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Apologies if this was discussed and decided decades ago....


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So when the idea for Ironman was proposed by John Collins, my understanding was that (in jest I assume), it was to establish who were the fittest - open water swimmers, cyclists or runners.  There is alot of data that must have been gathered over the years, but I have never seen this definitively answered.

So lets hear it - bonus points for compelling answers that go against the grain....

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To hear John Collins tell it, it wasn't in jest. It was in good spirits – it happened at his running club's end of season party – but it was a genuine debate and they were serious enough to do it.

Based on the results of the early years, swimmers are the champs – Tom Warren, Dave Scott and Mark Allen. IIRC, Scott Tinley and Scott Molina came from swimming backgrounds too. Only one runner – Gordon Haller – and one cyclist – John Howard – won it.

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John Collins put it rather eloquently several years ago, in an interview on TV. “The story has been embellished over the years, but when you boil it down, we were 4 drunk navy pals, arguing about who was fitter. So we came up with the idea to do the rough water swim race, the around the island bike race and the Honolulu marathon run. So you know, 4 drunk men started a race that started a whole sport. How many other sports can say they were started by drunk men. “ (insert heartily laugh from MR Collins).

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1 hour ago, Greyman said:

John Collins put it rather eloquently several years ago, in an interview on TV. “The story has been embellished over the years, but when you boil it down, we were 4 drunk navy pals, arguing about who was fitter. So we came up with the idea to do the rough water swim race, the around the island bike race and the Honolulu marathon run. So you know, 4 drunk men started a race that started a whole sport. How many other sports can say they were started by drunk men. “ (insert heartily laugh from MR Collins).

....and to this day the drinking tradition is kept alive by those who get others involved in the sport after a few drinks 🤣

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I definitely wouldn’t say swimmers were the fittest. I recon most people could ride 180 and run 42 if they trained a bit and took their time but... if you can’t swim 3.8k you’re never going to finish an Ironman. 

Also as someone who spent many years competing in Surf Life Saving carnivals, I take a just little offence at the claiming of the term “Ironman” .

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7 minutes ago, Mike Del said:

I definitely wouldn’t say swimmers were the fittest. I recon most people could ride 180 and run 42 if they trained a bit and took their time but... if you can’t swim 3.8k you’re never going to finish an Ironman. 

Also as someone who spent many years competing in Surf Life Saving carnivals, I take a just little offence at the claiming of the term “Ironman” .

I'm confused. Are you saying it's harder to swim 4k then run 42? I really don't think that's true. I guess it's true if you just don't know how to swim, and maybe that true of a lot of people?

I think just a lot less people want to swim 4k. Many people, of all abilities, identify with the challenge of a marathon. Swimming? No.

I've no idea who is fitter, but the swim takes up such a small part of the event that you can be the best swimmer in the world and a good land lover will haul you back in over the 7-8 hours of running and riding to follow.

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On 04/10/2020 at 9:20 PM, CharlieB said:

So when the idea for Ironman was proposed by John Collins, my understanding was that (in jest I assume), it was to establish who were the fittest - open water swimmers, cyclists or runners.  There is alot of data that must have been gathered over the years, but I have never seen this definitively answered.

So lets hear it - bonus points for compelling answers that go against the grain....

Cross country skiers.

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Many winners have come from a swimming background. Warren, Scott, Allen for starters, right through to ... Jan Frodono. Yep, the current IM champion and arguably the GOAT was a swimmer before later taking up triathlon in 2000. 
 

So, seems like you were wrong Peter.

I actually think the mental discipline of swimming 60-100km a week I a 25/50 metre pool stands swimmers in good stead for triathlon. Some swimmers just can’t run, but for those that can - they end up being the world, Olympic and Ironman champions. 

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1 hour ago, dazaau said:

I'm confused. Are you saying it's harder to swim 4k then run 42? I really don't think that's true. I guess it's true if you just don't know how to swim, and maybe that true of a lot of people?.

No I'm saying you won’t even finish if you can’t swim. Some people just can’t swim. I know plenty of cyclists and runners who can’t swim a stroke, but every swimmer I know (apart from an English Channel swimmer with one leg) can run a bit.

I relation to the Ironman you can always walk the run or slow down and have a drink and a feed on the bike, even stop and have a rest then get going again, but if you can’t swim, you’ll never complete an Ironman. 
As for the fittest, that depends on what you define as fittest I guess. I know many fat overweight but excellent distance swimmers, and only a few cyclists like that. I’m sure there’s a couple around but I certainly don’t know any fat overweight marathon runners so I’d give my vote to the marathon runner.
 

Edited by Mike Del
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Most of these guys were Californians. Internationals (and Americans 🙂 ) didn't make their presence felt in the men's competition until the mid 1980s.

In the 1960s/70s, swimming was the major participation sport for boys and men here.  Baseball was elite past age 12 or 13. So was (American) football, and it wrecked knees in the bargain. Basketball was barely more than a playground sport, and track and field was mostly off season training. Relatively few kept it up past high school.

Jogging was popular, but that wasn't running and it wasn't about distance – Bay to Breakers (~12km with a minor hill in the middle) was reckoned a daunting endurance event. Cycling was a fringe sport and softball was about the beer.

But there were a lot of swimmers, mostly boys, from that era who started structured training at age 7 or 8, and continued through high school and into college and masters competition. Or switched to water polo.

So in the late 70s and through the 80s, swimmers were, by far, the largest population of twenty-something male athletes who had systematically and aerobically trained for the past 10 or 15 years, and were still competing. Put another way, if you took a random sample of 100 young, active West Coast men back then, the best athlete in the bunch – the one best suited for the ultimate fitness and endurance test – would almost always be a swimmer.

It was way different on the women's side. It was about runners and cyclists and elites from other Olympic sports.

 

Edited by steve
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The question is who is the fittest. 
a swimmer swimming 3.8k

a cyclist doing 180k

a runner doing 42k

simply put, I could go and swim 3.8k now.  Prob take me 1.10 

I could ride 180k. Prob the last 50 k would hurt but I wouldn’t stop. 
 

I could also run 42km but I’d probably walk in parts, so for me, the runner is the fittest. 

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7 hours ago, Mike Del said:

No I'm saying you won’t even finish if you can’t swim. Some people just can’t swim. I know plenty of cyclists and runners who can’t swim a stroke, but every swimmer I know (apart from an English Channel swimmer with one leg) can run a bit.

I relation to the Ironman you can always walk the run or slow down and have a drink and a feed on the bike, even stop and have a rest then get going again, but if you can’t swim, you’ll never complete an Ironman. 
As for the fittest, that depends on what you define as fittest I guess. I know many fat overweight but excellent distance swimmers, and only a few cyclists like that. I’m sure there’s a couple around but I certainly don’t know any fat overweight marathon runners so I’d give my vote to the marathon runner.
 

Cheers, thanks. I recall getting some lessons to improve my technique as I swam and had lessons for ages when I was young, but my technique is not good.

The woman giving lessons was also helping a guy who also wanted to finish an Ironman. He couldn't swim. At all. Massive respect to him learning to swim at age 40. You take for granted how hard it is to overcome the panic when you can can't swim. People fear, quite reasonably, that they will sink - and this fear causes the very sinking that you fear.

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15 hours ago, Andrew #1 said:

Many winners have come from a swimming background. Warren, Scott, Allen for starters, right through to ... Jan Frodono. Yep, the current IM champion and arguably the GOAT was a swimmer before later taking up triathlon in 2000. 
 

So, seems like you were wrong Peter.

I actually think the mental discipline of swimming 60-100km a week I a 25/50 metre pool stands swimmers in good stead for triathlon. Some swimmers just can’t run, but for those that can - they end up being the world, Olympic and Ironman champions. 

Many top triathletes have come from a swimming background just because you have to start swimming early (for most people)  if you want to become a great swimmer (and then triathlete). Run and even more bike are disciplines that allow for a later start, most kids not specialising before mid to late teens and doing other activities earlier instead (like team sports, etc).

So not sure you can say that Dave Scott didn't have a running background, he obviously was a great runner too.

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