Saturday, October 22, 2011
Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Run
The 1980's was the decade of the triathlon (at least in my mind). The modern sport of triathlon had its beginnings in San Diego, California in 1974, and eventually the first Hawaii Ironman triathlon was held in 1978 with 15 participants. In 1979 a Sports Illustrated article drew some attention to this strange endurance race which was followed by ABC starting to televise the race in 1980 with Dave Scott achieving his first of six victories. I recall watching the race while at college and wondering whether a runner (my pick) or a cyclist (my roommate's pick) would be the victor. Little did we know that a new type of athlete was being born at this race; a triathlete. It wasn't until 1982 that triathlons really captured the imaginations of athletes and people around the world as Julie Moss painfully stumbled and crawled towards the finish line just at the same time that she was passed by a fresh looking Kathleen McCarthy for the win.
I watched that race on ABC Wide World of Sport and then watched it again when it was rebroadcast (due to so many people talking about the incredible finish) in complete awe. I told myself I would have to try this new sport and I became one among thousands of others that had a new goal to pursue. Triathlons suddenly started to take off! As soon as I heard about an Ironman distance triathlon taking place on Cape Cod in September 1983 I was in, even though I had no bike or swim background. I did three triathlons on Cape Cod during the summer of 1983. My first was a local sprint triathlon held on my hometown of Falmouth on Cape Cod with less than 100 track club participants taking part, the second was the United States Triathlon Series race held at Old Silver Beach in Falmouth. Julie Moss showed up to MC a workshop on triathlons the day before the race that had over 900 participants (all in one swim wave on a stormy day). The third was the Cape Cod Endurance Triathlon where I swam and biked further than I had ever done in practice to complete an Ironman distance race. I competed in triathlons throughout New England for 5 more years ending each season with my favorite, Cape Cod Endurance Triathlon.
It was exciting to participate and to be somewhat of a pioneer in such a new sport. New athletic heroes turned up, including the "big four" of triathlons. Dave Scott, Scott Tinley, Scott Molina, and Mark Allen. Both Tinley and Molina would venture to the Cape Cod Endurance Triathlon and win it in the 3rd and 4th editions. Dave Scott showed up one year to race at the Bay State Triathlon in Medford, Mass. I came out of the bike transition to find myself running directly behind the awkward stride of Dave Scott himself. I held on for about 1/4 mile before I let him go. He was a lap ahead of me anyway! Other than those appearances I had to catch the big four on televised triathlons or on the pages of new magazines like Triathlon and Triathlete. These guys were aerobic and endurance animals of a completely different nature than the runners and marathoners I was used to. They had strengths and skills that were beyond the world class runners, so that while they may have been very good at each sport individually, they became great when combining sports together.
Magazines and television shows didn't always tell you all of what made them tick. This is why it is nice to finally read a book that delves into the biggest two of these stars: Mark Allen and Dave Scott. Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Runis a book that looks at these two athletes and their physical and inner struggles as they race in the epic 1989 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, a race where Mark Allen finally defeats the 6 time winner Dave Scott in a side by side dual to the final minutes. I enjoyed the read as I recognized the names of the triathletes and races from the 1980s when I was following everything that I could about the sport. There was a familiar feel to the book as I was revisiting past events that I began to recall and in fact since many of the the author's retelling came from the pages of magazines I have read or the televised shows that I watched it should sound familiar. The retelling of the 1989 race is augmented with stories of prior events in the lives of Dave Scott and Mark Allen and because of this the book and author have come under fire from these two men themselves. They are not happy with the book at all and together wrote a letter and have filed a lawsuit against the author and publisher.