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2021 Kona Pro Qualifying

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.

Getting Started

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!

Deep Dive Into the 2020 Triathlon Money List

2020 has been a different year in a lot of regards, and of course there has been a huge impact on triathlon racing in general and also for Professional racing. This post has a look at the “raw numbers” on the Prize Money paid in 2020, but with the lower number of races this season a discussion about the limitations of these numbers (and what is not included) is even more important than for other years. I will close with a discussion of some trends that we have seen this year (beyond the simple observation of “lower numbers”) and what we might see in future seasons when racing is “back to normal”.

If you want to check out the 2019 lists, you can find them in my post “Deep Dive Into 2019 Triathlon Money List“.

Money List – Overview

First, here is an overview of the races that are included in the money lists and a comparison to the 2018 season. The total is shown in US$, for races that paid their prize purse in a different currency the amounts have been converted into US$. For some comments on the race types, see the “Limitations” section below.

Type Description Total Money Change to
# Races
# Athletes
Ironman (1) WTC Ironman-branded races $    200.000 -92% 3 (32) 49 (277)
70.3 WTC 70.3-branded races $    233.900 -89% 9 (71) 130 (400)
PTO (2) PTO-supported races (incl. Bonus Pool) $ 3.846.316 new Category 14 + Bonus 296
Challenge (2) Challenge-branded full and half-distance
$      16.614 -98% 1 (26+Bonus) 12 (208)
ITU (3) ITU World Triathlon Series (incl. Bonus Pool) $    250.000 – 89% 1+Bonus (8+Bonus) 101 (115)
SuperLeague (4) SuperLeague Professional Events $      50.000 -95% 1 (4+Bonus) 20 (58)
Other (5) Port of Tauranga, Hell of the West $      15.822 n/a 2 (9) 16 (183)
Total $ 4.612.652 -50% 31 (152)  457 (767)


Of course, prize money is only one part of how triathletes can make money in their sport. Especially the top athletes make a lot of money with sponsor payments and appearance money, but most of the sums involved in these areas are confidential. Sometimes, there is talk in the press (and sometimes even some form of acknowledgment), and here are some additional components that have been paid in 2020 but are not included in the table above. (If you’re interested in these aspects, Jordan Blanco has written an excellent post on about “The Economics of Professional Triathlon“.)

  1. Virtual Racing by Ironman
    When Ironman was forced to cancel (aka “reschedule”) most of their 2020 races, they started their new “Virtual Racing” series. They even had some Pros who appeared in the race and who were paid an “appearance fee”. No official numbers have been released, my best guess is that the total sum paid out to Pros is somewhere around $ 100.000 in total.
  2. Challenge Davos
    Challenge Davos had to be stopped during or just after the swim when a thunderstorm moved in that made racing dangerous. However, the intended prize money (€ 19.000 by Challenge and € 21.000 by the PTO) was paid out to all Pro categories competitors.
  3. ITU World Cups
    As in other seasons, I’m only counting the top-tier “World Triathlon Series” races and the money paid out there in the ITU category. However, there are also several second-tier World Cup races where prize money was paid. As there was only one WTS event this year, a lot of the top athletes competed in the World Cups and made some additional money there.
  4. SuperLeague: Rotterdam “Arena Games”
    SuperLeague was also forced to cancel their racing plans. They were able to put together an “Arena Games” event for ten men and ten women, swimming in a pool, riding on smart trainers and running on treadmills. I haven’t been able to find any official prize money breakdown, the 2020 numbers are estimates, probably erring towards the high side.
  5. Zwift Racing
    There have also been races on Zwift geared towards Professional triathletes, again without official information about the total money or breakdown.

Individual Athletes

The following table lists the top 2020 money earners.

# Name Gender Nation TotalMoney WTCMoney PTOMoney ITUMoney OtherMoney
1 Anne Haug F GER $142.503 $142.503
2 Paula Findlay F CAN $115.000 $115.000
3 Gustav Iden M NOR $105.938 $103.338 $2.600
4 Lionel Sanders M CAN $105.000 $105.000
5 Matt Hanson M USA $101.300 $15.250 $86.050
6 Jan Frodeno M GER $100.000 $100.000
7 Daniela Ryf F SUI $100.000 $100.000
8 Holly Lawrence F GBR $98.500 $3.500 $95.000
9 Alistair Brownlee M GBR $96.300 $93.000 $3.300
10 Lucy Charles-Barclay F GBR $90.000 $90.000
11 Sarah Crowley F AUS $88.750 $6.250 $82.500
12 Rudy Von Berg M USA $86.003 $3.500 $82.503
13 Laura Philipp F GER $85.000 $85.000
14 Sebastian Kienle M GER $82.250 $2.250 $80.000
15 Teresa Adam F NZL $73.030 $12.000 $61.030
16 Joe Skipper M GBR $72.500 $12.000 $60.500
17 Skye Moench F USA $65.750 $9.000 $56.750
18 George Goodwin M GBR $62.500 $62.500
19 Ben Hoffman M USA $62.500 $62.500
20 Javier Gomez M ESP $53.503 $52.503 $1.000
21 Carrie Lester F AUS $52.500 $52.500
22 Amelia Watkinson F NZL $51.553 $9.000 $42.553
23 Braden Currie M NZL $48.353 $4.000 $41.030 $3.323
24 Cameron Wurf M AUS $45.000 $45.000
25 Heather Jackson F USA $44.000 $44.000

If you’re only looking at prize money provided by Ironman, the top earners were Katrina Matthews ($18.000) and Matt Hanson ($15.250).

Additional Observations and Trends

Of course, the big changer for the 2020 season has been Covid and the resulting race cancellations. However, there are a few additional trends that are likely going to continue to impact Pro racing even after racing has returned to a more normal level:

  1. With the PTO, a new player has entered the triathlon scene. They have already been the main money provider in the 2020 season, and they have big plans for 2021 as well. With another big-purse event (the Collins Cup with $2 million for the athletes who make the teams) they are likely going to extend their #1 position.
  2. Prize Money provided by WTC has declined from year to year even before Covid. Their Pro racing calendar until early June 2021 has a total of $850.000 – the corresponding number for 2019 was almost $1,5 million. It seems very likely that the decline is going to continue further.
  3. The 2020 dip in Professional racing is not evenly distributed, for example Asia and South America haven’t seen any Pro races in 2020. When Ironman was sold in early 2020 they have stated that they want to continue to offer races in China, but currently there are no Pro races planned and all Chinese races are planned for “TBD”. Hopefully, there will be a good number of races across the globe in 2021.

Pacing in Kona – how to win and how to avoid blowing up

Dan Plews and I have collaborated on a piece for Triathlon Magazine Canada about pacing strategies for the marathon in Kona:


The article is now available on the magazine’s website.

Dan is a sports scientist and coach based in New Zealand ( – and he is also phenomenal athlete, setting the Kona age group record in 2018 that includes a 2:50 marathon. Thanks for the interesting exchange of ideas, Dan!

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.

Updates on Ironman-Distance Records

I’ve just posted an update to the “Ironman-Distance Records” page.

Here are some notable updates after the 2019 season:

  • The fastest 2019 Ironman-distance finishes by Tyler Butterfield (7:44) and Lucy Charles-Barclay (8:31) are in the Top 5 fastest results of all time.
  • There were quite a few Top 5 bike times in 2019: Fast bike rides by Andrew Starykowicz (in Florida and Texas), by Boris Stein (in Sweden), by Teresa Adam and by Kim Morrison (both in Western Australia).
  • With their marathons in Florida and Cozumel, Ben Hoffman and Ty Butterfield are now in the Top 5 fastest run times.
  • I’ve added a new “Fastest on Land” category, with Joe Skipper taking the lead with his Florida race. The fastest female race is still Daniela Ryf’s Kona 2018 win.
  • We’ve had four new male continental records: Matt Trautman (for Africa), Cameron Wurf (for Oceania), Mario de Elias (for South America) and Tyler Butterfield (for North America, not counting Texas 2018). There was also one female continental record, set by Sarah Crowley for Oceania (again not counting Texas 2018).
  • There were too many notable national records in 2019 to list them here (10 male and 9 female records), but check out the records page for a full list!
  • In addition there were a lot of new entries in the “National Top 5” overall and in Kona for the USA, Germany, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Great Britain.

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