U.S. NAVAL OFFICER (RETIRED)
John Collins is recognized as the developer of the world's most famous triathlon, the Hawaii Ironman. Collins had been stationed with the United States Navy near San Diego in 1974 and 1975. It was there that he participated in some of the early triathlons organized by the local running and biking community. When Collins was transferred to Hawaii in 1977, he and a group of local athletes, including his wife Judy, discussed what type of athlete was the best, the toughest, and the fittest.
From those discussions, Collins developed the idea of combining the courses and distances of three existing Hawaiian races into one ultimate athletic challenge. The Waikiki Rough Water swim (2.4 m, or 4 km), the Around Oahu Bike Race (112 m, or 191 km), and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 m, or 42.2 km) were the distances combined by Collins into one event.
The first Ironman competition did not have this name when the race was held on February 18, 1978. Collins had declared prior to the race that, "Whoever finishes first we'll call the Iron man." Fifteen athletes took up the challenge and twelve, including Collins, were able to finish the race.
Collins placed a note in the race kits given to each of his entrants in 1978, a saying that was adopted and subsequently registered as a trademark for the Hawaii Ironman: Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life!
The Ironman went on to achieve considerable international media attention in the early 1980s as the world's toughest sporting challenge. It spawned an entire series of international qualifiers. More importantly, the Ironman and the shorter distanced triathlons became synonymous with the concept of cross training. The various events in the Ironman require distinct training methods; an athlete could not focus upon one of the three disciplines and expect to succeed.
The Ironman and triathlon boom of the 1980s and the 1990s also inspired the development of specialized clothing, such as wetsuits, as well as bicycles configured to permit easier operation and aerodynamic effect for the triathlete.
Collins has been inducted into both the Triathlon and the Ironman Halls of Fame located in San Diego.