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40 Stories – Paula Newby-Fraser – 1992

Is it possible to have a perfect IRONMAN World Championship race? Most would say it’s not. But one person, Paula Newby-Fraser, proved you could.

That rarified occasion happened for her exactly one time in all her appearances at the IRONMAN in Hawaii. It was a flawless day she put together in 1992. At that point in her career, Paula Newby-Fraser had already cemented her position at the top of the sport. On the outside it looked like she’d already put together a number of perfect days. One in particular was her 11th place overall finish at the 1988 IRONMAN World Championship.

Yes, you read that correctly. Paula Newby-Fraser finished 11th place among all athletes, men and women.

Her time of 9:01:01 obliterated the old record by a massive 34-minutes. Paula crossed the finish line barely 30-minutes behind the men’s winner Scott Molina. And she came in ahead of top pro men including Paul Huddle, Greg Welch, Jeff Devlin and Peter Kropko. How could you call that anything other than a perfect IRONMAN? Most would! But Paula would save that assessment of her race for the one she had 4-years later.

Coming into the 1992 IRONMAN Paula had amassed a string of victories that could take an entire career to accomplish. She’d won the Nice International Triathlon, IRONMAN Japan, and IRONMAN Europe in Roth where she set a world’s record of 8:55:00.

And that was all done in a five week span! She was on a roll. But everyone knows Kona is not like any other race during the year. More than one season-long string of winning has ended in disaster in Hawaii at the IRONMAN World Championship. Paula knew that as well as anyone and kept the pressure on from the start.

She recaps the the setup of the day and how she raced it:

“The conditions were ideal on race day. And in looking back I can say it was unlike others years and races. I didn’t have any real down periods along the course.”
“I chased down the lead early from Wendy [Ingraham], and then just “got in the zone”.  One very different thing I do remember is that I was not wearing a watch. I had no measure of anything. So other than seeing the clock in transitions, I was just going by feel. The last time I got a read on my actual progress was at the far end of The Energy Lab.”
“I asked one of the race officials, “What’s my time?” He simply told me the actual time of day (It’s a quarter after three or whatever) ….not what my race time was! From there I realized I was on a pace that could take me under 9-hours. We had been so close to the 9-hour mark in Kona for the previous three years. I had a shot and just kept pushing myself.”

And push she did. Paula Newby-Fraser set a record that makes this one of the Top-40 Greatest Moments At IRONMAN.

Her finish time was 8:55:28. She set a lot of firsts in her career. This one stood for an amazing 17-years until 2009 before someone went faster. And what cemented this accomplishment as one of the greatest in the history of IRONMAN is that her margin of victory was a massive 26-minutes and 12-seconds, the largest in what many would call the modern era of IRONMAN.

“It was not a close race, so I was totally self-powered and positively controlled  the entire day. It really was the perfect year, and as close to a perfect race as an athlete can have.”

Read more about Paula’s career HERE.

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