It’s the sum total of all who participate in it from the greats of the sport to the people who will never be mentioned outside their circle of family and friends. A sport’s legacy is its soul and the measure by which it is gauged. Triathlon has been building its legacy for nearly forty years. 1-6-21-Infinity is my addition to that legacy. Let me explain.
In the summer of 2016 I received an email from Scott Zagarino who has been helping me craft some ideas for my coaching. His agency, The Scott Zagarino Agency, had been working on reviving many of the stories from my career that hadn’t been told in several decades. In the email were four numbers: 1-6-21-∞ (Infinity). Scott asked me to figure out what they represented. I looked at them. I contemplated them. Nothing came. Were they the date of the apocalypse or the location of some distant planet? I had no idea.
He said they are my resume from the sport. He explained. “ The ‘1’ represents when you became the first ever ITU Olympic Distance World Champion in 1989. ‘6’ is for your six IRONMAN World Championship victories. ‘21’ is the number of competitions you won consecutively without a loss from the end of 1988 until the spring of 1990 in races of all distances from Olympic to Ironman and includes a win at a Duathlon. Then the ‘Infinity’ is for when you were named “The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time” in a worldwide poll conducted by ESPN in 2012.”
Scott sent me those numbers not to give me a pat on the back but to highlight a piece of our sport’s legacy that came from my career. I often thought about what others had accomplished, but had never thought about my racing from any kind of legacy perspective. I had deep respect for Dave Scott and his six IRONMAN World Championship victories. Those were inspiration for me to strive to rise to that level myself. Paula Newby-Fraser and eight IRONMAN World Championship wins will likely go untouched until the end of time. That’s a huge chunk of triathlon legacy. Thinking of Natascha Badmann flying like the wind in each of her six IRONMAN World Championship titles always makes me smile. She inspired a generation of women with her performances. I witnessed first hand Simon Whitfield sprinting for gold in the closing meters of triathlon’s debut at Sydney 2000. It was a truly historic first outing for our sport in the Olympics. I’ve always been grateful for Bob Babbitt telling amazing stories about the icons as well as the unsung heroes in our sport. The list goes on.
I had not spent much time thinking about what I had done, though. Scott’s email got me to stop and reflect. That win in Avignon, France at the first ever ITU Olympic Distance World Championship was indeed something special. It was every top athlete from around the world coming together for the very first time to represent our countries and to race in a triathlon that set the stage for its inclusion in the Olympics eleven years later.
When I thought back on the Ironman in Hawaii I realized that my journey there had spanned the bulk of my adult life at that time. I suffered. I celebrated. But most importantly I’d been graced with being part of a time when triathlons really started to show its muscle and grow into a worldwide phenomenon.
My streak of twenty-one wins was not anything set in motion by some grand plan. I just did one race, then the next giving each one the best effort I had in me. It meant a lot looking back knowing I’d found a way to go short and go long and to embrace every corner of the sport with equal focus and enthusiasm. Yes, it looks like I was a long-distance specialist but I loved every distance I competed in!
Then came 2012 and the poll conducted by ESPN. A close friend contacted me when he saw I was in the running for “The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time”. I was with some heavyweights for sure! In the top five along with me were:
• Diana Nyad who is the only person to swim from Cuba to the US.
• Pam Reed, the outright winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon, twice!
• Bjorn Daehlie the 6-time winner of the Nordic World Cup.
• Patrick Makau who at the time was the world record holder in the marathon at a blistering 2:03:38.
Winning this honor was humbling. It spoke volumes about how the sport of triathlon had grown to be viewed. It wasn’t just people with power meters and heart rate monitors who knew what we were doing. This vote showed that triathlons had become the gold standard in endurance athletics against which everything else is measured. That’s its legacy. My resume is just one part of the amazing story our sport has to tell. It’s what I continue to bring to everyone through coaching at MarkAllenCoaching. The legacy of triathlon continues to grow with each race, each participant, with every volunteer, race director and fan cheering. 1-6-21-Infinity is a piece of that legacy I’m proud to have had the chance to add!
I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.