TriathlonLife: Looking back at Ironman California

TriathlonWorld.com recalls the first Ironman event in Oceanside, California, which took place in 2000.

| March 31, 2017 | RACES

Parts of the bike course used for Ironman 70.3 Oceanside are the same as on the original Ironman California course.

Parts of the bike course used for Ironman 70.3 Oceanside are the same as on the original Ironman California course.

Photo >Felix Rüdiger / letsmakeaplan.de

Anyone else care to admit that they remember when there was a full-distance race in Oceanside?

Believe it or not, Oceanside hosted the fourth Ironman event put on by Ironman North America, following Ironman Canada, which became an official Ironman event in 1986, Ironman Lake Placid and Ironman Florida, which both started in 1999. The first Oceanside event took place on May 20th, 2000.

California was a logical stop for Ironman and it made sense to start things off in San Diego. The first triathlon took place just up the road in Mission Bay in 1974. In the early years of the sport, San Diego, and the Southern California area, was the go-to spot for the sport’s best. During the 1980s all but one of the “big four” – Dave Scott, Scott Tinley, Mark Allen and Scott Molina – made San Diego their home. (You get a gold star if you correctly identified Dave Scott as the outlier – he lived in Davis, California.) Paula Newby-Fraser would ramp up her stellar career in San Diego, moving there from her home in South African/ Zimbabwe. Erin Baker spent enough time in the area to meet eventual husband Scott Molina. Canada’s Puntous twins, who took back-to-back first and second finishes in Kona in 1983 and 1984, spent much of their time in San Diego during the 80s, too.

As the sport grew even more in the 90s, San Diego didn’t enjoy quite the same name-dropping cache, but it did OK. Michellie Jones, Heather Fuhr and Greg Welch were just a few of the big names who would eventually become residents of the area. At some point virtually every pro in the sport would spend some time training and living there.

As he was looking to add new events to the Ironman fold, Lew Friedland, then president of the World Triathlon Corporation, the company that owned Ironman, was approached by the folks in the area. Since Graham Fraser, the owner of Ironman North America, had the first right of refusal to put on any Ironman events in North America, Friedland worked with him to start the new event, which took place on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base.

The Marines helped set up the swim course for that first event, which was measured to be exactly 2.4 miles. Unfortunately no one explained to the Marines that, despite the fact that the swim took place in the ocean, Ironman races had always been measured in regular miles. Athletes found the 2.4 mile nautical mile course to be appreciably longer than they were used to – Bryan Rhodes was first out of the water that day in 57:55, certainly the slowest swim of his career.

Chris Legh won the men’s title over Petr Vabrousek on the course that turned out to be as tough on land as it was in the water – only two people managed to break five hours on the bike. Heather Fuhr managed to make up 18 minutes on Nicole Deboom during the marathon to take the women’s title. (Jan Wanklyn managed to also get past Deboom to take second in the women’s race.)

Ironman California continued as a full-distance race in 2001, but in 2002 it was shortened to a half, which is the event we’ve now come to know as Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. (Up for another trivia answer? Denmark’s Torbjorn Sindballe and Germany’s Katja Schumacher won the first California Half Ironman.)