 51:16 respectively. Bike splits? 4:37:52 and 4:37:53.

They began the 26.2-mile marathon in tandem, under a muggy haze – ideal conditions when compared to the usual blast-furnace-from-hell marathon heat the Hawaiian Triathlon Gods are famous for. The two made their bike-to-run transition at the Kona Surf Hotel, headed up the “what-joker-decided-to-put-this-sucker-here?” hill and settled into a little more one-on-one as they strung together sub-six-minute miles down Alii Drive.

“Dave set a really good pace through town,” recalls Mark Allen. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know, 26 miles at this pace is going to be pretty tough.”

Throughout the bike ride, Allen’s focus was totally on Scott. He ignored Wolfgang Dittrich of West Germany, who put two minutes between himself and the chase pack during the swim. Dittrich then rode off the front for 112 miles, his lead hovering around three minutes early, but dwindling down to less than two by the time he reached the Kona Surf and the bike-to-run transition. Behind him was a pack of riders that included Kenny Glah, Mike Pigg, Rob Mackle, Scott and Allen. Allen was in a zone of his own, lurking in the shadows, monitoring every move Scott would make.

“I never saw his face during the bike,” says Scott. There was no need for Allen to show his face. Scott KNEW he was there. After blowing up every time he’d tried to pull away from Scott in previous years, Allen was taking absolutely no chances.

“It was really difficult for me at first reconciling to the fact that I was going to have to run with him for 18-26 miles,” says Allen. But he knew there was no other way.

The two ran wordlessly along, the mobile spectators sensing the enormity of the performances they were witnessing. The best marathon ever at the Ironman was Scott’s 2:49. Allen had a best of 2:55. Both were running well under that pace as they reached the 17-mile turnaround at the inflatable Bud Light beer can. Nine miles to go, both athletes still in synch, only the sound of their breathing and of their shoes skidding every faster across the pavement breaking the silence.

The fans that followed the leaders did so like they were watching a horror file or awaiting a storm. Something was going to happen, but what would it be, and when?
Who would make the first move?

As Allen and Scott moved closer and closer to downtown Kona, the thought of a sprint to the tape must have must have been going through their heads, too. Their gap over the fast-closing Aussie Greg Welch was an insurmountable 20 minutes.  The only game in town was the one they were playing. But who would make the first move? And when?

“Mark had the inside track at the aid stations,” remembers Scott. “Mark would get aid and I’d have to slow down to get it. At mile 23 it happened again and Mark picked up the pace and opened up 20 feet on me. He looked over his should and could see he had a gap. I told myself that I had to come back. But it hurt to come back. Once I got up to him again I thought, ‘Okay, I’m back in the race.’ Psychologically, I did that to say, ‘Okay Mark, It’s not yours yet, you’ve got to earn it.”

Just at the base of the long hill into town, 24 miles into the run, Allen decided to earn it. Allen had decided beforehand that if the race was tight, if he was still with Scott at mile 24, the last grade would be his spot to make a move.

“He’d always be a little behind me on the uphills, so I thought, ‘All right, where’s the best uphill?’ I thought the best one was the last one into town. I started to push a little bit before the hill so see how he was feeling,” says Allen. “Right at the mile 99 highway marker I thought, ‘Okay this is it, man!’ I felt good. I felt that I could go hard for two miles.”

Hard enough to put 58 seconds between himself and the Lord of the Lava in the last two miles. And fast enough to erase a lot of past Ironman disappointment. He hammered down Pay and Save Hill, turned left and headed for home.

Allen needed an incredible 2:40:04 marathon  to hold off Dave “Never-Say-Die” Scott, who turned in a 2:41:03 – 18 minutes off his own course record – and, somehow, someway came up short.

To see the complete Countdown To Kona series click here.

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