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With the Ironman World Championship set to take place 23 days from today, we take a look at back at each race from the past three decades. Today, we look at the story of Klaus Barth, an age-group athlete who finished fourth in 1986. All of the following photos and text are taken from the book, “30 Years of The Ironman Triathlon World Championship” by Bob Babbitt.
The moment is frozen forever. The head is tilted back as his eyes search the heavens. With his Coufists clenched and his mouth wide open, the expression is one of pure, unadulterated joy. I squint through the photographer’s loop to check out the overhead clock in the photo from the 1986 Ironman. The time is 9:03:42. The place is fourth.
At the time, Klaus Barth was knee deep in applause and adrenaline. His wife, Sherri, and the three kids were sprinting out from behind the barriers to greet him. The Long Beach Wilson High School swim coach had paid his Irondues in full. He collapsed nine miles into the run in 1984 while in ninth place. In 1985, he had finished eighth. When he showed up the following year, he expected to be wearing number eight when he went to the line. That was the rule. Finish first, wear number one the next year. Finish second, wear number two. Not this time, bucko. He was told that they looked upon the 36-year-old’s finish from the year before as a fluke, a combination of a lucky day and a weak field.
“I said, ‘What the hell, I finished eighth,’” he remembers. “They said ‘Hey, nobody raced last year. We’ve set number eight aside for the right guy. That guy unfortunately is not you.”
His race number come race day was 48. Not bad… but certainly not eight. He knew he was ready to go after a full summer of 150-mile rides from his home in Long Beach to Solana Beach and back followed immediately by a 10-mile run on the Long Beach Marathon course. His three kids knew that daddy was getting ready for the race of his life.
That’s why Barth was so damn happy at the finish. Eighth place? Fergetaboutit! Barth proved that eighth was indeed a fluke. He was a year older, 37, and he finished fourth. The only guys in front of him? Dave Scott, Mark Allen and Scott Tinley.