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How many people have completed 12 IMs and will now be able to get a slot for Ironman Hawaii?

Changes to the lottery system

The guys at IMTalk scored a real scoop this week. The day after the Kona race they interviewed Andrew Messick, the new CEO of WTC, the company who owns the Ironman brand and runs most of the Ironman races. In the interview (listen to the full interview here, the announcement regarding the lottery starts at 22:50) he announced that

“We’re changing how our lottery works. For athletes who have done 12 or more Ironman over their career – and who are still racing – we are going to guarantee that they have a chance to race Kona.

Andrew also announced that when you’ve entered the lottery and get not picked, you will get an extra chance when you enter the next lottery. In my opinion, these are very smart moves on their part, again encouraging people to continue to participate in Ironman races (or the lottery) and choosing one of their races instead of a Challenge or Rev3 race. (On a more personal note, this may give me a chance to get to Kona, but I would still have to finish 10 more IMs.)

Analyzing the data

This change in the lottery system prompted Thomas Peoples to send me an email with the following issue:

I’m interested to see how many people have completed more than 12 IM races for this new lottery system.

I don’t really have all the required data to do a proper analysis:

  • As I focused on PROs, I don’t have the agegroup results for all races (for about probably about 1/3 of races I only have PRO results).
  • My results only go back to 2005.
  • It is tricky to properly match results from different races, for example there are differences in spelling or the handling of special characters (technically “synonyms”). (Are Andi Boecherer and Andreas BÖCHERER the same athletes?) Especially on the female side, athletes change their names after marrying (two notable examples are Bella Comerford/Bayliss and Marilyn McDonald/MacDonald).
  • One other issue is “homonyms” – different athletes with the same name. For example, there are probably more than one “Peter Brown” or “David Smith”.

But even with these caveats, I did some analysis. I have 55 athletes that with my limited data have 12 or more races. When I look for athletes that have 8 or more races (as I only have age group data for 2/3 of the races), I get 339 athletes.

This number has to be reduced by subtracting the athletes that have already participated in Kona. As I currently don’t have age group results for Kona, I have resorted to looking at the finishing time for the athletes and remove the “fast” athletes. If I define “fast” as having at least one result of under 10 hours (probably allowing them to be in the mix for a Kona slot) and remove all of these athletes, I’m still coming up with 273 athletes.

With all the uncertainties mentioned, my guess is that the number of athletes eligible for an automatic slot is about 250.

How is WTC going to handle this?

It will be interesting to see how WTC is going to handle these issues. At least based on their public facing data, they do not have a “unified customer view” across all their different races. (Although it would be quite valuable information for them – how many “repeat customers” do they have?) Therefore, I assume that when you try to claim your “12 IM slot” you will have to submit a list of your IMs which they would manually cross-check against results in paper, HTML, PDF or maybe even in a database. They would also need to have a way to make sure that these athletes have not been on the IM Hawaii start list (or finished?). One can only hope that WTC has the necessary data available and that they diligently check the claims before assigning a “12 IM slot”. I would be very interested in a “look behind the scenes” on how they plan to handle this issue.

Kona TOP3s who didn’t qualify in an Ironman (outside of Hawaii)

With the KPR, every pro that wants to race Kona has to complete at least one Ironman in the “qualifying year” outside of Kona. Now that I have a good number of race results in my database, I can have a look at recent TOP3s in Kona that would not have been able to race under the new qualifying rules. (Even so, my data may not be 100% up to date or complete – please let me know any errors in my post.)

Here’s an overview:

  • winners: Michellie Jones (2006), Chris McCormack (2007), Craig Alexander (2008 and 2009), Mirinda Carfrae (2010)
  • 2nd places: Sam McGlone (2007), Yvonne van Vlerken (2008), Mirinda Carfrae (2009)
  • 3rd places: Kate Major (2007), Virginia Berasategui (2009), Julie Dibens (2010)

This is one winner from each year and 11 out 30 possible (5 years * 3 spots * m/f) places! To me, this was a bit of a surprise, I thought that it was “just” Crowie who only raced Kona.

Where did they get their slots?

  • The TOP10 in one year used to get an automatic spot for the following year.
  • For some time, the 70.3 champions got an automatic qualifier for Kona.
  • Even though the number was pretty small, some 70.3 races also had some pro slots.

Does this large number of athletes who didn’t race an IM during the year (or none at all) mean that WTC should change the qualifying rules? For now, I don’t really think so:

  • With the exception of Macca, all 2010 TOP10 athletes qualified under the new rules. This shows that the new rules have been accepted, even if a bit grudgingly.
  • Giving any number of TOPx athletes from Kona slots for the following year would be a bit unfair compared to those that have to race to qualify: They have a full year to focus on the next Kona race. While this may be a disadvantage, it usually allows them to get to Kona a bit fresher than those that have to race in the summer to get a slot.
  • Especially on the women’s side, the 70.3 champions fared quite well in Kona (even if it meant that it was their first IM). However, the way the points system works now, all the 70.3 champion has to do is to race an Ironman – this should give them enough points to qualify. Also, I think it is fairly reasonable to expect pros not to race Kona as their first Ironman.

So even considering the large number of athletes with good Kona results  that wouldn’t have been able to race under the new KPR rules, I don’t see any need for major changes based on the analysis of the data. From a WTC viewpoint, you could even say that the KPR succeeded in drawing athletes to race more often. However, as indicated earlier, I suggest to wait for the Kona race before a final verdict on the KPR.

A question from Chrissie Wellington: Do women have to race more often for a Kona slot?

Chrissie Wellington has posted a long and as usual thoughtful blog post on “Thoughts, comments and suggestions on the KPR”. One of her points is as follows:

[It] seems that, because the women are competing for 30 total slots, they are having to race more, than the men who are competing for 50. Those at the cusp of the men’s cut off have done far less IM racing than their women counter parts.  In short, some data suggests that the women are racing more to accrue sufficient points to get to Kona.

I thought that with my database of results, I should be in a pretty good position to have a closer look at this question.

All qualifiers

First, lets have a look at the number of races that the Kona qualifiers have raced:


This graph shows the relative frequency of the number of races that female (red) and male (blue) athletes have raced. The shape of the graphs are very similar, and the average number is also pretty close (2.66 for the male, 2.82 for the female. To me, there is no significant difference between the genders.

There are no changes when we limit the number of males to 35 (as with women), either the top 35 or the low 35 qualifiers.

Athletes close to the cutoff

But Chrissie didn’t seem to look at all athletes. So I looked some more and limited the athletes to the 10 above and below the cutoff. With only 20 items in each dataset, the graph looks a bit wonky, but the base shape is still pretty similar:


Here, the male average is 2.25, and the female at 2.85 races – the difference between the genders is a bit larger than for all qualifiers.

So, did females race more often?

Even though Chrissie is a lot closer to the female athletes than I will ever be, her intuition of females racing more often is not supported by my data analysis:

  • Female athletes have a similar average number of races, regardless of weather they qualifies or were close to the cutoff.
  • The larger difference in the averages of athletes close to the cutoff seems to be caused more by the male athletes racing less than the females being “pushed” into racing more often. (Maybe some of those male athletes weren’t really interested in qualifying for Kona and didn’t chase points.)
  • Also, the data gets a bit skewed by prolific female racers close to the cutoff (Miranda Alldritt with 6 races, Hillary Biscay with 5 races) and Mary Beth Ellis having to win three IMs within eight weeks in order qualify.

Then again, I may be missing something, so please leave a comment or send me an email.

Another idea: Change the points scheme for the females

There is however, one thing worth discussing a bit further: Because the size of the female fields are usually a lot smaller (average pro fields are 10 for the females and 18 for males), it is much easier for the females to score quite a lot of points even when they are far behind from the top racers. (I.e. it is much easier for a female to finish in the top 10 than for a male.) The way I see this, it results in the women racking up more points than their male counterparts (case in point: Male cutoff at around 3.000 points, female cutoff at 4.600; male counterpart to the last female qualifier “only” needs 4.200 points).

Chrissie discusses some changes to the points scheme in her blog post as well (although I’m not sure her thoughts were limited to the females). Maybe WTC should have a closer look into this?

Kona Pro Rankings (KPR) – Some more Analysis

Now that I have all the Ironman results from the last few years in my database, I am able to have a look at the impact of the KPR and how some changes would influence the list of qualified athletes. If you have some more questions that I can look into, please drop me an email or let me know in the comments. I’ve got at least one more question I want to look into, but I’m saving that for another post.

Switching to a two year qualifying cycle

This was a question John Newsom from the fabulous IMTalk podcast had asked quite a while back. It is a bit tricky to answer because you first have to establish some ground rules. So here is what I think would be reasonable for a two year qualifying cycle in order to select athletes for Kona 2011:

  • the first race that counts is IM Wisconsin 2009 (instead of 2010 as it was for the one year cycle), the last ones are IM Canada and IM Louisville 2011 (the same as now)
  • you have to race at least one additional Ironman to IM Hawaii to be eligible

While these are pretty obvious and not an area for discussion, the following two may be a bit controversial

  • only IM Hawaii 2010 counts towards qualifying for 2011
  • the total number of results counting towards the KPR remains at five

However, I think these two are sensible choices for a two year qualifying cycle.

First, a little disclaimer: As I don’t have all the 70.3 results in my database, I just used the 2011 results. Therefore, my calculations are not 100% accurate – but they should give us a good indication of how things chance.

With that out of the way, let’s have a look at some athletes that wouldn’t have qualified under my “KPR 2 year rules”:

  • Male: Michael Lovato, Mike Schifferle, James Cunnama, Dirk Bockel, Paul Amey, Joe Gambles, Michael Goehner
  • Female: Maki Nishiuki, Sam Warriner, Miranda Alldritt, Jackie Arendt, Jackie Gordon

Most of these athletes were pretty close to the one-year-cutoff-line and were just overtaken by athletes with relatively better 2010 results:

  • Male: Scott Neyedli, Christian Brader, Uwe Widmann, Stephen Bayliss, Mike Aigroz, Paul Ambrose
  • Female: Meredith Kessler, Eva Dollinger, Meike Krebs, Hillary Biscay

Some of these were injured and couldn’t rack up enough points in 2011 (Neyedli, Bayliss, Kessler) and some ended their career (Widmann?). Hillary Biscay just had some more races that she could score at, which helped her get decent points races count toward the five races.

All in all, from a points perspective nothing much would have changed. But there is still some more room for speculation: What influence would the “relaxed” requirement of “one IM outside of Hawaii in two years” (instead of one year) have had?

  • No change for Crowie – he hadn’t raced an IM outside of Kona for quite some time
  • Andreas Raelert would probably have skipped IM Regensburg – we won’t be able to assess what impact this race is going to have on his race until after Kona
  • Macca would have been eligible for Kona 2011 – now this would be an interesting point: Would he have changed his mind late in the summer after his DNF in London to switch back to IM racing and another Hawaii start? (I for one think it’s too bad that the champ is not going to be back to defend his title.)

I think this last point is the only one that leads to a potential improvement for the Kona field: Lower the requirements for past Kona champions to get back into the race. While it is understandable that WTC wants to have everyone qualify by racing in an IM during the year, the addition of a past winner could change the dynamics of the race. I would propose something like a one or two year automatic spot for the winner of a race or lower the requirement to “just” a 70.3 race.

No points from 70.3 races

One more question that I have seen discussed is weather results from 70.3 races should be included in the Kona points.

First let’s have a look at athletes that wouldn’t have qualified without points from the 70.3 races:

  • Male: Andy Potts, Chris Lieto, Rasmus  Henning, Andi Boecherer, Paul Amey
  • Female: Linsey Corbin, Caitlin Snow, Sam Warriner, Amanda Stevens

Who would have made it in instead:

  • Male: Dirk Wijnalda, Mike Aigroz, Stephan Vuckovic
  • Female: Hillary Biscay, Jackie Arendt, Fernanda Keller

Both “fields” are pretty close to one another, but if I had to choose between the two, I’d probably choose those that made it in with their 70.3 points. However, this is not a sign that the KPR is “good” at choosing the “right” athletes – it is more a consequence of people knowing that they could get enough points in 70.3 races and planned their season accordingly. From a business standpoint, WTC’s decision to count 70.3 points toward Kona is helping the 70.3 races. If they didn’t do this, the 70.3 series would have been seriously impacted by the requirement to race at least one Ironman race to validate a spot. Also, it favors the WTC core market (North America) which has a lot more 70.3 races than the rest of the world.

Overall, I don’t see any pressing need to change the current scheme.

Comparing Kona Pro Rankings to TTR

At the end of July, the first round of Kona qualifiers were decided based on points accumulated under the Kona Pro Rankings (KPR). This blog has a look at athletes who made it into IM Hawaii but aren’t ranked very high in the TTR, and some well rated athletes that haven’t managed to snag a Kona slot.

Update on September 3rd: I’ve added some more infos (in italics) after the final round of qualifying races.

Athletes not qualified because they haven’t raced (enough)

If you want to qualify for Kona, you have to race at least one WTC Ironman race outside of Hawaii to be eligible. Well rated athletes that haven’t made it in include

  • Chris McCormack – not interested in IM Hawaii while trying to qualify for the Olympics
  • Sebastian Kienle – two sub-8 races in Roth give him a great TTR, but no “official” IM race
  • Michael Raelert – had an injury just before IM Germany and had to pull out
  • Tim Berkel – seems to focus on Challenge races, just did a few 70.3s
  • Sandra Wallenhorst – hasn’t had a result since IM Germany 2010 (she was disqualified in Kona)
  • Sam McGlone – is completely missing in the KPR rankings (also last result I have is from Kona 2010)
  • Gina Crawford – is also missing in the KPR, but has raced IM Wisconsin 2010 which would have given her a slot under the old rules
  • Andreas Raelert – didn’t have a race at the end of July, but raced IM Regensburg (even if injured), so he secured his spot by now

You also have to race quite a few races to rack up enough points. The following athletes just didn’t have enough WTC races to qualify:

  • Jordan Rapp – always racing around 8:30, but just one IM race (IM Arizona) and two 70.3s (He won Canada, so he has enough points now, but he’s probably not interested in racing Kona.)
  • Rebekah Keat – one IM result, but was mainly racing Challenge races (thanks to reader Jaime for pointing her out in the comments!)
  • Aaron Farlow – winner of IM UK, but that was his only race
  • Kristin Moeller – same story: won IM UK, but no other results
  • Mary Beth Ellis – two great IMs winning them both (Austria, Regensburg), but not enough points as of now (She managed to win Canada, too – three wins in eight weeks! But it remains to be seen how fresh she is going to be if she races Kona.)

If you want to put together the strongest field in Kona, then these athletes should be in. (There are a few other athletes such as Jo Lawn that should be in and will probably make made it as August qualifiers.) Mary Beth Ellis is still in the gray zone – not sure if she’s going to do another IM race (Canada?). However, most of the athletes made it pretty clear that they are not interested in racing IM Hawaii (such as McCormack) and apparently haven’t even purchased a pro license (McGlone, Crawford – probably because of injury and becoming a parent).

Athletes who qualified because they raced often

Then you have a few athletes that race a lot and therefore rack up quite a few points:

  • Petr Vabrousek – one of the few athletes with 5 qualifying IM races
  • Balasz Csoke – he has improved quite a bit over the last years, but his rating is still lagging a bit

There are also a few women who are currently just outside that raced quite a lot (Miranda Alldritt, Desiree Ficker, Hillary Biscay). But all in all, you have to be a pretty solid athlete to be able to make it into Kona using this strategy. Still, I think WTC should limit the number of races it takes into account for the KPR (currently, it’s the five best races; three or four sounds more sensible to me).

How good is the KPR in getting the strongest field for Kona?

Based on this analysis, I think the KPR has done a pretty good job of selecting the best athletes for the Kona race: the fastest athletes made it in.

Maybe with the exception of Chris McCormack (who would have been automatically qualified and may have had second thoughts after not really making progress in ITU racing),  athletes that didn’t qualify wouldn’t have been able to qualify under the old rules (with direct spots in IM races). The best example is Michael Raelert – he’d have had to race some Ironman to qualify under the old rules, too. It is unfortunate that he chose a pretty late race, got an injury and couldn’t heal in time. But he is young and will have his shot at Ironman in the next years.

The story is a little bit different for the last three athletes on my list (Rapp, Farlow, Moeller). They would have gotten a Kona slot in the races they did, but I don’t think that any of these would be on the list of top contenders for Kona (sorry, Jordan). One possible change to the KPR could be to grant an automatic spot for any pro winning an Ironman. As we can see from this year’s results, that would have just added two or three more athletes to the race, so the field size wouldn’t have to increase too much.

Then again, the KPR and the new qualification rules probably lead to some athletes “writing off” Kona, i.e. instead of racing an IM here or there, focus on Challenge or Rev3 races (Sebastian Kienle and Tim Berkel seem to fall into this category). But based on my analysis, this mainly applies to athletes that would have been able to get into Kona if the field was larger, so it is more a consequence of WTC reducing the field size rather then the points system. Still, it would be interesting to see how Sebastian Kienle would race in Kona …

Thumbs up for the KPR?

So can we call the KPR a success? I think it is a bit too early for that: It remains to be seen what influence the requirement to qualify is going to have on the race in Hawaii. (The field size reduction may have some more influence, but that’s not my point here.)

I’ll take two examples: Craig Alexander and Andreas Raelert. Crowie used to do just one IM in the year and focused exclusively on Kona. He probably would not have raced CdA if he didn’t have to. So he may not be quite as sharp in Kona as in previous years. I’m not so sure if that is the case: He used to race quite a lot of 70.3s in the previous years which he didn’t do this year. This probably had more of a financial aspect for him, but I think he is still doing his very best to arrive in Kona in top form. It’ll be interesting to hear his thoughts on this, though!

Andreas Raelert is a different story. In previous years he raced in the summer (mainly Frankfurt), this year he decided to race in Roth (setting a new world record). He then had to do an IM to validate his spot (his second place in Hawaii already gave him enough points) and IM Regensburg seemed a good pick. Because of an injury he raced this very easily (especially on the run) – he probably wouldn’t have raced if he didn’t have to. Let’s just hope that he has enough time to heal his injury and that the requirements of qualifying doesn’t cost him the Hawaii race.

One more example is Mary Beth Ellis. She’s had a late start to her Ironman year, and even after winning two races (Austria and Regensburg) she didn’t have enough points to qualify. She then went ahead and won a third Ironman within eight weeks to grab her spot for Kona. She now has six weeks to recover for Kona. I’d say there are probably very few people who give her a chance to have a great race in Kona after this qualifying ordeal.

To sum up, so far the KPR is working fine, but let’s wait till after the Kona race before a final verdict.

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