Commander Collins had postponed the race one day, then had delayed the scheduled 7 a.m. start, afraid not only that someone might drown in the turbulent passage but that during the 112-mile bike segment a sudden squall might unseat a rider. Warren was thinking of the wind, too. He planned to use it to his advantage on the bike leg, figuring he could ride it down the entire back side of the island, using his body as a sail. For this purpose he had installed an unusually high gear on his bike. He hoped to leave the younger fellows like Haller and Dunbar so far behind that they never would recover.
With starting time near, German martial music blared from Dunbar's van as he changed from his Superman costume into swim trunks. At the water's edge, Cowman, wearing his horned hat, knelt before the ocean.
"How are conditions?" one of the competitors asked a spectator.
"Terrible," came the answer.
"Good," was the reply.
The contest rules stipulated that each swimmer be escorted by a paddler. Finding one certainly would be no problem, since it is assumed that any young able-bodied man in Hawaii can handle himself in water. Well, 40 minutes into the race one of the paddlers had to be rescued. Unfortunately, he was Jamie Neely, Haller's guide. Neely said he was sorry, but he really was afraid for his life.
Ocean swimming is not like swimming in a pool, where Haller had trained diligently for 12 months. Last year in calm seas he managed the ocean swim in about 80 minutes. This time he hoped to lop off 20 minutes, improve significantly in the other events and complete the contest in 10 hours or less. In Oregon a few weeks before, he did half a triathlon at a 9:12 overall pace. But now, without a paddler, navigation became as much a problem as the high, cold seas. As Haller zigzagged, trying to stay on course, his strength was being sapped, as if he were swimming in jelly.
First out of the ocean was Ian Emberson, a 27-year-old restaurant manager for a Honolulu hotel. His time was 62 minutes and 35 seconds, a pace of 2.3 miles per hour. For comparison, distance swimmer Lynne Cox averaged 2.1 miles per hour on her most recent English Channel (20-mile) swim. Old Tom Warren finished four minutes later. Then in quick succession John Dunbar and Mike Collins, son of the Commander, arrived. The 16-year-old Collins was so debilitated that it would take him 14½ hours to complete the bike ride. Dunbar was thoroughly chilled, his body shaking and his arms and legs flopping about uncontrollably. A tourist looked on worriedly and said, "Doesn't he need rest?" As Dunbar climbed on his bicycle to take after Emberson and Warren, Haller was still hidden somewhere back in the swells of the ocean.
After the early finishers scrambled out of the water, the mood of Haller's support crew grew somber. Lyn Lemaire, a 27-year-old Bostonian and the only woman competing, emerged at the 76-minute mark. At length the defending champion was sighted, barely moving. Ten yards from shore, in water so shallow he could have stood, he weakly splashed in place. Finally he got up, stumbled and almost fell. "Is that all there is?" he wheezed. His time was 112 minutes. He was in ninth place, about 20 miles behind the cycling leaders. For this he had trained a solid year.
There were those who expected Haller to quit, in exasperation if not in exhaustion. Winning seemed no more than a remote possibility. But Haller is convinced he is tougher than a Seal. He showered, changed clothes, swallowed some high-energy liquid nourishment and wobbled off after Warren, Dunbar and the others. Last year the bearded athlete had passed wilting rivals throughout the bike race. Maybe he could do so again. Now was the time to cash in on those days of pain recorded in his training logs.