SI Vault
Gall, Divided Into Three Parts
Dan Levin
October 10, 1983
One must be bold indeed to even try the triathlon's killer mix of swimming, cycling and running
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 10, 1983

Gall, Divided Into Three Parts

One must be bold indeed to even try the triathlon's killer mix of swimming, cycling and running

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

In an age seemingly preoccupied with total body fitness, many swimmers are frowning down at flaccid thighs, as if seeing them for the first time. Cyclists, hunched over and locked in their toe clips, are yearning to breathe free occasionally. Bored runners, arms nearly vestigial, are finding their high to be not so high anymore. For whatever reason—because they are selectively fit and want to achieve totality, or are totally fit and want to prove it—ever increasing numbers of athletes are entering triathlons, those nonstop swim-bike-run phenomena of recent years.

Cut to the French Riviera, where the Nice World Triathlon Championships were held one Saturday last month. The 206 men and 15 women at Nice were competing for $75,000 in prize money, the most ever for a triathlon. The male and female winners would each take home a record $10,000, and as race day drew near one marveled at how far the sport had come since 1978. Was it really only five years ago that the first Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon was held? Twelve men survived a 2.4-mile swim through the enormous Pacific swells, stumbled ashore on Oahu to cycle for 112 more miles and then hopped, or fell, from their bikes to run a marathon.

In the first nine months of 1983 more than 200,000 Americans—girls next door, lepidopterists, even dentists—completed more than 1,000 triathlons. There were ultradistance events like the Ironman, and "sprint" races with 1.2-mile swims, 25-mile bike races and nine-mile runs. Nice would be a middle-distance race, with a 1.8-mile swim in the turquoise Mediterranean, a 75-mile bike race through the roller-coaster foothills of Les Alpes-Maritimes and an 18-mile run in the heat of a very hot day.

Now the starting clock was counting down. Most of the world's best triathletes stood waiting by the Baie des Anges, lined up like so many Michelangelo statues. None was more stunningly proportioned than three of the favored men: Mark Allen, winner of last year's Nice race, a relative newcomer with the right stuff; Scott Molina, scourge of the sprint distances; and Dave Scott, a specter to Allen and Molina, whose starting line chatter about "Dave" seemed like the last words of condemned men. Allen had never beaten Scott; Molina had beaten him only once, in a sprint race this summer. Last May, in Florida's Gulf Coast Triathlon, Scott had trailed them both through the 1.5-mile swim, the 62-mile bicycle leg and half of the 13.9-mile run. Then he left them panting in his dust. The previous October, in the sixth Ironman, which is, in effect, the world championship, Scott and Allen were neck and neck in the bike leg. No one else was close. Allen wore the look of cool composure for which he has become famous, and then, suddenly, a piece of the rear derailleur on his bike fell off, ending his day. Scott went on to win the Ironman for the second time, setting a record for the course. Winning an Ironman—merely finishing one—is an act of raw courage and athletic virtuosity. Winning two, as only Scott has done, is a feat for the ages.

Scott is an unusually handsome young man with teeth so white and large that he sometimes seems about to break into a grin when, in fact, his lips are merely parted. But on this morning in Nice he wasn't noticeably more fit than many of the other Adonises and Aphrodites around him. He is a very lean 6'1", 163 pounds, cookie-cutter standard for men in his sport. Allen is 6 feet and 152, and Molina 6 feet and 150, but Scott has extra sinew and width across the calves, in part from the 60 to 70 miles that he runs each week. He has the thighs of a serious cyclist, with enough tautness and breadth in the quadriceps to suggest the weekly 400 miles that he rides. And he has an upper body forged by calisthenics, work with free weights and a weekly 30,000 yards of swimming—a roundness in his pectorals and deltoids and well-defined ridges of muscle between his chest and waistline. In short, he's the classic male triathlete.

But Scott doesn't sit home and gloat over his physique. His workouts have always been so rigorous that they are legendary, in the real sense of the word; none of the other top triathletes ever sees him train. Most, including Allen and Molina, live in the San Diego area, where the elite triathlon community is one big support group and where the sunny climate facilitates training. Scott lives and trains in Davis, Calif., 65 miles east of San Francisco, a place of wintry gusts, driving spring rains and blasting summer heat. Much of his work is solitary, and he seems to draw strength from his aloneness. He's very modest, slightly shy at times, with a gently self-mocking sense of humor. But one day not long ago he laughed and said, "You know why I live up here? Because the weather stinks. Those other guys are soft. They're not hungry, and they know what to expect from each other."

Another aspect of the Scott legend concerns his dietary habits, the hours-long meals, the waitresses staggering to his side beneath the weight of overloaded trays. People are always saying things like, "Were you there the night Dave ate 17 bananas—for an appetizer?" When Scott gets the munchies, the kitchen cupboards all but implode. He has to eat that way. His typical 6½-to 8½-hour day of training burns up 5,500 to 6,000 calories, and he refuses to eat most high-calorie foods. He's convinced that endurance athletes perform best on a diet high in complex carbohydrates—no controversial view—and low in protein and fat. He believes excess fat in the diet is a leading cause of cancer and heart disease. He believes it so strongly that when he eats at home he rinses low-fat cottage cheese in a strainer to try for no-fat cottage cheese, and he sticks to a vegetarian diet when possible, eating no sugar and downing stupefying quantities of fruit, vegetables, brown-rice cakes and bean curd.

Scott wasn't able to find rice cakes or bean curd in Nice, so he ordinarily ate local fruit and bread in his little hotel room. He was staying at The Mercure—clean but Spartan. Allen and Molina and most of the 25 other San Diego triathletes were at the Hotel Negresco, described by an American Express travel brochure as a "vast white wedding-cake palace...temple to Edwardian grandeur."

One day Scott was exploring a dark, narrow street and found the only vegetarian restaurant in Nice, the Auberge In, where he ate on the eve of the race. The waitress spoke some English, so she understood when Scott said, "Your largest salad, please." Then Scott began running his finger down the menu. "I'll have this..." he said, tentatively. The waitress nodded and moved toward the kitchen. "And this..." She turned back toward him. "And this, two of this and three of this." She stopped writing, thinking herself the butt of a joke.

"No, really," Scott assured her. "And I'll have another salad, too."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6