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Male triathletes: the 10 greatest ever

Just who is the greatest male triathlete of all time, long-course and short-course? We have discussed, debated and argued, and finally come up with these 10. Do you agree?

1. Mark Allen

Fellow six-time Kona champ Dave Scott may have the edge in their Hawaii showdowns, but it’s for Allen’s other triathlon victories that secures him the best in history title over Scott. 

Back when the race was one of the three biggest triathlons in the world, Allen won the Nice Triathlon in France on 10 consecutive occasions. Number three on that list was Powerman Zofingen, which Allen also won in 1993. The Californian would also win the debut ITU World Championships in 1989 by over a minute, proving he could cut it at short-course racing as well.

Born in 1958 in California, Allen showed glimpses of athletic promise in his youth, but it wasn’t until he witnessed a highlights package of Ironman Hawaii that the triathlon bug bit. And hard. It was February 1982 and the year when college student Julie Moss’ famous crawl to the finish line. The event brought tears to Allen’s eyes, and he signed up for the next edition of the race in October 1982.

Allen failed to finish that first venture on the lava fields of Hawaii but soon began to make inroads in Hawaii, finishing fifth in 1984 and taking second in 1986. The winner each time? Fellow Californian Dave Scott.

The rivalry came to a head in 1987 with some pre-race sparring in the media that continued throughout the race, with Allen tapping Scott’s heels on the swim. After 26km of the marathon, Allen had created a 4:30min lead before hitting the wall, succumbing to walking pace by kilometre 35, when Scott passed him on the other side of a TV truck. Allen finished second and would require medical treatment post-race after internally bleeding during the run. The 1988 Kona was one to forget for Allen (two punctures) and Scott (knee troubles), with another Big Four member, Scott Molina, taking the title. The stage was set for a titanic battle in 1989.

The 13th edition of Ironman Hawaii took place on 14 October and, as in 1987, the pair were pretty much inseparable for the duration. As a man who trusts the intangibles more than most, Allen cites an unusual source of inspiration behind his victory. ‘At the half marathon point, I was ready to just give up. I’d been there six times before and never won, and now it was looking like Dave would continue his string of victories. But then I recalled the image of a 110-year-old Huichol Indian shaman, Don José Matsuwa. He had a peaceful but powerful look that said, ‘I’m happy just to be alive’. And suddenly, I was just happy to be racing side-by-side with the best guy in the world!’ At 37km of the run Allen made his move to produce a 2:40hr marathon to smash Scott’s Kona record by 20mins.

Bob Babbitt soon christened the race Iron War; entire books were devoted to the showdown and the duo are routinely being asked about it over 25 years later. Allen would go on to match Scott’s record of six Ironman World Championship titles, establishing another Kona record with his 8:07hr finish time in 1993 and taking his final Hawaii title in 1995 in another epic showdown, this time with the German Thomas Hellriegel.

Career highlights

Ironman World Champion, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995 (220 named Allen 3rd greatest Kona athlete of all time)

ITU World Championship winner, 1989

10 x Nice Triathlon winner

Powerman Zofingen winner, 1993

Some of the copy here comes from Matthew Baird's 'Triathlon: A tribute to the world's greatest triathletes, courses and gear' from Aurum Press and available here


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