Didn't You Used to Be Scott Tinley?

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, September 1997

Didn't You Used to Be Scott Tinley?

With a dearth of stars and an anemic purse, the Legends of Triathlon series starts with a wimper
By Andrew Tilin

Not Your Average Dope-on-a-Rope

Jay Cochran may be, well, one Wallenda short of a trapeze act, but he's also a realist. The 53-year-old Canadian showman knows it's not really his quest to become the first person this century to cross Niagara Falls by high-wire that's going to draw the crowds. Rather, it's the grisly chance of a slipup during the 90-minute, 725-foot-high traverse that will likely be the main attraction when he dons his sequined cape on the sixth of this month. "It was totally different in China," laments Cochran, recalling his last high-profile walk, a successful 53-minute jaunt over the Yangtze River in 1995 (above). "They didn't come to see me fall. In fact, a number of spectators begged me to use a safety line." Certainly Cochran is familiar with the dangers of life on the wire — he holds a rather dubious world record for having spent 21 days suspended on a half-inch strand — but for now, displaying all the modesty you'd expect from a cape-clad entertainer, he'd rather focus on his place in the cultural pantheon. "I fully expect to hang up my pole as the most celebrated wire-walker ever to live," Cochran insists. "I want to become the ninth wonder of the world."

For the younger racers at last spring's Columbia Triathlon, it was as startling as a 20-year-old rookie stepping into the batter's box against Nolan Ryan: There, awaiting the race's start with the wetsuited hoi polloi, was six-time Hawaii Ironman winner Dave Scott. Forty-three-year-old, hobbled Dave Scott. "Can you believe it?" harrumphs Scott, reeling at the indignity. "They started us — the Legends — in the same wave as the kids with acne."

So much for that respect-for-your-elders business. Indeed, things aren't going exactly as planned for the so-called Legends of Triathlon series, added to four of this season's bigger races and open to any male age 40 or over, as well as to any under-40 athlete who can convince the Legends "committee" — specifically, 40-year-old two-time Ironman winner Scott Tinley — that his is a storied multisport past. The object is to allow triathlon's creaky heroes a second opportunity at money and glory, as well as to give flagging U.S. interest in the sport (it's now full of faceless Germans and second-tier Americans) a shot in the triceps. But sadly, heading into this month's "World Championship" in Pacific Grove, California, it seems legendary triathletes are harder to come by than one might think.

"The idea is to get the series on a level with seniors golf or masters tennis," says Terry Davis, race director for the Pacific Grove event and one of the initiators of the Legends gambit, which has been passed over by, among others, former three-time Olympic road cyclist and 1981 Hawaii Ironman winner John Howard, six-time national cross-country mountain-bike champion Ned Overend, 1980s short-course maven Scott Molina, and most disappointingly, 39-year-old six-time Ironman king Mark Allen. "Unfortunately," says Davis. "there aren't many other 40-year-olds to ask."

Of course, other than letting Father Time increase the roll of potential legends, the best way to rectify the feeble response might be to fatten the series's slim purse. Whereas golfer Graham Marsh took home $232,500 for winning the 1997 U.S. Senior Open, Tinley, for clinching all three of this year's Legends races, has pocketed just $6,000. Still, while Scott struggles and whines and the others keep to the sidelines, triathlon's poster boy of enthusiasm goes about his business, sounding genuinely thankful for the unexpected windfall. "Hey, I'm just glad I can continue to look at the sport as my profession," says Tinley, eyeing the $4,000 payday he'll reap for sweeping the series with a victory in Pacific Grove. "I mean, you know, at least the winnings have covered my bar tab."

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