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
Why it’s so hard for us to talk about losing at a simple game? Sports are supposed to be about building positive character, supposed to be about fairness, equality, and striving for excellence.
by Scott Tinley
Ironman World Champion, 1982 & 1985
Ironman Hall of Famer; Triathlon Hall of Famer
I can't help it about the shape I'm in
I can't sing I ain't pretty and my legs are thin
Don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to
- From Oh Well by Fleetwood Mac
Few people in sport like to talk about their failures—the missed opportunities, the ones that got away, the complete FUBARs. It ain’t as much fun as bragging on the wins and trophies and free ice cream for a week that come with victory. Losing is silent. Sloughed off to some mutable funeral of the head and heart. Nobody marches into their homes at night beaming about how the cross town rivals mopped the floor with them.
Hi Mom. Hi Sis. Hello Junior. How was your day? We got our ass kicked in the game. Totally embarrassing. Looked like hell. Hey, what’s for dinner? Any ice cream in the freezer?
Our victories gush like Tokyo Rose. Losing is as silent as Enola Gay.
The Everyman Athlete is conditioned by The Professional to avoid any admittance of non-success. Here’s Johnny QB or Mary All-State explaining their failure to win some color of metal, excuses dripping from toothpaste smiles, the politics of meritocracy taking hold. If-onlys and would-ifs run rough shod over the cold hard truth of failure. Dubious correctives standing in for “geez, I really messed up today.”
We’ll, if I would’ve hit the 8th iron; if I would’ve changed my lens color to amber; that burrito wasn’t sitting well with me; my chi just wasn’t aligned with Mars.
And when we do bear witness to the suspended sadness of athlete failure, it usually comes in two ways—self-loathing guilt or the well-produced apologia.
In the first case, self-sorry might drip down our skull like motor oil, a viscous liquid seeking purchase on what rents and seams might absorb our failures. We feel guilty for failing to win, for failing to return with the golden goose.
The losers, the 2nd placers, didn’t winners; let-us-downers feel the effects of a disease called social hyper-competitivism (SHC). It’s a dangerous malady this SHC, and at the root of related problems ranging from bullying to child abuse to corporate piracy.
The other public display of sports failures is seen in the grand mea culpa, that “I’m really sorry, I’m human, I’m entering rehab, so please keep buying my jerseys” made necessary when the extended lie is exposed.
Hidden within these emotionally-rehearsed requests for a second chance are glimpses of why it’s so hard for us to talk about losing at a simple game. Remorse and regret are run up the flag pole for the world to see and judge. I’d imagine sitting down with Oprah as difficult as winning 7 Tour de Frances. Sports are supposed to be about building positive character, supposed to be about fairness, equality, and striving for excellence. And a display of victory is testament that sport has done its thing. But to admit you did not win and to own that claim in its entirety is to indict the hypercompetitive aspect of sport. And I’m afraid America still struggles with the very idea of not being the best at everything from chicken pot pies to political economies. We are a nation of winners. Always have been—early colonialists flipping the bird at Mother England. Hey, Old Boy, reckon we’re tired of being taxed for nada. No more checks in the mail. Come on over and try to collect if you have enough sack.
Thus we are conditioned to keep our less than bests under personal and public wraps. The over-cooked Thanksgiving turkey, Thalidomide, the Kardashians, Vietnam.
But what liberation to talk of loss? To embrace the experience without regard for the outcome. To realize that there can be great joy in not catching the biggest fish or selling the most magazine subscriptions. In the three (or was it four?) times I bridesmaided at Kona I felt a sense of deep personal loss. Where did that behavior come from, I would ask many years later. Why could I not feel as happy for myself as others felt for me? Was I the first loser or the first person who didn’t cross the finish line first? And now, I’d be quite happy with 2nd overall if not the 2nd person to finish just under 17 hours.
I’m no more intelligent 20 years later, no more socially well-adjusted. I just know how to lean into the world a bit better, my angle of attack or acceptance more appropriate for the moment.
# # #
During the comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s peak years, his go-to shtick was laced with wonderfully feigned I get no respectisms. His brutal self-effacing of his many and made-up inadequacies brought down houses. Fans loved Dangerfield in part because he said what many of them wanted to say. I’m no bronzed god or goddess. My legs are too skinny, my house too small, and my mortgage too large. I can’t hit a curveball, a three-pointer from the top of the key, or even one decent note from the Star Spangled Banner. I get no respect. But where Dangerfield won over his audiences was when he owned those perfectly human imperfections. For Dangerfield, if he couldn’t find respect from the world, he was going to find it from within. He would alter his lean into the world. Be okay with his frailties.
Social media now allows us to Photoshop our imperfections. Our dating service dossier claiming a 7 summit bag, an abbreviated career as a cage fighter, and a runner up slot in the Miss Orange County contest. There are times when I wonder if we don’t start to believe our own manufactured successes. Just a few years ago I jokingly lied about my age. And then a day came when I actually couldn't remember if I was 32 or in fact, 33 years old.
But sport, when we allow, if not embrace its truth-telling traits, might re-mold our thoughts on the definitions of success, victory, and achievement. The very best all began in some age group. And if they are lucky, that’s where they will end up.
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