Searching for Scott Molina: A Primer on the Paradox of Triathlon Style

author : Scott Tinley
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by Scott Tinley
  
Ironman World Champion, 1982 & 1985
Ironman Hall of Famer; Triathlon Hall of Famer

  1.          As we move well into the second post-millennial decade, triathlon style is no longer defined in the Nuevo replication of wool cycling jerseys and neon footwear. Neither can we claim that style is speed, that second-day delivery of carbon fiber rims, unobtanium sunglasses, and posting up at club rides with aero helmets the length of hair extensions.  The style of swim/bike/run is a look and feel and way of being in the multisport world, a post structural present. The past is passé unless it’s current. And if like many of us, you think that the notion of style is period-dependent, consider the t-shirts in your drawer. 
     
  2.          Tri-Style mongers are often marketers in disguise. As soon as they tell you that you can buy it, you’ve lost the ability to own it. To be fair, we all want to be admired if not loved for what we do. But pining for style is like going after the man or women in the party corner with model-good looks—the more you try and make a move the further they disappear into their constructed veneer.

  3.          Modern tri-style improves with age along the same lines as bad wine—you throw it out after it reaches a peak and then celebrate how great it might’ve been… if you’d only gone there a few seasons earlier. Lost style is not nostalgic or regretful but if honest with yourself, a chance to admit that you never really had it, which is a kind of style itself. Emilio DeSoto had it. But only because he refused NOT to have it. Chrissie Wellington had it because she never sought it.

  4.          Tri-style—a short descriptive of an athletic aesthetic that is disavowed by those who possess it, isn’t about aero vs. round tubing or spandex vs. cotton blends. Style is not an embodied form showcased by the physical movement of triathletes doing stylish things as they swim, bike, and run. As those with style know, a complete beginner can have more style than a world champion by the way they hold themselves up against the others, standing near the slow lane of the pool because they find more interesting athletes on that side of the deck.

  5.          Tri-style is neither quantitative nor qualitative. It just is. You know that cliché about the best athlete being the one having the most fun? Well that might’ve been true until some style-monger thought it was cool to make a poster of it and add the phrase to the rest of their bumper sticker philosophy. “If you don’t run, don’t start” is not a stylish ad tag—it’s just a temporal blip on the long arc of the commodification of athletes by shoe manufacturers.

  6.           Style is like culture— ironic, fluid, accepting of many definitions—and everyone wants to possess it. It is often useful to mix definitions of the word. We can argue “that’s not what we meant” or that “style is no longer...well...stylish,” retrofitting our personal choice of style to fit the present context in conversation.  Yet style in an aesthetic sport such as triathlon might be viewed as a result of active human agents creating a malleable shared meaning to how another is viewed (and judged) as they move across roads and trails and bodies of water. And by extension, across time and space. Fixie-style bikes, once the bane of the pre-season, steel-framed set, are now de-rigeur cross-campus vehicles. Not because they are functional but because they are stylish.

  7.          Style gains some of its shared meaning through popularization in other forms of “art” such as films, texts, cyberspace and the ancient practice of oral history. It is associated with, as Mathew Arnold said about culture, “the best that has been thought and said.” We want to be Dave or Scott or Heather because in ways that transcend the simple acts of swimming, cycling and running, they were the best at what we thought about their style associated with our triathlon. Still, true stylists both seek and define a singularity in approach to going fast. Regardless of how competitive Mike Pigg was, you always got the feeling he raced for no other reason than reason itself.    Riccitello, Chuckie V, Wingnut, Fernanda Keller…all of them define something singularly best.  And the best is always an emulated style.

  8.           Everyone wants to be considered stylistically correct. From San Diego to Boulder, a style will be adhered to by region, demographic, and how bad you want to create your own for only you. True stylists hold themselves up for presentation to the world without regard for style. They erase the idea to create it.

  9.           As consuming triathletes we are confused. Celebrity culture and an altered hero paradigm prompt us to look for style in the seemingly non-hyperbolic masters. Do the Brownlee Bros really go that fast or is it what their speed represents that sets them atop many post millennium tri-lists?  Triathlon is no longer an emerging alternative sport. By most estimates, the Industry of Triathlon ranges between $100 and $500 million annually. Everybody does it. In this crowded day and age, the Soulful athlete is an increasingly limited approach to achieving true style. Essential determinism, an antidote to the in-your-face parade of look-at-me multisporters, suggests the end of one period style. We see our personal triumph in the solitary heroics published for posterity in the datasphere. The myth of the starving athlete is no longer mythically catalyzed but more so imputed by those who would profit from the narrative.  

  10.           Where we are left is where we started, considering triathlon style as a desirable way of approaching the multisport experience, either for profit of pleasure, gain or gainfulness. But as we have allowed fluid and imbued meanings to the term we have made it more difficult to relate an organic aesthetic of beauty, and flow, and dynamic athleticism with that-which-sells or that which feels right and correct. Perhaps this can be explained in the decades old desire by triathletes to look like triathletes when they aren’t triathloning. Blame it on those original Ironmen. Everybody wanted to be Mark or Dave because they had that practical style of going very fast for a very long time. Blame it on TV, Julie Moss, and M-Dot tattoos.

  11.          The most stylish thing I ever saw was Scott Molina running a 10k in a yellow wool sweater vest purchased for $1.50 at a thrift store. I think he ran 32 flat. That was cool. 
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date: September 20, 2013

Author


Scott Tinley

As the sport of triathlon gained in popularity Scott turned pro in 1983. Between those early years and his move back to the amateur ranks in 1999, Tinley competed in over 400 triathlons, winning close to 100 of them, making him one of the top three winning triathletes of all time.

He won the Ironman World Championship twice (1982, 1985) and the Ironman World Series three times. He was inducted into both the Triathlon and Ironman Hall of Fame upon retirement in 1999.

Near the end of his professional career he helped found and develop the sport of offroad triathlon and continues to co-own and manage the longest running offroad triathlon in the world, Scott Tinley’s Adventures in San Luis Obispo, California.

Scott Tinley's Website

Author

avatarScott Tinley

As the sport of triathlon gained in popularity Scott turned pro in 1983. Between those early years and his move back to the amateur ranks in 1999, Tinley competed in over 400 triathlons, winning close to 100 of them, making him one of the top three winning triathletes of all time.

He won the Ironman World Championship twice (1982, 1985) and the Ironman World Series three times. He was inducted into both the Triathlon and Ironman Hall of Fame upon retirement in 1999.

Near the end of his professional career he helped found and develop the sport of offroad triathlon and continues to co-own and manage the longest running offroad triathlon in the world, Scott Tinley’s Adventures in San Luis Obispo, California.

Scott Tinley's Website

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