2014 Ironman World Championship: Dave Scott recalls 1989 ‘Ironwar’

Dave Scott isn’t fond of the “legend” label that usually precedes his name during introductions, but few other words could describe his contributions to the sport of triathlon.

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Dave Scott isn’t fond of the “legend” label that usually precedes his name during introductions, but few other words could describe his contributions to the sport of triathlon.

Scott — who earned the nickname “The Man” for his gutsy performances and six Ironman World Championship titles (1980, ’82, ’83, ’84, ’86, ’87) — dominated the early days of Ironman. He also was the first inductee into the Ironman Hall of Fame, and can still make grown men’s palms sweat when approaching him for autographs on two-decade-old magazine covers.

“People can comment on the history how they perceive it,” Scott said with a patented grin. “I think ‘legend’ is a little bit pretentious. People say that because we have history in the sport now, and it is a nice element, but to put that tag on yourself is a little silly.”

25th anniversary

While Scott has remained a fixture in the sport, his Ironman heroics have been magnified this year with the 25th anniversary of “Ironwar,” the 1989 race between him and rival Mark Allen — the only other man to win the Kona world championship race six times (1989-93, ’95). Allen edged Scott by 59 seconds for his first title that day, and both men crushed the previous course record in a race that most consider the greatest race in endurance sports’ history.

“People say it was a legendary race, or that we are legends, but at the time, it was merely a race where I had a formidable foe,” Scott said. “A question I always get is, ‘Did you fear Mark? Were you scared of him coming into the race?’ The answer is, absolutely not. I had great respect for him, and the only fear I would develop was if I had the capability to push myself far enough.”

For Scott, history is all about perspective. Even now, he is still learning new things about that day.

“Mark and I didn’t talk about that race until 10 or 12 years after that,” Scott said. “I still look at him sort of dumbfounded when I hear his perspective, because I had my own from that day.”

Scott heard about the race that would propel him to superstar-level in 1979, when the now infamous Sports Illustrated article on Ironman was published. He also heard whispers about the race at the Waikiki Roughwater swim on Oahu — which he won twice.

“(Ironman co-founder) John Collins gave me a flier and said, ‘You ought to do this thing.’ I looked at it and saw a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run and turned to him and said, ‘That’s a long three days,’” Scott said. “That moment planted the seed though. To know there were people doing that distance in one day was amazing to me.”

Scott said he did his first marathon just a few months before the 1980 race and even staged a mock triathlon to train for the trip.

“I wanted to do it as hard as I could,” Scott said. “It was not about the survival skill that so many people talk about. It was always a game — always a race, to me.”

While Scott’s athletic prowess was undeniable, his mentality set him apart from the pack.

“I never thought it would take X amount of time,” Scott said. “I broke each components down and made it a race within the race. I still give that advice today to athletes. Don’t look at the enormity of the race. If you think you have gone 2 miles on the bike and have 110 more to go, that is going to make it a very long day.”

The sport was in its infancy during Scott’s title runs. Heavier bikes littered the Queen Kaahumanu Highway and athletes were looking for cutting-edge nutritional advice to gain an edge.

Scott tells the story about a goo-like substance made from corn starch athletes used in the ’80s that he described as “liquid-like butter you could stick to the wall,” but said he found a lot of success with fiber-filled figs.

Figuring it out

“Figs worked great for me, but when I suggested it other people, they would be jumping into bushes every 2 miles on the run. I thought I was smart and giving people good advice, but a lot of it is science-based and the science back then was, honestly, not very good,” said Scott, who has a background in exercise physiology. “Thirty years later there has been an enormous amount of research and it has changed a lot.”

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While some things have changed, Scott still makes it a point to make his annual trip to Kailua-Kona. All these years later, when the familiar sound of the start cannon goes off Saturday morning in Kailua Bay, it will likely rally some emotions for Scott.

“It was a magical time for me out on that course because I had to draw from every reservoir to cross the finish line,” Scott said. “I think everyone who has done this race knows the internal pride that comes with it. It’s a tough race. A tough one to win, and an even tougher one to repeat at. I was fortunate enough to do it six times.”