Ironman Is Worth a Staggering Amount. He Wanted His Piece

Inside the financial fight over the storied triathlon
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 19, 2019 12:23 PM CST
Updated Feb 24, 2019 9:41 AM CST
Ironman Is Worth a Staggering Amount. He Wanted His Piece
A shot from Nice, France, taken June 22, 2013.   (Getty Images)

The Ironman sports empire is owned by China's Dalian Wanda Group, which purchased it in 2015 for $650 million. Writing for the New York Times, John Branch flags an odd financial fact: "None of the people there at the creation of the event made any money from its success." In a lengthy piece, Branch explains who did, who doesn't seem to care, and who battled unsuccessfully to get his slice. As for the who did: Wanda bought it from Providence Equity, which bought it in 2008 from World Triathlon (rumored price $50 million-plus), which bought it from Valerie Silk and her business partner for around $3 million in 1989. How Silk came to be in control of the race is the stuff of legend: John Collins started the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon in 1978 but the Navy reassigned him to the mainland shortly thereafter. As he was leaving in October 1979, he drove a box of paperwork to Silk and her then-husband, Hank Grundman.

They owned some Nautilus fitness centers, and Collins believed they'd make the third instance of the race happen. Silk, then 29, did, handing the clubs to her husband and serving as race director, growing it into a triathlon that by 1982 had 850 participants. Collins expresses no regrets about not profiting from the race. The man who does is John Dunbar, who came in second the first two times it was held. The reason why—and why he battled Silk in court for years—is because of the original rule book Collins made. Rule 8 read that the event was to be sponsored by the participants, who each paid a $5 entry fee, and who "will join the 'Iron Man Triathlon Organizing Committee' as a condition of entry." It was a liability-minded rule: If anybody decided to sue over a mishap, they'd be suing themselves. But Dunbar's take was that he owned a share of Ironman. Read Branch's piece in full to see how it played out. (More Longform stories.)

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