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Sunday, October 6, 2013

JUDY AND JOHN COLLINS: Founders of the Triathlon

I have a lot of important friends, but the two most famous must be Judy and John Collins, for they founded the Ironman Triathlon.  How and why?

According to Wikipedia, the concept started as early as 1902 in France, but with running, cycling and canoeing.  In the 1920's, there was the "Les trois sports,"  a really short version of running (1.86 miles), biking (8.1 miles) and swimming (across the channel Marne). which is still held annually.  Thus, the French should be credited with the first conceptualization, sort of like ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).  

However, like in OTEC, where French developers never once attained net positive, in 1979 accomplished by Lockheed with Mini-OTEC in Hawaii, the modern triathlon began in San Diego, USA on 25September1974 with a 6 mile run, 5 mile bike ride and 500 yards swim.  Forty six participated and the Collins family finished 34th (son Michael), 33rd (daughter Kristin), 30th (Judy) and 22nd or 23rd (John).

The U.S. Navy transferred John to Honolulu, and this where John and Judy organized the first Ironman Triathlon on 18February1978:  combining the Waikiki Rough Water Swim, a bike ride around Oahu and a full marathon, a distance of a little over 140.6 miles.  Eleven finished, including John, and Gordon Haller (left) became the first Ironman in 11 hours, 46 minutes and 58 seconds. From Wikipedia:

Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life![12]
— Commander Collins, USN (1978)

To the right is Julie Moss crawling the final 20 yards to the finish line in the 1982 Ironman, where ABC's Jim McKay called it the most inspiring sports moment he had ever witnessed.  She did not win, but the Ironman thereby captured the imagination of the world.

The current men's record, now held in Kona (next one, the 35th, on October 12--that's why the Collins' are here, as they come every 5 or 10 years--they, incidentally, live in Panama City, Panama and Coronado, California), is 8 hours 3 minutes 56 seconds by Craig Alexander (left), and women's, 8 hours 54 minutes 2 seconds by Chrissie Wellington (right).  I would have big trouble just running the marathon in those times,  but I wouldn't even get to that stage, for I would not survive the swim.  In 1977 Judy became the first female to swim from Lanai to Maui.

I almost killed the Ironman, as in 1977 Judy worked with me at the University of Hawaii on a National Science Foundation project.  She today (the photo of John and Judy at the top was taken this morning at Michel's, where we were having brunch) showed me a picture (no, I'm not dancing the hula) of how I looked in those days, this shot with Jim Shon, who also worked on this NSF effort, and later became a State Legislator.  When she told me she and her husband were planning to combine all three events on the same day, I expressed wonderment and mumbled something like competitors will die.  Actually, I was right, as there were 43 fatalities just from 2003 to 2011, 30 during the swim portion.

Well, on a happier note, Judy still competes, we are all alive and well, except John and I have knee pains:

Typhoon Danas is beginning to look a lot more formidable, now a Category 4 at 135 MPH, with a predicted track north of Naha, Okinawa, and currently expected to ease by Fukuoka, then move along the Japan Sea side of Honshu, Japan.



film hope said...

I am hoping the author of this blog is still checking this blog. I am trying to track down a contact for John Collins. We are in the starts of doing a documentary on the origin of Ironman and what it has become. We have a few other characters lined up for the Short Format documentary we would like to shoot this summer. John would be a great addition to that story. If you are still in contact with him and willing to send over an email or phone number you can do so to



Dear Kristopher:

Judy and John can be reached at: