Tinley Talks to TRS

Scott Tinley in 1988.

This week, instead of terrible advice from a random triathlete, I’m bringing you much less terrible advice from Scott Tinley. Tinley talked to me at Wildflower, the day before the race, where he was totally fascinated to meet some of these new pros and is working on an article tentatively called “The Rise and Fall and Rise of Triathlon” — which he wanted to philosophize about. Apparently, that’s what he does now, since he’s a professor in sports philosophy and the history of sport at San Diego State, and an academic and writer. As he said, “I’ve been in academia as long as I was a professional triathlete, but people don’t come up to me and say, ‘oh, I took your class.'”

You can listen to the whole interview below — which has been condensed and cut down in its written form. And, yes, the recording starts right in the middle of me explaining Fantasy Triathlon to Tinley and, yes, also there is a pro meeting going on in the background. Welcome to Wildflower. Let it go.


Do you come down every year to race here or are you just here in the “Legend” capacity they keep talking about?

I’ve been here 30 years in a row. I don’t really put a delineator on my “capacity.”

[Wildflower] represents so much of what the sports was and still is and really could be, if there wasn’t the whole idea of corporate branding and the homogenization and all the kinds of things that might have been lost, or at least subject to change. Anything that represents the ideology of how the sport was founded in the 70s, I’m all in.

What is the ideology the sport was founded on in the 70s?

It’s not about profit. It’s not about showmanship. It’s not about drama. It’s not about tattoos on your calf.

So you don’t have a tattoo?

Not that I’m aware of.

And it’s hard to say, because as soon as I define it, it becomes fodder for manipulation. But the individual experience unmediated and less affected by external forces.

You’ve talked a lot about what it was like to move on after a professional triathlon career and how hard that is. Do you have any tips for other pros? How do you move on?

Yes, page 33 [in my book], lots of tips.

Look, it’s very contextual, it really depends on the individual, their health, their sport, their finances, their social group, their level of achievement, why they retired.

Well, for you, is it weird coming back to events like this?

It’s not weird. I’ve had to negotiate that. The first couple years I’d come back after not being a pro and go: OK, I’m going to race as a pro, but get DFL, dead fucking last. I had to wrestle with that. Then I’ve got to be in the age groups and have people pass me because I’m wearing a collared shirt and baggy pants, because I “don’t really care.” So now I really don’t care and I really don’t care.

But that said I like being around this environment, because it’s important to a lot of other people, it’s important to my past. I don’t think I disrespect it.

tinleyYou’re racing in your age group tomorrow?

I’m participating; I’m in a relay. No, no, I’m not competitive, but could I be? Yeah, sure. I’m going to be 60 in October. I could post up with aero wheels, helmet, skin suit. I do something every day, two to three hours, surf, walk, hike, swim in the ocean. By virtue of my lifestyle, I’m reasonably fit. And, more importantly, I’m healthier than I used to be. 

I could win my age group, but so what? Check that box. It’s like, I don’t have a competitive bone in my body.

Anymore or ever?

Of course I did. If you don’t have something that’s going to be an inherent challenge.

That said, some of my competitors were way more competitive than I was. Mike Pigg, for example, we’d room together and we’d go shopping and he’d have a contest: First person to the cheese section wins $50; first person that can spend $100 in their basket wins. 

That’s not me. For him, it was a pleasureful thing for him. That’s not fun for me. It was fun for him. I respected that.

Do you still talk to the other “legends” of the time period?

A few. I stay in touch with Scott Molina a fair amount; we did an amazing bike trip through Colorado last year with him and some of his friends. 

I hear from Mark and Dave once in awhile. Great people, fantastic. Tremendously proud to call them colleagues. Whatever the media said about us being competitors, incredibly overblown. We trained together, we lived together, we did a lot of things in the early 80s, get a beer, that you don’t see now.

Is it ever weird to you Mark and Dave became…


Coaches and, well, the book?

Well, the book, I don’t want to get into the book. Look, great story and Matt did a fantastic job of telling that story. And to my knowledge all of them are really good coaches.

You don’t coach?

No, I tried it a few times and I wasn’t into it, I wasn’t good at it. Rather than fool people and take their money, if I can help you why don’t I just send you my whole database and you can click on it. Buy me a beer if you see me.

Do you follow the sport still a lot?

No, I don’t know. I probably should. I just met Terenzo Bozzone and I know he won here a couple years ago; we were talking about places in Italy that make wine. Other than that? I totally respect what everybody’s doing. But I don’t have the interest or the time.

I follow sports deeply in a socio-cultural way because I teach it. Every morning I will follow 7-10 websites, what’s happening, what’s trending in pop culture. BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Bleacher Report I hate to admit it. Once in awhile I look on Slowtwitch, but I always feel I have to take a shower after because people there are just sniping at each other.

So, what is triathlon’s place in pop culture, society?

Well, I think people are a little bit confused. The whole endurance sport movement, out of a sub-culture to the place where any given weekend in San Diego there’s going to be 5,000 people riding their bike on the Pacific Coast Highway and paying $75-$200 for a little plastic number. 

It’s an industry, but it’s an industry based on demographic shifts. Cycling, participatory cycling’s big. Swimming’s a little behind because people are afraid of drowning. Running: If it doesn’t have color, if it doesn’t have mud, if it doesn’t have people yelling at you? If it’s just a run? People are like, oh my god, I’m not going to pay $75 if it’s just a run. 

Unfortunately, triathlon’s kind of become the new golf. To my thinking, the biggest challenge to the growth of the sport and the biggest problem right now is the cost. It’s way too expensive.

OK, what is the future of triathlon then? Is it just going to get more expensive?

No. You can always have the Four Seasons. But you need a whole bunch of Motel 6s, and a whole bunch of Marriotts. 

The Four Season, WTC, they’re the bad guy in this particular scenario. They’re creating that aura, marketing branding, $90 million brand. Great, knock yourself out. I love capitalism; I don’t want to live in a socialist environment any more than you do. But in our sport, we need more middle guys. We need more $60-70 races, no t-shirts, a couple signs at the corner, here’s a plate with some water on it. 

About the Author

Kelly O'Mara
Kelly is a reporter and writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She quit triathlon for a few years, because triathletes can be annoying, but now she's back into it and only hanging out with the non-annoying triathletes. She blogs about stuff at Sunny Running.