"Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life" (this statement is now a registered trademark of IMNA)! That was what Commander John Collins said about the first Ironman Triathlon back in 1978. It all started on the island of Oahu as a discussion of who was the fitter athlete. John Collins pointed out that a recent article in Sports Illustrated magazine had declared that Eddy Merckx, the great Belgian cyclist, had the highest recorded "oxygen uptake" of any athlete ever measured, so perhaps cyclists were more fit than anyone.
This started a big debate among several athletes as far as who was fitter. Cmdr. John Collins suggested the debate should be settled through a race combining the three existing long-distance competitions already on the island: the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 mi./3.85 km), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (115 miles; originally a two-day event) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 mi./42.195 km). By shaving 3 miles off the course and riding counter-clockwise around the island, the bike leg could start at the finish of the Waikiki Rough Water and end at the Aloha Tower, the traditional start of the Honolulu Marathon. Collins said, "Whoever finishes first, we'll call him the Iron Man." Each of the racers had their own support crew to supply water, food and encouragement during the event.
Of the fifteen men to start off in the early morning on February 18, 1978, twelve completed the race. Gordon Haller was the first to earn the title Ironman by completing the course, with a time of 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 58 seconds.
The Ironman was moved to the Big Island in 1981 and has been held there every October since.