Gordon Haller '72: The Inaugural Ironman

Gordon Haller IllustrationFive dollars is a small price to pay for a place in history.

That was the entry fee for the first “Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon” in 1978. Fifteen men paid $5 to race the combined 2.2-mile route of the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the 112 miles of the Around Oahu Bike Race and the 26.2-mile course of the Honolulu Marathon.

Among them was a Pacific University Boxer who emerged as the first Ironman champion, Gordon Haller ’72.

A competitive swimmer and runner during his time at Pacific, Haller was already an accomplished marathoner when he toed the line in Honolulu that February (he had run a time of 2 hours, 27 minutes in the 1977 Marine Corps Marathon). He won that first Ironman in a time of 11 hours, 46 minutes, 58 seconds.

The goal wasn’t to win but simply to finish. “We weren’t that serious about it,” Haller told Men’s Health magazine in 2018. “Technically, it wasn’t a race, except for a couple of us who decided to make it one.”

Haller chased down a fellow Navy friend, John Dunbar, to win the first title. After coming out of the water in eighth place, Haller made up eight minutes during the bike phase with the fastest ride of the 15 competitors at 6 hours, 56 minutes. Haller caught Dunbar at mile 21 of the marathon and completed the distance in 3 hours, 30 minutes.

Today, Haller ranks as the first in a line of champions in one of the world’s most famous endurance races. A total of 4,694 athletes finished the 2022 edition of the Ironman World Championships, now contested on the island on Hawai’i. The men’s winner, Gustav Iden of Norway, blazed through in a record time of 7 hours, 40 minutes, 24 seconds, more than four hours faster than Haller’s inaugural victory time.

Forty-five years after winning the first Ironman, Haller continues to compete. Now residing in Arkansas, Haller was inducted into the Ironman Hall of Fame in 2003 and returned to Kona in 2018 for the race’s 40th anniversary.

While Haller appreciates his place in triathlon history, he is just as happy in his anonymity when he competes in races now.

“Very, very few people know who I am,” Haller told Triathlete magazine in 2018. “I do feel a connection (to current triathletes). Well, almost a disconnection, especially on the bike when they go by me so fast.”

Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023