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
Searching for Stardom
When people say that sport is “just a game” don’t believe them. Love is not just hanging out with someone that you like and raising a family isn’t just putting food on the table. Sport is more too.
by Scott Tinley
Ironman World Champion, 1982 & 1985
Ironman Hall of Famer; Triathlon Hall of Famer
I almost met the best Olympic triathlete in the world. The curly-headed, boy wonder, Alistair Brownlee was a kind of guest speaker at some Hall of Fame function; a blazingly-fast stand-in for the future present looking down on the seated and now-slowly fading stars from the past. He seemed genuinely pleased by the invite from a sea of old silverbacks. Brownlee, the Olympic gold medalist and top ranked star, might’ve hid his bemusement behind his school-boy smile and fresh prince of Leeds good looks. But the kid took his rightful place, said the right things in the right way and I went looking for him at the end of the night to say welcome. Never mind that he’d been a serious triathlete for over ten years. Away at school, I had missed that decade and wanted to catch up quickly by rubbing elbows with some kid younger than most of my own students. But alas, young Alistair had gone off to bed and I wasn’t about to wander around the hotel hallways looking to meet him.
The next day he walked onto the deck of the pool where I was swimming.
“There’s your boy now,” my lane mate chided me. “Go get an autograph.”
As I hopped out of the pool and made my way toward the ITU phenom, he headed towards the bathroom and I wasn’t about to follow him in there. After my swim, I sat by his lane, a mothering old coot waiting for a bit of pixie dust to help jumpstart my comeback. But the pasty punk never stopped to chat. Back and forth, back and forth he swam as if his workout was more important than my star-gazing.
I admired the little shit even more.
I’m glad for many things about sport here in America. I like the way it offers youth a way to express themselves in physical ways, to learn just a few of life’s lessons on how to get along, how to treat people with respect, regardless of color, class, gender or age. I like that sport makes people feel better about knowing themselves; the way it teaches them what they can and cannot do. I like the way sport will often refuse easy-to-digest labels, the way it can surprise and delight in a world that is in dire need of both. I like the way sport shapes and colors human flesh into something quite alluring and attractive. I like sports because they’re fun.
I like sport because on some level, it’s become a substitute for war. Or at least we hope it has. I think that even martialed nation-states that will inspire a Fatwa over a bad joke would rather settle the score on the playing fields than the killing fields. Sometimes I like sports because they hurt. If they were entirely comfortable they wouldn’t feel so good when you’re done. I like sports because my friends like them.
I like to play sports but realize that more people enjoy watching than participating. Sometimes I wrestle with this notion but then I realize that it’s true for many of life’s more enjoyable activities, physical and otherwise. People are by nature, voyeuristic. I hope they’re at least learning something.
As much as I appreciate all that the act of play has to offer, it’s become increasingly hard to do it—play that is. Most sports cost money now. More than some people have to spend. There is a growing trend toward the privatization of youth sports. Even within public schools, sports are considered a luxury that parents must pay for if they want their kids to having a chance at success, however defined. That causes all sorts of problems. From exclusion to the vicarious living of self-entitled parents, we’d be better off if play was free. Why does it cost $500 for a twelve year old to race his classmates around a dirt track in a borrowed singlet? That trend in sport bothers me.
I hope Alistair Brownlee along with his little bros, Jono and Eddie, buys thier parents a nice house for schlepping them to a thousand swim and track meets. Even if they rode their bikes most of the time.
I don’t like the continued use of sport to tout patriotic ideologies. With our expanding global economies you’d think nationalism would’ve died off by now. But I guess some people are just so proud of where they live they have to rub it in the faces of people who live in poverty and grit. Fortunately, we don’t see much grandstanding in endurance sports. Marathons are rarely on TV and the Kenyans are a quiet, reticent lot. Africa isn’t rich but it’s proud and beautiful. And if some kid from Germany or Mozambique wants to wave his flag on Alii Drive, that’s cool. But I hope he knows his country’s history and from whence that flag was born.
Yep, I wish that more professional athletes finished college before they became subjected to their commodification. I don’t like that the world’s best athletes have been reduced to entertainers and corporate sandwich boards. That one is especially hard to swallow because I ate from its deli tray. Glass houses and all that.
And where are our redoubtable heroes these days? The men and women who fit the folkloric definition and re-cast the ancient myths? Some days they visit sport, others they are like ghosts from the past, trying to whisper something over the rising noise. I wish sport had more Roberto Clementes and less Barry Bonds.
Even though I don’t watch sports on the tube, I realize that the attention-deficit media needs sport. And commercial sport needs them. That’s okay. I suppose there is some trickle-down effect that enables folks to play for the sake of nothing, even if at some other level, it means everything. I’ll still pay retail for my running shoes.
What I like the most about sport is that, for the most part, it’s fair. Sure, people cheat and create a morass of ethical chicanery but damn if it ain’t a lot better than other societal institutions. I like knowing that I deserved to win or lose, and that the stronger person won and the weaker lost. It offers some clarity on a tortuous path that’s lined with fallacious promises of everything from better sex to bigger cars. I like that truth can be found in sport.
I don’t gamble but I understand why fantasy sport is a mega-million dollar (and rising) industry. It’s good to be king, even if your world is populated with avatars. I believe in ritual and ceremony but never had a favorite pair of socks I had to race in. I’ll never write a diet book but know that the world’s population is not meant to fit on, nor be selected for the cover of Cosmo. I like the way sport has helped me to understand people.
When people say that sport is “just a game” don’t believe them. Love is not just hanging out with someone that you like and raising a family isn’t just putting food on the table. I like that sport is a kind of life.
An athlete is a good person to be. Even if you’re no good at the game.
A-Star Brownlee for Prime Minister!
Click on star to vote