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A Look Back on Kona Pro Qualifying 2019

This post has a look at the Professional Kona Qualifiers for the 2019 season, the performances needed to qualify and how strong the fields were.

The first races with 2019 Kona slots were Ironman Wales and Ironman Wisconsin (WPRO-only) on September 9th, 2018, the last ones were IM Mont Tremblant and the “twins” at IM Sweden (MPRO) and IM Copenhagen (WPRO) on the weekend of August 17th and 18th, 2019. The post looks at the performances of the qualifiers, as you can’t really compare the performance at these races with those with a significantly shortened course, IM Chattanooga, IM Taiwan, IM Louisville, IM Mar del Plata, IM France and IM Ireland are not included. (IM South Africa was shortened as well, but even if the data is a bit shaky I was able to include the data in the graphs below.)

The graphs consist of two parts: The upper part shows athlete’s performances as “normalized times”, i.e. they should be the “comparable” between different courses – a performance of 8:15 in Lanzarote (a slow course) should be the same as a performance of 8:15 in Barcelona (a fast course). Here’s what the different colored dots show:

  • Green Dots: Direct Slot
    Performance of athletes who finished in a position that was assured a slot before the start of the race (usually a win)
  • Orange Dots: Rolldown Slot
    Performance of athletes who received a rolldown slot (I also classify the last unassigned slot as rolldown as you can’t be sure when registering for a race if this slot will go to the men or the women.)
  • Blue Dots: No Slot Needed
    Performance of athletes who would have received a slot but didn’t want (declines) or need it (Automatic Qualifiers or already qualified)
  • Grey Dots: First Non-Qualifier
    Performance of the first athlete who finished just outside of qualifying

The bottom of the graph shows the strength of the field. Higher numbers indicate a stronger field. The numbers compare the strength of the field in a race with the typical strength of the Kona field, e.g. a strength of 40 (as for the men’s field in South Africa) indicates the field was 40% as strong as the Kona field. More details on how I calculate these numbers can be found in my post on “Strength of Field”.

There is a lot of data in these graphs (click on them for hi-res versions), I’m highlighting just a few of the stories that you can spot in them.


2019 Qualifying Men

Some observances:

  • A performance in the 8:00 to 8:15 range almost assures a Kona Pro slot. Last season there was only one exception: Braden Currie finished third at IM New Zealand, showing the best performance that was not rewarded with a slot.
  • You need a good deal of luck to Kona qualify with a performance slower than 8:30. Will Clarke and Frank Silvestrin managed to get a slot in Brasil and David Dellow in Cairns.
  • The way the season developed, rolldown slots are pretty evenly distributed across the year: Leaving aside the “special case” of  IM Germany (with three Auto Qualifiers in the race), there were six rolldown slots up to May and another five from June to August.
  • On the male side, IM South Africa had the strongest field, followed by the Regional Championships in Germany and Texas that were well ahead of the other races. This seems to indicate that the Regional Championships were quite attractive for the male Pros.
  • There were some close races for the Kona slots: Franz Loeschke missed the win in Barcelona and the Kona slot by just 11 seconds to Jesper Svensson. (Franz finally got his slot in Frankfurt.) Three more slots were decided by less than two minutes: In New Zealand, Braden Currie was 92 seconds behind Andrew Starykowicz (Braden got his slot in Cairns), in Vitoria Josh Amberger was 97 seconds in front of Peru San Alfaro, and in Lake Placid Brent McMahon just 73 seconds behind Marc Duelsen (Peru and Brent ran out of time for qualifying in 2019).


2019 Qualifying Women

Some observances:

  • To Kona qualify as female Pro, a sub-9:15 performance is needed.
  • A performance slower than 9:30 needs luck and slot(s) to roll down to get a female Kona slot: Only Danielle Mack in Boulder, Martin Kunz in Hamburg and Kelsey Withrow in Canada were able to qualify when athletes who finished in front of them declined their slots.
  • Even with the fewer slots for the women, rolldowns were more common than for the men: Out of a total of 24 races included here, there were 13 races where at least one female slot rolled down (compared to 11 for the men), and each of the seven races between July to August had a rolldown for the female Pro slots.
  • Even though it only had one female slot, IM Arizona was the race with the strongest field. (IM Mar del Plata had another strong female field at 20 points – interestingly both of the strongest female fields were at the end of 2018!) Similar to the men the Regional Championships South Africa, Texas and Cairns are next, but they are just barely stronger than a few non-Regional races (New Zealand, Copenhagen).
  • The females also fought hard for their slots. In Cozumel, Angela Naeth was just 45 seconds behind winner Svenja Thoes, in Texas Kim Morrison was overtaken in the finish chute and was 28 seconds behind Lesley Smith who snagged the last slot. Kim had to endure another last-minute pass when she managed to get her slot in Tallinn, but Kristin Liepold already had a slot. (The race was so close that you can’t even see the “blue dot” for Kristin in the graph!) Angela Naeth raced a lot over the summer but missed a 2019 slot, but she’s already won IM Chattanooga and qualified for Kona 2020.
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