There are many famous women athletes who have left their mark in the world of sport.

“Ah, the glories of women’s sports: the camaraderie. The quiet dignity. The proud refusal to buy into traditional stereotypes of beauty.”—Sports Illustrated For Women

Well, things have certainly changed. With the explosion of running in the early 80’s women quickly established themselves as excellent endurance athletes and took the running and triathlon world by storm.

It wasn’t long before the best women triathletes of the early days of triathlon became famous women athletes in the eyes of many.


I remember when I first saw the amazing Puntos twins from Canada when I competed in my first Ironman in 1984 in Kona. Sylviane and Patricia were at the top of the heap as far as women triathletes went in the early days of the Ironman.

Like many of the very best female triathletes, they were came in a compact package that was very deceiving. It seemed that they couldn’t possibly be strong enough for the rigors of the Ironman, but 25 years ago nobody really knew any different.

They were simply incredible athletes. The unique thing about the twins was their ability to perform at an equal level through-out the length of Ironman race-day. It wasn’t long before they became very famous women athletes.

In 1984 Sylviane had a swim time of 1:00:45 and Patricia was right with her at 1:00:51.

famous women athletes  -triathletes Puntos twins

Puntos twins 1st and 2nd in Kona in 1984

Sylviane had a bike time of 5:50:36 and Patricia was 5:50:31. I guess they couldn’t come into transition two together without drafting, so that explains the 5 second gap I guess. It was their ability to compete at an almost equal level that caused them to become triathlon’s most famous women athletes back in the 1980’s.

They ran pretty well the entire marathon together and within the last 5 km. or so I guess the sisterly love dissipated and Sylviane began to pull away.

I had met a woman who was a volunteer at one of the last marathon aid stations and she said that Sylviane came through and took a cup of water, drank half and poured the rest over her head. A minute later Patricia came through and took a cup of water, drank half and poured the rest over her head.

I guess it’s true when they say identical twins are on the same wave-length whether they can see each other or not. They were certainly a pair of intriguing women triathletes.

Sylviane was the first woman with a time of 10:25 and Patricia was second with a 10:27.

That might seem like really slow times, but consider the crappy equipment that was available back then compared to what’s available now.

Plus there were no real triathlon coaches or triathlon books to call on for advice and direction. Basically the twins were runners who happened to take up triathlon.

At one time they had hopes of making the qualifying time for the Olympic Marathon and that in itself shows why they became famous women athletes. They simply had remarkable athletic ability that set them apart from many other women Ironmen back in the earliest days of the sport.

The Puntos twins figured out in those early years just what an impact becoming an Ironman could have on a person’s life. It’s pretty much the same thing I have been trying to tell people in my book “Ironstruck…The Ironman Triathlon Journey”.

“Hawaii is such a special place,” Patricia says. “It makes you think you can do so much once you’ve finished there. You’re always looking for another challenge.”


Dave Scott won in Hawaii 1984 with a swim of 50:21, bike of 5:10:59 and a run of 2:53:02.

As you can see his swim time was on par with today’s pros, but his bike time was quite a bit slower than what today’s pros manage. The difference in bike times could be explained by the lack of the state-of-the-art equipment that is available today.

For instance, back in 1984 aero-bars were not quite invented yet. Titanium was nowhere to be seen, and snap-in pedals were not in vogue for another year or so.

Scott’s run time of 2:53:02 was truly remarkable in the 108 degree heat of that particular day that rates as one of the hottest Ironman races in history. To put it in prospective, Scott Tinley had the second fastest marathon with a 3:03:57.

The top women triathlete swim time in 1984 was Jennifer Hinshaw’s 50:31. The top bike for women was Julie olsen’s 5:37.The top two run times belonged to the the twins–3:33:31 for Sylviane and 3:36:05 for Patricia.

They were 11 and 9 minutes ahead of the 3rd fastest woman in the marathon.

What transpired that day is much like what is happening now in the Ironman. The women triathletes are pretty much on par with the men in the swim, about 30 minutes behind on the bike(on average)and within 15-30 minutes back in the marathon depending on the women who are entered in the race.

Of course over the past decade or so, there have been amazing women Ironman dynamos who would run sub 3 hours and beat most of the pro men. Well, like Paula Newby-Fraser or Erin Baker for instance. Erin Baker ran a 2:49:53 marathon in Ironman Canada in 1990. These famous women athletes are pretty well legends in the sport of triathlon.

famous women athletes

Erin Baker winning Ironman Hawaii

The top male time was Scott Molina with 2:47:47. It simply stunned the triathlon world at the time. It was an incredible performance by Erin. The nearest woman was,(you guessed it)28 minutes behind Scott Molina’s run. The fastest bike time for women set by Paula Newby-Fraser was 27 minutes behind the fastest man.

So it seems that for the most part, it’s very difficult for women to bridge that 30 minute gap in both the bike and the run(in the same race)and as a result never manage to be the overall winner of an Ironman. It was like that 25 years ago, and really, nothing has changed in a quarter of a century.


For a great example, look at the 2008 Hawaii Ironman results……….

Craig Alexander won with times of 51:43(swim)…….4:37(bike)…..2:45(run)Chrissie Wellington had times of 56:20(swim)…….5:08(bike)…..2:57(run)

The swim as they say is the swim and Jennifer Hinshaw’s 1984 swim(50:31) time on the very same swim course a quarter of a century ago beat both 2008 winner’s swim times. So basically, men and women can do equally well in the Ironman swim and often these famous women athletes could out-swim the best male pro triathletes.

In the bike the 30 minute average spread between men and women is still consistent. There was a 41 minute spread in 1984 and a 31 minute difference in 2008.

In the run in 1984 the twins were 30 and 32 minutes behind the second fastest run time for men(Scott Tinley). Dave Scott was an anomaly that year, as the next nine men were spread between 3:03 and 3:23.

We might never see the day when women triathletes will be the over-all winners of an Ironman race, but there’s little doubt that women are capable of awesome, earth-shattering performances on the triathlon/Ironman highway.

Women have really improved in the bike and run over the years through better technology, more awareness of nutrition, and access to the best triathlon coaches in the world. However, the pro men have access to the same equipment and knowledge so the difference has remained static.


I remember the twins saying a few years after that 1984 race in Kona that their cycling never really improved until they hit the weight room and starting doing plenty of squats. As a matter of fact famous women athletes in many sports can be found in the weight rooms of the world.

I wonder if that’s the key to a woman coming along and winning the Hawaii Ironman over-all? Is it just a matter of a woman hitting the weight-room until she acquires the same physical strength that a man has? What else could it be?

There’s no doubt in my mind that the woman triathlete or Ironman is just as mentally and emotionally tough as a man whether they are pros or age-groupers, so the only difference is the physical strength between the sexes.

That’s why women triathletes have been capable of doing the Ironman swim as fast or faster than men since the Ironman was born. Swimming well depends on skill, technique and form and has little to do with massive physical strength.

They are a force to be reckoned with and explains why so many of the top women triathletes have become famous women athletes who are known around the world.

Visit Ironman.com for information on upcoming races.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *