Updated Thoughts on Validation (after 2015 KPR Update)

One of the changes in the 2015 KPR rules address the issue of validation. (You can ready more about the 2015 KPR and receive updates about the qualifying situation by subscribing to the 2015 KPR Observer.) In one of my earlier posts, I have written about my thoughts on validation.

Before going into a detailed discussion of validation let me state that I’m not judging the athlete’s choices nor do I want to imply that some choices are likely in the future. I merely use what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future in order to give examples for specific situations. 

Increased Requirements for Returning Champions

In short validation defines a minimum requirement of finishing at least one Ironman race outside of Kona in order to be eligible for a Kona slot. Most often, the term „validation” used as a requirement for past champions to get a non-points slot: They get an automatic entry (called „five year exemption“ in the KPR rules) for five years after winner Kona. In the 2014 season, there have been two incidents when deciding champions decided to race an Ironman without going for the win:

  • Mirinda Carfre validated at IM Florida (three weeks after Kona) by finishing 23rd in 9:48, including a 3:34 run.
  • After missing IM Texas because of an injury, Pete Jacobs validated at IM Switzerland (a week after Challenge Roth) by finishing 15th in 11:42, including a 5:37 bike and a 4:56 marathon. (Pete wrote about his reasons in an open letter to Ironman CEO.)

Ironman CEO Andrew Messick expressed his frustration in the way that some champions have fulfilled their validation in an interview with Slowtwitch:

Last weekend one of our former world champions validated for Kona ..  that athlete went 11:42 with a 51 minute swim, 5 hour and 37 minute bike and a 4:56 run. [Messick was referencing 2012 Ironman World Champion Pete Jacobs of Australia who was validating his 2014 Kona entry at Ironman Switzerland in Zurich] There was never any doubt that this was simply punching a ticket.

Not surprisingly, the requirements for validation have been increased in the 2015 KPR rules:

Former Pro Athlete Ironman® World Champions .. will be required to validate their entry by racing competitively (as determined by IRONMAN in IRONMAN’s sole discretion) and finishing at least one (1) Ironman®-Branded Kona-Qualifying Race (excluding the 2014 Ironman World Championship) during the 2015 Qualifying Year.

Discussion

The requirements in the KPR rules are not very specific – so I had a look into the Merriam-Webster dictionary for a definition of „competitive“:

  • having a strong desire to win or be the best at something
  • trying to win a contest or be more successful than others

Going by this definition, validation would require that a returning champion races in order to win (or at minimum to place well). Obviously this is what Ironman would like to see, but clearly not what Rinnie and Pete did. Even if Pete did the best he could do at his specific situation in Switzerland, I can’t see this fit the above definition of „competitive“.

I think the language is only helpful in showing „undesired“ behavior – “not racing competitively“ which should be easy to determine. However, it it not helpful in giving an athlete of what is required of him or her to validate. In the example of Pete who did not have a choice other than to race a week after Roth, what would he have had to do in order to be considered „racing competitively“? And would Rinnie’s performance in Florida have been judged to be competitive? Where is the cutoff? One could try to come up with better criteria than what we have now – maybe be within x% of the winners time, or score at least k number of KPR points. However, Ironman doesn’t seem to plan to give a clearer guidance on what they determine to be competitive.

What about the Points Slots?

There is another issue that has to be discussed: The requirement of „racing competitively“ only applies to returning champions. This leads to two questions: If a returning champion’s performance has not been deemed „competitive“ (and therefore not eligible for an automatic qualifier), is it then still possible to be considered for a points slot? (I can’t see anything in the KPR rules that would prohibit it.) This could theoretically happen if Sebastian Kienle comes into a situation similar to Pete: His 8000 points from winning Kona will be enough to be above the points cutoff. If he „finishes without racing competitively“, he might be denied an automatic qualifier as a returning champion, but nothing would keep him from claiming a points slot. I’m not sure if this makes sense.

In addition, this is effectively putting a higher requirement on returning champions (say Leanda Cave who finished 18th and is currently ranked with not enough points for a slot) than an athlete who has placed well in the last Kona race (say Daniela Ryf who finished 2nd and is currently leading the rankings). Leanda has to „race competitively“ for her automatic qualifier, while Daniela could „just finish“. (Again, I’m not implying that this is likely or that she even thinks about this.)

I expect that this „disparity“ will be addressed in the next KPR rules change: The increased number of candidates that could get a Kona slot without racing competitively is much larger (basically, most of the Top10 men and women should already be safe from a points perspective), so I’m sure there will be a few more cases this season. (We have already seen a potential case last year when Tim O’Donnell used a 33rd place finish in Florida as his „validation“ IM.)

My Personal Opinion

My base position on validation is unchanged since I wrote my thought on it in May: 

I think it is obvious that no-one thinks that a recent Kona winner is not „worthy“ of starting in the Kona Pro field. But if Kona winners could just rock up to Kona, they might have an unfair advantage: By not having to race any IMs, they could be better rested than all the other participants that have to struggle for points to make it to Kona. Therefore, I am (a bit reluctantly) agreeing with the concept of validation.

However, I think that the rules changes made (and those that I expect to follow) are just making things more and more complicated and subjective. Therefore, my suggestion would be to accept any Ironman-distance race as validation. (Pete and Rinnie wouldn’t have had to race an Ironman if their Challenge Roth finish would have counted as validation.) However, I can’t see that Ironman would see this as a viable solution so I think that this will unfortunately continue to be a contentious issue.

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