At the start of July, the qualifying period for Kona 2021 is coming to an end – and what an unusual period it has been! This post looks at some of the differences to qualifying for Kona 2019 (the last “Ironman World Championships”) and the resulting implications for the Kona 2021 Pro field. In each of the following “mini charts” the data for 2019 qualifying is shown on the left while the 2021 data is shown on the right.
Let’s start with a few straightforward data points.
The most obvious difference is the increased length of the qualifying period. In fact, it’s been more than twice as long:
A lot of races had to be canceled, and even with the longer qualifying period the overall number of qualifying races has gone down considerably:
Some fine print: Races that split the male and female Pro fields (such as IM Turku and IM Frankfurt) are counted together as one race. Some of the races are still in the future as I’m writing this post (Lake Placid, Turku/Frankfurt, and Copenhagen/Hamburg) but it seems very unlikely there will be any more cancellations or changes.
The decline in Pro slots has not been quite as pronounced as the decline in races:
This graph only shows “Race Qualifiers”, in addition there are “Automatic Qualifiers” (Kona winners from previous years, the current 70.3 champions and the recent Kona podium finishers). For 2021, there are five female and five male AQs (Anne Haug, Lucy Charles-Barclay, Sarah Crowley, Daniela Ryf, Mirinda Carfrae, Jan Frodeno, Sebastian Kienle, Tim O’Donnell, Gustav Iden and Patrick Lange).
Of course having smaller reduction in slots than the reduction in races is only possible by giving out more slots in some races, which has especially happened towards the end of the qualifying period. In 2019, only a few bigger races gave out more than 2 slots (one for the men, one for the women). In 2021, except for IM New Zealand all races had at least 4 qualifying slots, Ironman Tulsa was even offering a total of 8 slots.
Regional Distribution of Slots
With the problems due to Covid, Ironman obviously wasn’t able to establish new races in exotic locations. They also weren’t able to have races in South America and South Africa, regions where Covid was making it extra hard to have races:
Ironman also had problems getting clearance for races in Europe:
The chart looks a bit less dramatic than things actually are for the European races: 6 of 26 slots for Kona 2021 were assigned even before Kona 2019 (Wales, Italy & Barcelona), well before the pandemic hit in early 2020. The remaining 20 slots are from four races in July and August 2021 (Lanzarote, UK, Turku/Frankfurt, Copenhagen/Hamburg), almost eliminating chances for a local backup race.
The number of slots in Australia & New Zealand has stayed the same (16 slots for 2019 and also 2021), so obviously there were more slots at North American races:
Regional Distribution of Qualifiers
There is always a good deal of “up and down” in the number of Pro qualifiers from each country from year to year, but there are some noticeable differences for a few countries.
First of all, Australian and New Zealand Pros were able to hold on to most of the slots in their “home races”:
This is clearly a result of the Covid restrictions as no foreigners were able to start in any of the Oceania 2021 races. All of the 4 foreign athletes who were able to grab slots in Oceania races qualified before the worst of the pandemic (Sarah Piampiano and Alistair Brownlee at Ironman Western Australia 2019, Rach McBride and Judith Corachan at IM New Zealand 2020). In addition to the “home slot qualifiers”, Carrie Lester (Cozumel 2019) and Cam Wurf (Italy 2019) were able to qualify in races and Mirinda Carfrae and Sarah Crowley have Automatic Qualifiers slots, leading to the largest number of Oceania Pros in recent years (10 Australians + 6 New Zealanders, compared to a total of 12 Pros last year).
As noted above, qualifying at home has been quite difficult for European athletes, and it’s no surprise to see two European countries with a sizable reduction in their number of qualified Pros:
Both countries could add a few more qualifiers in the remaining races (hence the * next to the 2021 number), but even then they will fall well short of the number of Pro qualifiers in 2019. There will be a few more Germans and Swiss on the startline, with Anne Haug, Jan Frodeno, Sebastian Kienle and Patrick Lange the Germans have four automatic qualifiers, while the Swiss have Daniela Ryf as an AQ.
Interestingly there is one significant increase, the British ladies are almost doubling the number of Race qualifiers:
In addition there will also be Lucy Charles-Barclay as an automatic qualifier, and with a total of ten female Pros the British are likely the biggest nation in the female Pro field. Even with a certain “luck” in picking good races to qualify, this jump mainly comes down to superb performances (e.g. Kat Matthews managed to have two IM wins in Florida and the UK and a 2nd place to Daniela Ryf at IM Tulsa) from a quality group that has gotten bigger with athletes moving up in distance (e.g. Fenella Langridge, Kat Matthews) or from AG racing (e.g. Ruth Astle, Simone Mitchell). The British men have a bit of catching up to do – with Ali Brownlee injured, Joe Skipper could be the only one racing Kona 2021. In 2019, there were also David McNamee – who can still qualify in Frankfurt – and Will Clarke who moved to coaching.)
It’ll be interesting to see which of these trends are just a statistical blip and which are going to continue when racing is hopefully back to (almost) normal for Kona 2022 qualifying!