Ironman Legend Guest Speaker
Gordon Haller-Winner of the First Hawaii Ironman in 1978
Ironman Hall of Fame Member
Thursday, October 11, 2018, 1:00 p.m.
At the Royal Kona Resort, Alii Surf Ballroom
Ironman Training Then and Now: A Forty Year Perspective
Gordon Haller-Interviewed by Bob Babbitt
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of his First win,
Gordon will be racing in Kona in 2018!
Each year the Ironman Sports Medicine Conference is proud to feature an “Ironman Legend” to speak about his/her Ironman experience. For 2018 and the 40th Annivesary of the Ironman World Championship, we are honored to have Gordon Haller- the 1st Ironman Champion (1978) as our Ironman Legend Guest Speaker.
The First Ironman World Championship
As Gordon Haller approached the finish of the first-ever Ironman triathlon in 1978, he was running alone. There were no cheering throngs along the marathon route into Honolulu’s Kapiolani Park, no public-address announcer screaming his name and no TV cameras.
He just kept running quietly through the darkness toward the lights.
“I got there, crossed the finish line and there’s like three people there,” recalls Haller. “And one guy says, ‘Are you in the race?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘Well, you’re done.’ So that was it.”
Haller, now 67, laughs about the paucity of pomp. “It was a real exciting finish,” he jokes.
Haller, a 27-year-old Navy communications specialist at the time, was the first winner of what is now known as the Ironman World Championship. He completed the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike route and 26.2-mile marathon run on Oahu in 11 hours, 46 minutes, 40 seconds, more than a half-hour ahead of runner-up John Dunbar.
Now, triathlon is an Olympic and Paralympic sport in the mainstream of the endurance world, and the Ironman World Championship is known across the globe. When this year’s race is held on Oct. 11, it will draw nearly 2,200 athletes, far more fans and international media coverage.
But in 1978, just 15 athletes crashed into the water to start what was considered a bizarre fringe event. The entry fee was only $3, there were no aid stations and the race was so obscure that few paid attention to the athletes running through Honolulu and pedaling around the island.
Only 12 finished. Honolulu Advertiser sports writer Dick Fishback called the triathlon a “gut-buster” and far beyond what “most mortals” could do. The race began close to 7:30 a.m., with Haller finishing just after 7 p.m. Fishback compared Haller to TV’s “Bionic Man.”
Today, Haller lives in Bella Vista, Ark., and works as a program analyst at Walmart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville.
As an athlete, he’s far more than just the answer to a trivia question. Haller has completed 23 Ironman races and about 30 other triathlons of varying distances. He’s been back to do the Ironman in Hawaii 16 times (most recently in 2013) and has a career best of 10:58, set in 1980. He also does bike and road races, open-water swims and events of all kinds, including swim/run and bike/run races. Plus, he was on the three-man U.S. world championship team in the military pentathlon in 1981.
Still, he’ll be known for winning that first Ironman on Feb. 18, 1978. He and the other 14 entrants were attempting something that had never been done. He recalls the moments before the race, when he was standing next to an 11-year-old boy who was going to accompany him on a paddleboard during the swim.
“We looked out at the ocean and I said, ‘You think you can do this?’ And he turned to me and said, ‘You think you can?'” says Haller, laughing at the memory. “That part I remember well. And he did, and I did.”