"Never had an athlete struggled so graphically, so desperately, for such a long period of time in front of the camera as did Julie Moss," ABC's Jim Lampley later wrote in The Ironman Triathlon: The 25th Anniversary.
Since that race there's been discussion about what Moss's bravery meant to the event and to her. Ironman has a bifurcated heart. On one hand, it loves and rewards tough, masterly performers such as Scott. But the distance is so great, the elements so draining, that any participant's ordeal may become a weeping, bleeding affirmation of the power of human will. So Ironman also cherishes the survivor. And caught in that dichotomy is Julie Moss.
In going so hard for a win, Moss became a symbol of the other end of the spectrum, a crawling, piteous object, not of boundless energy but of total expenditure. She hated that. "It took me a long time to own my image in that race," said Moss. "I represent something to people, but it's not about being an amazing athlete. It's about the personal qualities to not give up when things get really hard."
"I don't know if [Moss's finish] was our defining event," says Scott. "I resist that. That's what TV looks for. That angers me. It's a race, not a survival event."
As the best races do, it allows the sensible to outlast the neurotically driven, or even the overly emotional. For years Scott had defeated Mark Allen, an equal talent, but one given to expensive attempts at breaking away. Finally, in 1989, in Ironman's greatest battle, Allen stayed a few meters from Scott through the swim, bike and 24 miles of the run, waiting, waiting, when his every fiber screamed at him to go. "God, it was hard to reconcile myself to that," said Allen, but he was rewarded with the first of what would be six victories, in a record 8:09:15. Cheering him as he raced away over the last two miles was his fianc�e, Julie Moss. Who better to fear for him? Who better to exult?
Scott and Allen's only female peer has been Zimbabwe-born Paula Newby-Fraser. Between 1986 and '96 she won eight times and became the only woman to break nine hours, her best being 8:55:28 in '92. Notwithstanding Belgium's Luc Van Lierde's lowering the men's record to 8:04:08 in '96 and Switzerland's Natascha Badmann's winning four times between '98 and '02, no new plateaus have been summited since the big three.
On Saturday, after easing away from Badmann in the marathon to win by five minutes, Bowden arrived at the press conference hung with yards of royal maile leaves and crowned with roses and orchids.
"You're beautiful," cried Badmann.
Like most finishers, Bowden seemed almost bemused by this rare moment for an Ironwoman—coming to rest. But then she grabbed a greasy slice of pizza, her furnace kicked in again, and, asked whether she was going to cut down on racing, she said, "This event of ours is so long that you have to love it. I want to do more long ones, I really do."
Then she got up and began planning her training, thirst slaked, garlands around her neck, sailing on and on, on wings of perfect sanity.