Monday, October 5, 2009

Allen & Scott - Iron War 20 Years Later

In a little less than week, the focus of almost the whole triathlon world will once again be on Kona and the Ironman World Championships. Hard to believe that 20 years ago this year, Mark Allen and Dave Scott faced off in what has become affectionately known as the Iron War. Where does the time go.

The race in 1989 was high drama from the get-go. Scott was a 6-time winner at Ironman Hawaii and Allen had been vanquished, and defeated multiple times Ironman Hawaii, but was the winner at just about every other triathlon on the planet - including earlier that year, at the first ITU World Championships in Avignon, France. Allen and Scott swam, cycled and ran almost shoulder to shoulder until deep into the run that year and then on a slight uphill with about 2 miles to go in the marathon, Allen, through in a bit of a surge, and suddenly, Scott, Mr Invincible at Ironman Hawaii could not respond, and Allen opened up a gap and ran onto victory.

As time has gone on, what's become more extraordinary about that epic battle, beyond the titanic struggle that it was for both men, was the over-the-top times that both men did on that day. Allen won in 8:09. Scott was a minute back in 8:10. Greg Welch an amazing triathlete in his own right, who would go on to win Ironman Hawaii in 1994, was a distant 20 minutes back in 3rd place! What's even more amazing about Allen and Scott's times and performances from that day is that in 20 years, they have only been bettered by a one man, Belgian Luc Van Lierde who holds the course record from his win in 1996 in 8:04.

The 1989 Ironman Hawaii race, was my first Ironman. I recall three things from the day:

1. Bobbing in Kailua Bay prior to the starting wondering if I could really go that far. I hade been doing triathlons at a high level for a number of years by that point and had trained hard for that race, but bolting it all together in one day was still something that was somewhat scary.

2. As I was making my way out to the turn-around point on the run, which in those days was a giant blow-up Bud-Light can sitting in the middle of the Queen K Highway out past the Airport, Allen and Scott were making there way back towards the town of Kona and the finish line, I was nearly forced off the road from the entourage of people on bikes and other media vehicles following Allan and Scott along.

3. The third thing that I remember occured a few days after the race. My quads were an absolute mess. I could barely walk at all. At the Maui airport, I was designated to walk over to the rental car counter and get our car. As it turns out so was Mark Allen. Mark and I walked together in that ambling post-Ironman-blown-out-quads-shuffle. I said to him, "It seems win or loose, this race just knocks the heck out of your legs". Allan, grinned at me and said, "It's at times like this that you wonder why you do this"!

It's great to be back here this year, 20 years after the great Iron War of 1989. Strange, that in all the great athletes, and all the amazing races that have been raced here on this most famous of Ironman courses, there has never been a repeat of that audacious and extraordinary battle that Allen & Scott waged on that day. Both the woman's and the men's race fields are vary deep this year - the women in particular. Here's hoping that we have some of the same drama this Saturday on the Queen K Highway.


Simon said...

Hey Steve,

Were these guys just far and away the best athletes the sport has ever seen or have changes in coaching, diet and bike technology over the last twenty years just not been as meaningful as we think? Allen's average winning time (8:15) would have won 8 of the last 10 Ironmans! (That might answer the question)

Hope life is good!


Fleck said...

Hard to know. Most other sports at the elite level have seen a whole sale progression of times over the last 20 years - look at marathon running. 2:10 twenty years ago would have won you most marathons. Not today - you are almost right out of it with that sort of time.