Defining moment: Julie Moss puts Ironman on the map with dramatic 1982 second-place finish

  • An athlete competes in the 1982 Ironman World Championship. (Bob Fewell/West Hawaii Today File Photo)

  • Triathletes compete in the swim of the 1982 Ironman World Championship. (Bob Fewell/West Hawaii Today File Photo)

  • Triathlete Julie Moss crawls to the finish line of the 1982 Ironman World Championship to finish in second place. (Bob Fewell/West Hawaii Today File Photo)

Editor’s note: While the sports world is shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, West Hawaii Today will look back every Tuesday at memorable sports moments on the Big Island.

When the Ironman World Championship was only a few years old and still trying to get its hold on the sports world, it was the 1982 race’s second-place finisher Julie Moss that crawled her way to the finish line to capture the world’s attention and move the race into the spotlight.

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The race on Feb. 6, 1982, was one of two Ironman World Championships held that year in Kailua-Kona, as the race was being set up to move from being held in the winter to the fall. Moss, now a veteran of the triathlon world, was then an under prepared college student who wanted to use her fascination with the annual race as a school research project. She was one of 50 women participants, out of a field of 585 total athletes.

So it was surprise to everyone when Moss found herself leading the women in the final miles of the race, during the 26.2 run.

As she neared the finish line, Moss’ body broke down and she collapsed four times while trying to reach the end. The triathlete had to finish the race crawling on her hands and knees and watch as Kathleen McCartney ran past her to secure the gold medal for the women’s division.

“Spasmodically, she staggered the 20 yards to the finish line as if the roar of the crowd was pushing her along,” West Hawaii Today contributing writer Bill Giese Jr. wrote in his Feb. 9, 1982, article on the race. “Again she tried to run the final steps but again she fell.

“Many of the spectators in the crowd appeared to be crying at the sight of the 23-year-old university student crawling on her hands and knees towards the finish line.”

McCartney’s final time was 11:09:40. Moss finished at 11:10:09.

“I unknowingly passed Julie and then I had to stop because I could not see where the finish line was,” McCartney told West Hawaii Today in 2018. “I was able to cross and then they put the medal around my neck. I had no idea what Julie was going through.”

The dramatic end was televised for the entire world to see, and it helped give the Ironman World Championship’s name the prestige it has today.

“At the time, we did not know the impact of that finish in 1982 was going to have,” Moss told West Hawaii Today in 2018. “But it let people see that you did not have to be a superwoman to do this race. You could be the girl next door who finds the will to get up when you fall.”

It wasn’t just the women who had a dramatic finish to that race. In the men’s division, Scott Tinley of San Diego, California, rallied from the 53rd position after the 2.4 mile swim to second during the 112 mile bike portion of the race. His first place finish was a record at the time, of 9:19:41. Tinley would again break the record time in 1985, when he finished in first at 8:50:54.

Tinley’s younger brother, Jeff, finished behind silver medalist Dave Scott for third place.

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“’It has to be the most dramatic finish ever,’ said race director Valerie Silk, who said afterwards she wanted to cry from so much pain and joy, exhaustion and frustration.”

Even now, with more than 40 years of the Ironman World Championship to reflect on, Moss’ 1982 finish is still at the top of the race’s defining moments.

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