Who was Mike Pigg? Maybe just some of you remember his performances. He was inspired to race triathlons when he watched Dave Scott in the 1983 Ironman on TV. Unlike most other triathletes though, the man soon after known as Pigg Power managed to finish 7th overall at that event in 1985. Mike Pigg had the competition in his spirit and trained really hard. Where Molina did mega-miles and Dave Scott applied NorCal mystique and Mark Allen used a focused periodization, Pigg suffered. In the annals of raw, gut-level, in-your-face work, Pigg stands atop the pinnacle of journeyman efforts.
Mike Pigg was not born with innate speed or flexibility or a superior cardiovascular system. He did not have the advantage of early coaching or the padding of wealth that eases the ride to the top. An adopted son who met his biological parents as an adult, his family offered an environment in which he could evolve as a person and as an athlete.
He was born with the skill set of a two hundred pound 7-11 clerk but embraced the work ethic of a Pennsylvania coal miner. Pigg’s was not a Clip-Art career. His motivation was never forged of the tangible benefits that come with athletic success but from some deeper need to embrace the struggle.
Scott Tinley remembers of him that: “Each of Pigg’s peers have their favorite story, a personal anecdote of his sometimes quirky habits, nearly always the byproduct of his tacit commitment to training. Jimmy Riccitello will tell you about watching Mike work up a sweat just eating his dinner; little beads dripping off his forehead into the Gulliver-size bowel of spaghetti. Ray Browning will talk about Pigg refusing to get out of the pool until he could swim 50 meters under water. Greg Welch will try to explain how Mike turned a casual effort at home beer brewing into a serious competitive venture. Everything, it seemed, could be turned into a contest with Pigg. We could be ordering coffee at the café and Mike would say, “Hey, let’s see who gets served first.” Or maybe we went into the restroom to use the john and he might issue the challenge, “Ok, who can stand furthest away from the urinal and still keep it off the floor?” First to the top of the hill, first back to the car, first one to get his heart rate over 190. Even the little things become fair game: Who can spot a snake on the trail? Who can remember who finished in 5th place at the ’83 Ironman? Who can keep his bike filthy for a month? It never seemed to end. And we all loved it because Mike made it fun. He took the pain out of a lot of tough training days.”
Maybe not all of you know that he raced into ITU history in St Croix 25 years ago when he became the first men’s ITU World Cup winner. In a thrilling race, Pigg narrowly out sprinted the first two ITU World Champions, Australian Greg Welch who had won the world title in 1990, and American Mark Allen, who had won the ITU worlds in 1989. Pigg just slipped past Welch on the line in a time of 2 hours 31 minutes and 5 seconds on the 2km swim, 50km bike and 12km run course in the US Virgin Islands. Looking back on that race and where triathlon has come since then, Pigg told us that race is still one of his fondest career memories. In an interview he said: “for me being the first World Cup was a big deal not so much because of all the prize money, the new location of St. Croix and all the professional athletes that for the first time gathered at one place. However I do not think that at that time athletes would realize that that was a starting point for something big. Winning St. Croix was one of my biggest highs in the sport. Big money, car, TV, and the best athletes in the world to go against. Knocking off the big four one at a time, with Mark Allen being the last, at USA Pro Nationals in Hilton Head 1987. It was one of my biggest grunts ever holding him off at the finish line. To be honest with you, my whole career is something I will never forget and feel very fortunate to have been able to compete for 17 years. The people involved with the sport were awesome from the spectators, athletes; pro and amateur, sponsors and the people who made the races happen. Thank you for the memories.” Thank You Mike for being such a good triathlete! Your epic performances will remain forever in our tri-hearts!