Ironman World Championship: Kai Malaowalla still steers clear of retirement


Little by little, the world’s oldest Ironman event gets bigger and bigger. On Thursday, the 56th Hawaiian Ironman 70.3 Kona is gearing up for its 11th year on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The $5m event is renowned for its oceanside location, waves, race total (a record two days, two hours, 22 minutes and 45 seconds) and healthful nutrition and swimsuit rules. These three elements are used to attract triathletes of all ages, but then there is 78-year-old Kai Malaowalla.

Standing one foot shorter than his old racer of 26 years, Hawaii’s best Ironman still sets a course record at this distance (1.2 miles swim, 78 miles bike, 26.2-mile run).

Malaowalla describes his Ironman number 732 as an “amazing achievement” and “the peak of my racing”. And, with an iron core, Malaowalla looks set to reach more milestones. He has competed at every Ironman course around the world.

Shipped round the world

Malaowalla still lives in his native Hawaii, a place he describes as “a spiritual home”. Two of his children still live in the area and have trained with him at Ironman Kona for many years.

It was at the 1968 Games that his professional racing career began, as he finished 69th in the triathlon. At one point, he was top of the podium twice in a week – in the 70.3 Tandem and in 70.3.

His professional career came to an end in 1974, but his physical endurance did not. He went on to compete in 40 Ironman events, finishing with a first place in the last Kona in 2006, having also won Kona in 1978, 1979 and 1982. His 21nd overall victory in Hawaii came in 2015 and he was inducted into the Hawaii Ironman Hall of Fame in 2016.

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In his autobiography, “Aiming for a Record: The Ironman Fiery Journey to 1.2-Mile Swim, 78-Mile Bike and 26.2-Mile Run”, Malaowalla lists his achievements:

He has competed at every Ironman course around the world. He has also competed in 100 triathlons in the same year. He has completed 24 Ironman events on race courses of up to 14.6 miles, and 27 courses of up to 19.2 miles. And he has done it all with his racing partner, Julia Thomas.

Building up to age 70

Before his athletic career began, Malaowalla worked as a full-time government contractor until 1983, when his job took him to Alabama. There, he began training. After graduation, he returned to Hawaii but initially for an 11-week internship.

He never left, however, and now lives at 6078 Pacific Ave., a Honolulu address he has held for more than 35 years. At this place he can still smell his old laundry and receive mail with his signature.

A lot of miles into his career, and a lot of races under his belt, Malaowalla set out to train for a world record: he had set his sights on 1.2-mile swim, 78-mile bike and 26.2-mile run for 2017, when he would have turned 71 years old.

Having achieved the goal, he now says he set his sights on a world record again: he would be 77 and compete in his 22nd event. What are the chances of that happening? According to his record-holding author, Malaowalla’s youngest competitor just missed the record in Kona and his oldest competitor, Thomas, is in her 40s.

So, it appears his Ironman journey is just starting.

The Kona official results website showed the 70.3 Kona Ironman presented a 6th place finish to Kai Malaowalla on 5 October.

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