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Going into the 1993 Ironman World Championship, if you were naming the contenders who could possibly knock off four-time defending champion Mark Allen, Finland’s Pauli Kiuru would have been at the top of the list. In each of his previous five attempts in Kona, from 1988 through 1992, Kiuru had finished in the top 10 (twice on the podium). In 1992, when he finished third, he had run a 2:49 marathon.
Off the bike in 1993, Kiuru actually put three minutes on the great Mark Allen during the first six miles of Allen’s specialty, the marathon. “I ran well in the beginning,” said Kiuru at the time. “I felt really good off the bike.”
For Mark Allen, it was a totally different story. “My legs felt like two sacks of potatoes,” he remembered. “They weren’t sore, just dead. … I thought to myself, ‘This is not good.’ Pauli had never been off the front like that before. My dream of winning my fifth in a row was slipping away, and Pauli was putting the hammer down.”
Throughout the ’80s, Allen had been on the wrong end of way too many Dave Scott come-from-behind victories. In 1984, Allen had an 11-minute lead over Scott off the bike and thought his first Ironman title was in the bag—then Scott stormed past him halfway through the marathon while Allen was walking.
In 1987, it was déjà vu when Allen’s five-minute lead disappeared in the blink of an eye and Scott again stormed by while Allen was walking the lava fields. “It’s a lesson I’ve learned over and over,” he said. “The Ironman really happens during the middle to latter part of the run. You have to stay patient. In 1993, as the race went on, my legs started feeling better and my energy came back.”
Just as quickly as the tug-of-war momentum had eased over to Kiuru’s side, Allen started to yank it back. Past mile 10, Allen started to eat into Kiuru’s lead, down to 53 seconds by the time they reached the Natural Energy Lab. After 17 miles, Allen passed Kiuru. “I had started to cramp and it was hard to breathe,” Kiuru remembered.
As he made the pass, Allen acknowledged Kiuru’s great effort with a pat on the back. “The guy made my day hard,” said Allen. “I knew firsthand from my races with Dave Scott that it’s not easy to lead for so long and get passed at the end.”
Kiuru ended up with his best-ever Ironman finish that day, taking second place and going 8:14:27. To win, Allen had to run a 2:48:05 marathon and, in the process, break his own course record with an 8:07:45, which ended up his personal best in Kona.
Allen had been pushed to his limit. He said at the time that it was the closest he had come to dropping out in Kona, that there were eight or 10 moments when he hurt so bad he thought he’d have to stop.
In the medical tent afterward, Allen looked like he had been beaten up. He lay on a cot while the doctors worked to refortify a depleted body. His running shoes were coated with blood and he quivered and shook like he had just gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.
Wolfgang Dittrich of Germany, who ended up in third place in ’93, put it best later that day as he spoke about what separated Allen, the now five-time Ironman world champion, from the others.
“To win the Ironman, you have to have physical and mental strength,” he said. “And everyone has physical strength.”
This article was originally published in the July/August 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.