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With the Ironman World Championship set to take place 28 days from today, we take a look at back at each race from the past three decades. Today, we go back to 1981; the year the Hawaii Ironman made its move to Kona. All of the following photos and text are taken from the book, “30 Years of The Ironman Triathlon World Championship” by Bob Babbitt.
Race Director Valerie Silk had little choice. For three years the Ironman had been a quaint event: Bring your own support crew. Enjoy the experience with your family and friends. Hang out all night if you’d like to.
One problem: With 100 people you can almost do that. With upwards of 300? Forget it. There was no way there would be roads blocked off on the island of Oahu for the Ironman and Silk was smart enough to see the handwriting on the proverbial wall.
If the event was to stay in Hawaii, there was only one place to go: The Big Island. Tons of lava-coated landscape.
So on February 14, 1981, the Ironman opened up its new home to a ton of Ironhopefuls, including 1980’s third-place finisher 34-year-old John Howard and 22-year-old Linda Sweeney of San Diego.
Howard was a three-time Olympic cyclist. Sweeney was a good runner and swimmer who couldn’t shift gears, rode a bike with a side-view mirror, a pack on the front with her water bottle, a tape player, a towel and cassettes of The Who and The Tubes inside.
“I distinctly remember flying through mile 90 blasting White Punks on Dope,” she recalls.
Howard was a man on a mission totally committed to this new sport. After losing to Dave Scott in 1980, he returned home to Austin, Texas and worked with a swim and running coach planning his revenge.
It showed. Although Scott wasn’t there, Howard raced as if he was. He swam 40 minutes faster than in 1980, ran a 3:23:48 marathon and went 9:38:27 to win by about 25 minutes.
Sweeney, on the other hand, never expected to lead on the bike or to win. She did both.
In the process she even changed gears a few times.