Roxii: So how did your involvement in Ironman all start.
KB: I started up the Tuncurry Promotions committee for all the businesses that were interested and became a little bit known because of that. The council came to me late 1984 and said “You had better get yourself over to this meeting at council and make sure this triathlon comes in to Tuncurry. I said “What is a triathlon?”
At the end of that meeting I came away being on the committee that was formed under council to run the first race in 1985.
Roxii: Did you ever think about doing a race?
KB: Yep, 1985! So I can empathise with the people who come up to me and say “Ken, I watched that race and now I’m going to do it!” I had that same feeling but it waned. Then Karen Pini and I had a pact that we were going to do it together at the 10th Ironman. But that came and went and I probably got more committed to running the show. So I never knew what a triathlon was, I was always a golfer and just let me clarify that to this day I have never competed in a triathlon and never will.
Roxii: Yet you probably know a lot more about it than people who do though.
KB: Yes it feels that way, but I can certainly empathise with those that watch and then get the urge to go on and compete.
Roxii: So you mentioned Karen Pini, how did you get Karen involved in Ironman?
KB: That’s a very interesting story. Due to a “hiccup” there was no race in 1986,and they had formed a new committee and I wasn’t on that committee , so I said I’ll just do registrations as that was what I had done the first year. But they said to me, “none of us were involved in 1985, you were, would you be the race director?” So through 1986 for the 1987 race I picked up the maps and the paperwork from the 1985 rce and started working with the state association.
The treasurer at the time was a fellow named John and he knew Karen., because Karen and her then husband Steve were doing triathlons. And he said “Would you like Karen Pini to come to the race?”, and I said “Would I!!”, and he gave me her number. It was a memorable moment, it was the most nervous I’d ever been. I rang and she said “Yes, sure.” As she was actually at the 1985 race as a spectator.
So it has formed a very close relationship ever since, we went to her 40th birthday, she has just recently remarried and we were at the wedding, and she has recently moved up to North Haven (Near Port Macquarie). Now with the Ironman course impacting on Camden Haven Karen and her husband Gary have become and integral part of the community relations in that area as the new two lap course impacts on 6000 residents. So a long, long relationship, she’s a lovely person and over the years we have watched her family grow up as we have also watched a lot of athletes families grow up.
Roxii: What have you seen as the biggest change in Ironman?
KB: In terms of Ironman, I think it’s the rapid growth, whether it was through the Olympics in 2000 or not I’m not sure. Also the technology, we have the photos of the old bikes they used compared to what they use now, multi thousand dollar bikes, and almost everyone has them, and they still complain about the entry fee. (Laughs)
Roxii: So did you think it would all last this long?
KB: I’d say yes but I never thought it would leave Forster, but my loyalty was with Ironman so it was time to move on. Based purely on the stats, when we started as entries came in Glanda used to write them in a book and we would be excitedly saying “We have 30” then a few days later “another 5 entries” and I think based on that, and we have charts showing the growth, that it kept growing, we had a bit of a plateau but this race (2014 Ironman Australia) is the biggest field to ever start at an Ironman in Australia. I’m never at the finish line to see the winner, I usually have to ask someone who won, as I’m always out on the course till later. So when I come to the finish line later I get this vision of looking at the timing clock and the counter so if we know we have 1200 competitors and there is 900 on the counter we know we have about 300 to go. Last year I made the comment that it was the first time I had seen the figure 15XX finishers. Over 1500 finishers was a historic moment. So last nigh when I checked I think they were catering for, or racking 2000 athletes. But who would have thought we would have multiple Ironmans in this country all filling up. I remember when I had the people over in Florida saying that wanted three Ironmans in Australia, and I said “No problem”, now we have four.
Roxii: How did you feel when the race left Forster, especially as it was your home town?
KB: Well, you know, there are still people there who don’t talk to us. I have written the 20 year history and the real story behind the move and I can give the real story. It involved a period of about 48 hours. Our director of athletes and fitness Dallas O’brien was in New Zealand and he rand me just before their race and said “Baggsy, they have just pulled the pin”. I said “What do you mean”. He said “The Mayor, they’ve withdrawn their support”. There had been ongoing negotiations, public meetings, it was a very emotional time.
Council were putting in about $15 grand a year and IMG were in it to make money obviously. So they said look this event has grown, there is a greater economic impact, they couldn’t get any money out of the government due to the politics of the local area at the time. So with a deadline approaching the council said, “No we are finished”.So it was not IMG, definitely not IMG that pulled the pin.
So the Mayor and the then chairman of the local organising committee GLITA they went and had a press conference and said “We are done, we are out”. They pulled the pin. There is every reason to believe that if the negotiations on dollars went better we’d have still been there.
But that last race, well lets just say there are a lot of stories that if I went public I’d probably get sued. But I blame the Mayor at the time, I no longer talk to him and he was a good mate.
So when people say “It should never have left here (Forster)”, I say “Don’t talk to me, talk to the mayor, he’s the one who pulled the pin”.
I genuinely believe in my close working relationship with IMG and Dallas O’Brien that we could have worked through all this and still been there. We didn’t want to move, why would you want to move? Why would you want to go and set up another bloody Ironman from scratch? I mean we had done it, Dallas and I and Shane Smith in those days, we established Ironman WA, and we had seen how much hard work it was. It was also a good exercise as it enabled Dallas to say “Baggsy we need to get all that info out of your head and onto paper because we need to set up another Ironman, what we do?” So we had done it for Ironman WA and all the information was there we just needed a venue.
So then Dallas rings me and says "Baggsy, you need to get your arse up to Port Macquarie!"
In our next insallment Ken tells us how the move to Port Mac happened once Forster no longer wanted the race.