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'Big Three' of triathlon to square off in short race

A full field of 1,200 expected for fast-paced swim, bike and run at Tampa's Davis Islands.

By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002

Scott Tinley won't be offended by those who call this weekend's Coca-Coca Classic Triathlon in Tampa Bay a "Big Three" reunion. Races between he and his fellow icons of the sport are rare. Just don't hang the "elder statesman" label on him.

"That's someone else's concern," Tinley said. "I've always been a competitor. This is just another way to validate what we did. When the gun goes off, there's a certain amount of bragging rights."

For nearly 15 years, from the early 1980s to the mid '90s, Tinley, Dave Scott and Scott Molina competed for bragging rights and much more. They collected 300 professional victories and 10 Hawaii Ironman wins as professionals, helping to take the sport from what Tinley called "an underground cult" in the 1970s to an international stage.

The trio has raced together only once in nearly 10 years but will reunite for a 7 a.m. Saturday sprint race (.25-mile swim, 12-mile bike, 3.1-mile run) on Davis Islands, competing and meeting amateurs and old friends.

"This is perfect," Tinley said. "You've got all the elements, a great spot, a short course. We'll help people out if we can."

At the Coca-Cola Classic the three should find plenty of inquisitive amateurs, as organizers are expecting a full field of 1,200.

Such numbers still amaze Dave Scott. The 46-year-old from Boulder, Colo., won his first Hawaii Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run) in 1980, beating 108 competitors. These days Ironman series events across the country fill to capacity regularly, and thousands of athletes target the big race in Hawaii that Scott won six times.

"There is an unlimited pool of athletes out there that want to do an Ironman race," said Scott, who may swim but skip the cycling and running Saturday as he recovers from knee surgery. "Hawaii, they would probably have 30,000 people that wanted to run that race.

"We need more sprint-distance races (like the Coca-Cola). If we had those races in every town, the growth of the sport would be astronomical. The sprint is the wave of the future."

With so many years invested in the sport, first as pros and now mainly as commentators, coaches and authors, Scott and Tinley have many educated opinions on its current state -- and are not afraid to offer them.

Tinley, a 42-year-old from Del Mar, Calif., views aspects of triathlon's growth with a skeptical eye, especially since the upper-level International Triathlon Union was formed and the event became an Olympic sport. He said if he were starting out now, he's not sure if he would participate in the ITU World Cup series, which includes a stop in St. Petersburg with the St. Anthony's Triathlon.

"I wouldn't want to be a 23-year-old kid trying to make it in the sport," Tinley said. "There's more money, but I think it's lost a little bit of its soul along the way.

"Anything that grows creates a certain bureaucracy, and there's a bunch of backroom bureaucrats involved with ITU and Olympic committees controlling (athletes') destinies."

Tinley wonders about top amateurs getting obsessive-compulsive about the sport and compromising their health. But he and Scott agree that most approach it the right way, especially around Tampa Bay, where the St. Petersburg Mad Dogs team thrives.

"It's hard to avoid them. At Hawaii they're certainly the most loud and visible group," Scott said. "I've been aware of them."

But this weekend, even the Mad Dogs, a group of about 1,500 triathletes from around the world based in St. Petersburg, may be upstaged a bit in their own back yard. The Big Three have arrived and plan to start making some noise of their own.

"To me, it's fun. We don't have any competitive friction between us," Scott said. "We're still in the sport, surviving, having a good time."

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