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Ironman New Zealand celebrates its 25th anniversary in a fortnight. Michael Brown looks back to where it all started.

Officially it's recorded as one second. Realistically, it's more like one-tenth of a second, or the length of Ken Glah's ponytail. After a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and 42.2km marathon, all that separated Finland's Pauli Kiuru and American Ken Glah was a margin of victory more common in 100m races.

It is the closest finish in ironman history and the drama was befitting such a tense finish. Kiuru and Glah had slugged it out all day and were neck and neck approaching the finish line at St Heliers. With the finishing chute in sight, the Finn inexplicably veered off the course and on to the footpath among the spectators and advertising hoardings, leaving Glah confused.

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Kiuru reacted quickly, pushed his way through the throngs of spectators, jumped the advertising hoardings and sprinted after Glah.Amazingly, he passed the American agonisingly close to the line to record a dramatic victory.

"There were so many people, I couldn't see when the fencing started for the finishing chute and before I knew it, I was too far left," Kiuru recalled in 2005 for the 20th anniversary. "I didn't panic when I realised my mistake.

"I went mad. I was so angry because I felt I could win but had made this dumb mistake. There was no chance to say 'excuse me'. I pushed people aside and jumped the fence. Ken was about 15m ahead and I sprinted. He did not realise I was there until I was almost beside him. It was so confusing."

Glah was not disappointed by the result and, despite the fact he accumulated seven wins and 14 podium finishes in his career of more than 40 ironmans, it is a photo of him finishing second in 1990 that takes pride of place in his office.

"I was part of the closest race in the history of the sport and it was nice to be part of a great race," he said. "It received such publicity and helped propel the sport and myself."

Glah returned to win Ironman New Zealand in 1992 and 1993 but Kiuru never raced here again. The Finn won Ironman Europe twice and Australia four times but none were as dramatic as his victory in Auckland in 1990.