As the sport of triathlon gained in popularity Scott turned pro in 1983. Between those early years and his move back to the amateur ranks in 1999, Tinley competed in over 400 triathlons, winning close to 100 of them, making him one of the top three winning triathletes of all time.
He won the Ironman World Championship twice (1982, 1985) and the Ironman World Series three times. He was inducted into both the Triathlon and Ironman Hall of Fame upon retirement in 1999.
Near the end of his professional career he helped found and develop the sport of offroad triathlon and continues to co-own and manage the longest running offroad triathlon in the world, Scott Tinley’s Adventures in San Luis Obispo, California.
Scott Tinley's Website
Scott Tinley - Untold as Yet: Part Uno
The sport of triathlon is rife with untold stories of chicanery and altruism, deviousness and grace.
by Scott Tinley
Ironman World Champion, 1982 & 1985
Ironman Hall of Famer; Triathlon Hall of Famer
My little brother, Jeff, and I ride side by side at mile eighty. It was Ironman in the fall of 1982 and we chatted about the weather, our wives, and how Dave Scott could possibly be putting time on us.
--How far was he ahead out of the water?
--Couple of minutes anyway.
--You think we’ll catch him on the run?
--Naw. He’s still pissed about the race in February. Reckon he’ll win by 20 minutes.
--No big deal. Guy deserves it. Hey, you ever think that you’ll be the only guy who was the Ironman champ for only seven months?
--Could be a tough record to break.
In the spring of 1982, Ironman owner and race director, Valerie Silk, opted to move the event from its February slot to the fall. The reason was to give those from colder or northern climes the ability to prepare before the snow fell. My first reaction was that it would mess with my summer vacation. I’d won the February race handily over Big Dave but knew that he was jonesing for a win-by-slaughter to make it clear that he was the best. And three quarters of the way through the bike he was well on his way to a career of kicking ass.
Jeff and I kind of rolled through the hills below Kawaihae in our white spandex skin suits. Everything was different after the summer of 1982. Prize money had been introduced at the United States Triathlon Series. Five hundred for first, two fifty for second, gas money for third. We were going to be pros. I looked ahead and couldn’t see anyone in front. No cyclists, no media, no officials, no local bruddhas headed to the harbor to fish for dorado with coolers of Primo in the boot of their Datsun B 210s. I looked behind us and all I saw was that endless strip of black asphalt framed by the hell of pahoehoe lava. Far as I could tell, Jeff and I were the only ones in the race. Maybe the only people on the Kohala Coast.
--I’m kind of looking forward to getting off this bike. What about you?
--Yeah, my ass has been hurting since May.
--You wanna go for a jog when we get back to town?
--Why not? I’d like to deepen that Hawaiian tan so that it’ll carry me into the spring. You have any baby oil in the room?
An early model Ford Econoline van pulls alongside. Its side doors are open and there is a guy lying on the floor of the van taking pictures of us. Cool, we’re going to be on the cover of Rolling Stone or Triathlete Magazine or West Hawaii Today. The van slows and the guy leans out to gain some kind of ground level POV shot. Just a little closer he tells his driver and then oops, he leans too far and finds himself rolling on the Queen K Highway. The diver is dropping F bombs and my brother and I look at each other like WTF just happened.
--We gotta stop. The guy could be dead.
--What about the race?
--We’re not racing. We’re just following Dave to the finish line.
--Man, I quit the paramedic gig fourteen months ago. Seen enough of the human insides on the outside to last into four futures.
--Yeah but it will look good when we ride back into town with blood all over our white spandex skin suits.
--Good point. Let’s stop.
Just then the cavalry charges over the hill and there are three Honda Gold Wings and a couple of rusty station wagons and the photographer is standing up and picking gravel out of his cheek wondering if anyone had a Primo. Let’s get on with it, Bro. Did I tell you my ass has been hurting since May?
A few weeks later, safely back at my jay-oh-bee, my brother is over it. Dude, you just got third at the Ironman.
--But I spent $424.18 I didn’t have. I’m so broke I can’t spend the night. Time to get a jay-oh-bee. Move inland. Pay taxes.
--Copy that. But I think I’m gonna start swimming with a Masters group and look for a sponsor. At least get some shit at wholesale.
Four months later the mythical sponsor appears. But it’s a devil in disguise and I stand at the crossroads and choose the wrong thing for the right reason. Jerry David Dominelli and his partner, Nancy Hoover, are triathlon’s first sugar daddies and mammas. Dominelli is a low brow commodities trader who conjures an accidental rep as a currency trading genius. The house of cards is all Ponzi built on the greed of those who covet the fabricated monthly returns averaging between 4% and 5%...uh, per month. He spreads other people’s money around town as if it’s his to spread. Hoover is a gregarious divorcee who knows everyone who’s anyone. Her son, George is interested in triathlon. Shazaam, some of the best triathletes in the world are offered stipends of between $500 and $800 per month. Mark is in. Molina is in. Kathleen McCartney is in. We count our blessings, cash the checks, and train our butts off. It’s one big happy family that pushes endurance ideology into unknown realms. We rock. Nancy thinks we need to upgrade the sport. Find a place to put some prize money, she tells me. Make it a nice place. And order blue blazers for everyone with the Team JDavid logos on the pocket. I call up Barry Frank, of IMG, and the co-founder of the Nice Triathlon. Frank was one of the gurus of sports television and he and I are friends from NBC Sports’ Survival of the Fittest, an early reality show referred to back then as “trash sports.” Barry co-invented Survival along with such products as World’s Strongest Men and Superstars. We cannot be more different but we like and respect each other. Barry had sent me to Monte Carlo in the spring of 1982 to design the most exotic triathlon in the world. Don’t worry about anything, Barry tells me, least of all money. He can make it happen.
I came back with the TriCountry Triathlon. We would swim from a large yacht anchored off Monte Carlo into the lovely shore. Ride our bikes to nearby pastoral Italy and run back to the finish on the Cote d’Azur Southern France. Frank loved it. The networks were fighting for it. The top 50 triathletes in the world were losing sleep over the invitation list. And then Monaco’s Princess Grace Kelly, the American actress who was swept off her feet by Prince Rainier, died on September 13 of 1982 while driving the Corniche in her Rover P6. Monaco placed a six month moratorium on all sporting events in reverence. The race was homogenized and moved down the street to Nice, France. Shit happens.
--Barry, I have a little proposition. My sponsor, Team JDavid, is concerned that the run distance for the 1983 Nice event is uh…a little too hard.
--You know as well as I, Tinley, that the networks think that any run distance less than a marathon is for pussies. I can’t sell a watered-down Ironman.
He’s right, of course, but Ironman has no prize money (and won’t for another three years). Nice is offering a $25,000 purse. It’s top heavy too, something like $10,000 to win. Almost my yearly income in 1983. Barry, what if Team JDavid doubles the prize money? A check for $25K and let’s make the run 20 miles instead of 26.2. Work with me, Barry. You in?
Done. I’m suddenly a sports agent with an undergraduate degree in Leisure Management.
Six months later we all discover that Dominelli and maybe some of his lieutenants are crooks. Team JDavid Triathlon Team is a PR prop used to sell falsity. My wife and I had personally invested every penny of our very meager savings into the firm. We’ll be okay. We’re young and can get it back. But hundreds of elderly retirees are looking at cat food dinners and food stamp futures. It’s a blow to my high idealism and the first rung on my path towards cynicism.
The sport of triathlon is rife with untold stories of chicanery and altruism, deviousness and grace. Time to chase a few more skeletons from the closet.
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