At fifteen, Lance Armstrong wasn’t old enough to drive himself to last year’s President’s Triathlon in Las Colinas. Not that he was expected to shine once he got there. The popular wisdom said teenagers couldn’t seriously compete with adults in the grueling endurance race combining swimming, bicycling, and running. So, when the Piano East High School student trotted in sixth, handily beating many of the country’s top pros, some called it a fluke. “He was unconscious; he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be able to keep up with those guys,” theorized one sportswriter,
Actually, Armstrong had already won several of the region’s amateur events and had set a course record in the .6-mile swim, 28-mile bike, and 6.5-mile run at the Waco Triathlon. When his fellow triathlete (now his manager) Scott Eder, thirty, suggested he go up against the pros in Dallas, Armstrong admits he was skeptical.
Armstrong went on to place in the money in three other professional races during 1987, winning more than $4,000. He placed eleventh against a world-class field in Bermuda and fourth at the national short-course championships in Boca Pointe, Florida.
Four years ago, Armstrong was a talented, but not outstanding, swimmer for the City of Piano Swimmers. He entered an Ironkids youth triathlon, though he had little footracing experience and had to buy a bicycle. But despite the lack of preparation, he won the local and regional events and took second at the national finals.
For 1988, the teen terror plots an organized assault on the sport, planning to enter at least fifteen pro races starting this month in Miami. His training regimen, until now absurdly light by professional standards, will expand to several hours daily, including a fifty-mile bike ride toward McKinney. With the help of a few sponsors-more are said to be in the offing-he’s now outfitted with up-to-date triathlon apparel and high-tech bicycling gear.
On the strength of just four races, Armstrong is considered among the country’s top twenty pro triathletes. But no one quite knows what this year will bring for the boy one writer called “the first product of the triathlon age.”
Armstrong is now sixteen and old enough to drive, chase girls, and worry about finances-a campaign on the pro circuit requires almost as much money as muscle. And he does all three with gusto. Piano girls are more impressed with football stars than triathletes, he laments, but winnings from the Florida race in November did finance a new engine for his Fiat convertible. The staunchly antidrug Armstrong exhibits the cockiness top triathletes are known for. He has a stock answer to those endless questions about his future. “Yes,” he asserts, “I’ll be the best in the world in five years.”