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Some Kona 2019 Data Points

This post looks at some data points on the Kona 2019 Pro field. There’s going to be a lot more information about Kona and the Kona Pro field in my “Kona 2019 Rating Report” that you can already pre-order here.

Distribution by Nation

First, let’s have a look at how many Pro athletes are going to be racing in Kona and how those numbers have changed in recent years. I’m using 2011 as the starting year since the Kona Pro field has been pretty much around 90 athletes since then. In earlier years the Pro fields have been much larger – for example there were 148 Pro starters in 2009!

Here’s the graph that looks at the number of Pros broken down by nation:

Nations

Some main points:

  • The US has always had the largest number of Pro athletes racing in Kona. This year isn’t any different – the US has 21 Pro athletes which is also a record number (tied with 2013 and 2015).
  • Next up is Germany – 19 German Pros is also a record number and more than double than last year. Germany was in #4 four last year, they have clearly moved to take the #2 this year.
  • Last year, Australia and the United Kingdom were tied at nine athletes each, and not much has changed: Australia stayed the same, the British Pro team has grown by one athlete.
  • Switzerland has closed the gap to the top nations, with eight Pros in 2019 they have almost closed the gap to Australia.
  • There is a lot more movement for the smaller nations. In 2018 New Zealand had seven athletes in Kona, this year they have dropped down to three. The big mover is South Africa with an improvement from two athletes last year to five.

Kona Experience of the Pro Field

This section look at how the Kona field is changing over time.

First, a look at how often the Kona Pros have raced there before:

KonaExperience

This graph shows that there hasn’t been much change from last year. The men’s average of 3.30 races per starter continues to be at record levels. The corresponding female number (an average of 2.20 races per starter) is almost one race lower than that.

The next graph looks at what part of the field is athletes returning from the previous year’s race and which part consists of Kona rookies:

Returns Rookies

There is a bit more movement here:

  • The Return Rate for the men has dropped from 64% to just over fifty percent. At the same time, the segment of Kona rookies has grown to 25%, the highest number since 2015 when it was 33%.
  • The number of female rookies has reached a new record level: 16 rookies result in a rookies quota of 36%. Exactly half of the 2019 field has raced Kona 2018.

It’s not quite clear why these changes have happened, but it’s quite likely that the new qualifying system has played a role.

Age of the Kona Pros

Here’s a graph showing the age distribution of the Kona Pros (click for a hi-res version):

The youngest Pros racing in Kona are Daniel Baekkegard (23 years) and Nina Derron, Imo Simmonds and Lucy Charles-Barkley (26 years). Sue Huse and Daniel Fontana are the oldest.

It’s interesting to cross-reference this with the Age of Kona winners and some extra material for speculation.

Individual Athlete Kona Results

The following tables look at the results each Kona 2019 Pro athlete has had on the Big Island in previous years.

Female Participants

Athletes 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 # of Starts Highest Finish
Corinne Abraham 11 16 9 3 9
Jen Annett 25 1 25
Nikki Bartlett 0 of 1
Emma Bilham
Daniela Bleymehl 36 1 36
Lauren Brandon 26 1 of 2 26
Mirinda Carfrae 2 Win 2 3 Win Win 2 5 8 of 9 1
Lucy Charles-Barclay 2 2 2 2
Susie Cheetham 6 6 26 3 of 4 6
Linsey Corbin 23 5 11 12 16 8 10 12 13 13 10 11 of 12 5
Sarah Crowley 15 3 6 3 3
Nina Derron
Gurutze Frades Larralde 33 22 24 3 22
Anne Haug 3 1 3
Mareen Hufe 19 21 11 13 4 of 5 11
Sue Huse
Heather Jackson 5 3 4 14 4 3
Meredith Kessler 26 7 26 35 4 of 7 7
Martina Kunz
Carrie Lester 23 10 7 3 of 4 7
Kristin Liepold 17 15 25 26 4 15
Danielle Mack
Jocelyn McCauley 10 30 2 10
Skye Moench
Kimberley Morrison
Camilla Pedersen 8 11 2 of 3 8
Laura Philipp
Sarah Piampiano 23 7 7 11 4 of 5 7
Barbara Riveros
Daniela Ryf 2 Win Win Win Win 5 1
Kaisa Sali 5 5 7 3 5
Jeanni Seymour
Laura Siddall 15 17 2 15
Imogen Simmonds
Lesley Smith 0 of 1
Jennifer Spieldenner
Maja Stage Nielsen 12 15 2 12
Caroline Steffen 2 5 2 5 5 9 6 2
Bianca Steurer 28 1 28
Svenja Thoes
Sarah True 4 1 4
Els Visser
Annah Watkinson
Kelsey Withrow

Male Participants

Athletes 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 # of Starts Highest Finish
Bart Aernouts 11 8 9 8 12 2 6 of 7 2
Clemente Alonso McKernan 17 1 of 3 17
Josh Amberger 29 1 of 2 29
Daniel Baekkegard
Cody Beals
Andi Boecherer 51 8 21 20 5 5 of 6 5
Terenzo Bozzone 11 20 6 3 of 5 6
Alistair Brownlee
Kyle Buckingham 24 30 26 23 4 of 5 23
Will Clarke 41 42 2 41
Maurice Clavel 19 1 19
James Cunnama 51 4 26 5 17 5 of 6 4
Braden Currie 30 5 2 5
Mario De Elias
David Dellow 9 24 2 of 3 9
Tobias Drachler
Andreas Dreitz 13 1 13
Marc Duelsen 18 1 of 2 18
Daniel Fontana 12 33 2 of 5 12
Jan Frodeno 3 Win Win 35 4 1
Nils Frommhold 6 29 2 of 3 6
Joe Gambles 20 27 2 of 4 20
Matt Hanson 34 33 2 of 3 33
Ben Hoffman 55 42 15 2 27 4 9 7 of 8 2
Kristian Hogenhaug
Sebastian Kienle 4 3 Win 8 2 4 6 of 7 1
Philipp Koutny 15 1 15
Lukas Kraemer
Patrick Lange 3 Win Win 3 1
Chris Leiferman
Eneko Llanos 5 7 2 14 7 11 7 27 24 9 of 12 2
Franz Loeschke
David McNamee 11 13 3 3 4 3
Patrik Nilsson 8 1 of 2 8
Timothy O’Donnell 8 5 32 3 6 19 4 7 of 8 3
Kennett Peterson
Mike Phillips 16 1 16
David Plese 27 17 21 3 of 5 17
Andy Potts 7 9 21 17 7 4 4 11 7 8 10 4
Tim Reed 21 23 18 3 of 4 18
Matthew Russell 23 20 18 23 12 6 6 of 7 6
Lionel Sanders 14 29 2 28 4 2
Daniil Sapunov
Stefan Schumacher
Frank Silvestrin
Joe Skipper 13 41 7 3 7
Andrew Starykowicz 19 40 2 of 3 19
Boris Stein 20 10 7 10 4 7
Jesper Svensson
TJ Tollakson 29 58 32 38 20 5 of 7 20
Matt Trautman 0 of 1
Jan van Berkel 32 22 24 3 of 4 22
Tim Van Berkel 7 36 19 15 12 5 7
Cyril Viennot 15 18 12 5 6 18 35 7 of 8 5
Michael Weiss 25 13 16 16 32 10 6 of 8 10
Cameron Wurf 17 9 2 9

There’s going to be a lot more information about Kona and the Kona Pro field in my “Kona 2019 Rating Report” that you can already pre-order here.

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Always Up-to-date Kona 2019 Startlist

Here is the preliminary start list for Kona 2019. I will update this list after the upcoming races or when athletes announce that they won’t start. I will also update the list once Ironman assigns bib numbers. For now the lists are sorted in alphabetical order.

For details about Pro qualifying and where each athlete qualified, check out the “Kona 2019 Qualifying” page.

I am going to provide a lot more details on the race and the participants in my free “Kona Rating Report” – you can already pre-order the Report here or by clicking “Get Kona Report” in the sidebar on the right.

Updates

  • On September 17th, Kyle Buckingham announced on Instagram that because of visa problems he won’t be able to race Kona. He has instead switched his focus to IM Italy and IM Barcelona.
  • In early July, Frederik van Lierde announced that he will not race Kona but is instead going to focus on 70.3 Worlds in Nice in early September and then IM Barcelona in October.

Male Race Participants

Name Nation Age Previous Kona Pro Results
Bart Aernouts BEL 35 6 finishes (7 starts)
Clemente Alonso McKernan ESP 41 1 finish (3 starts)
Josh Amberger AUS 30 1 finish (2 starts)
Daniel Baekkegard DEN 23 none
Cody Beals CAN 29 none
Andi Boecherer GER 36 5 finishes (6 starts)
Terenzo Bozzone NZL 34 3 finishes (5 starts)
Alistair Brownlee GBR 31 none
Kyle Buckingham ZAF 35 4 finishes (5 starts)
Will Clarke GBR 34 2 finishes
Maurice Clavel GER 31 1 finish
James Cunnama ZAF 36 5 finishes (6 starts)
Braden Currie NZL 33 2 finishes
Mario De Elias ARG 35 none
David Dellow AUS 40 2 finishes (3 starts)
Tobias Drachler GER 28 none
Andreas Dreitz GER 30 1 finish
Marc Duelsen GER 34 1 finish (2 starts)
Daniel Fontana ITA 43 2 finishes (5 starts)
Jan Frodeno GER 38 4 finishes, 2 wins (2015, 2016)
Nils Frommhold GER 33 2 finishes (3 starts)
Joe Gambles AUS 37 2 finishes (4 starts)
Matt Hanson USA 34 2 finishes (3 starts)
Kristian Hogenhaug DEN 28 none
Ben Hoffman USA 36 7 finishes (8 starts)
Sebastian Kienle GER 35 6 finishes (7 starts), 1 win (2014)
Philipp Koutny SUI 36 1 finish
Lukas Kraemer GER 35 none
Patrick Lange GER 33 3 finishes, 2 wins (2017, 2018)
Chris Leiferman USA 33 none
Eneko Llanos ESP 42 9 finishes (12 starts)
Franz Loeschke GER 30 none
David McNamee GBR 31 4 finishes
Patrik Nilsson SWE 28 1 finish (2 starts)
Timothy O’Donnell USA 39 7 finishes (8 starts)
Kennett Peterson USA 33 none
Mike Phillips NZL 28 1 finish
David Plese SLO 36 3 finishes (5 starts)
Andy Potts USA 42 10 finishes
Tim Reed AUS 34 3 finishes (4 starts)
Matthew Russell USA 36 6 finishes (7 starts)
Lionel Sanders CAN 31 4 finishes
Daniil Sapunov UKR 37 none
Stefan Schumacher GER 38 none
Frank Silvestrin BRA 37 none
Joe Skipper GBR 31 3 finishes
Andrew Starykowicz USA 37 2 finishes (3 starts)
Boris Stein GER 34 4 finishes
Jesper Svensson SWE 29 none
TJ Tollakson USA 39 5 finishes (7 starts)
Matt Trautman ZAF 34 0 finishes (1 start)
Jan van Berkel SUI 31 3 finishes (4 starts)
Tim Van Berkel AUS 35 5 finishes
Frederik Van Lierde BEL 40 8 finishes (11 starts), 1 win (2013)
Cyril Viennot FRA 37 7 finishes (8 starts)
Michael Weiss AUT 38 6 finishes (8 starts)
Cameron Wurf AUS 36 2 finishes

Female Race Participants

Name Nation Age Previous Kona Pro Results
Corinne Abraham GBR 41 3 finishes
Jen Annett CAN 34 1 finish
Nikki Bartlett GBR 32 0 finishes (1 start)
Emma Bilham SUI 32 none
Daniela Bleymehl GER 31 1 finish
Lauren Brandon USA 34 1 finish (2 starts)
Mirinda Carfrae AUS 38 8 finishes (9 starts), 3 wins (2010, 2013, 2014)
Lucy Charles-Barclay GBR 26 2 finishes
Susie Cheetham GBR 33 3 finishes (4 starts)
Linsey Corbin USA 38 11 finishes (12 starts)
Sarah Crowley AUS 36 3 finishes
Nina Derron SUI 26 none
Gurutze Frades Larralde ESP 38 3 finishes
Anne Haug GER 36 1 finish
Mareen Hufe GER 41 4 finishes (5 starts)
Sue Huse CAN 45 none
Heather Jackson USA 35 4 finishes
Meredith Kessler USA 41 4 finishes (7 starts)
Martina Kunz SUI 35 none
Carrie Lester AUS 37 3 finishes (4 starts)
Kristin Liepold GER 35 4 finishes
Danielle Mack USA none
Jocelyn McCauley USA 31 2 finishes
Skye Moench USA 31 none
Kimberley Morrison GBR 31 none
Camilla Pedersen DEN 36 2 finishes (3 starts)
Laura Philipp GER 32 none
Sarah Piampiano USA 39 4 finishes (5 starts)
Barbara Riveros CHI 32 none
Daniela Ryf SUI 32 5 finishes, 4 wins (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)
Kaisa Sali FIN 38 3 finishes
Jeanni Seymour ZAF 27 none
Laura Siddall GBR 39 2 finishes
Imogen Simmonds SUI 26 none
Lesley Smith USA 36 0 finishes (1 start)
Jennifer Spieldenner USA 33 none
Maja Stage Nielsen DEN 31 2 finishes
Caroline Steffen SUI 41 6 finishes
Bianca Steurer AUT 33 1 finish
Svenja Thoes GER 28 none
Sarah True USA 37 1 finish
Els Visser NED 29 none
Annah Watkinson ZAF 38 none
Kelsey Withrow USA 37 none

Kona 2018 – How the Female Race Unfolded

Here are the results of the top finishers of the female Pro race in Kona 2018 (full results can be found here, a detailed look at the men’s Pro race here):

Rank Name Nation Swim Bike Run Time Diff to exp. Prize Money
1 Daniela Ryf SUI 00:57:27 04:26:07 02:57:05 08:26:18 -17:26 US$ 120,000
2 Lucy Charles GBR 00:48:14 04:38:10 03:05:50 08:36:34 -25:35 US$ 60,000
3 Anne Haug GER 00:54:21 04:47:45 02:55:20 08:41:58 -30:22 US$ 40,000
4 Sarah True USA 00:52:06 04:49:19 02:57:38 08:43:43 -19:47 US$ 22,500
5 Mirinda Carfrae AUS 00:58:18 04:46:05 03:01:41 08:50:45 -10:54 US$ 19,000
6 Sarah Crowley AUS 00:54:19 04:43:09 03:10:29 08:52:30 -18:51 US$ 16,000
7 Kaisa Sali FIN 00:58:23 04:44:31 03:06:04 08:54:28 -06:45 US$ 14,000
8 Angela Naeth CAN 00:58:28 04:42:25 03:11:11 08:57:36 -35:49 US$ 12,500
9 Corinne Abraham GBR 00:58:44 04:38:16 03:16:26 08:57:55 -12:46 US$ 11,000
10 Linsey Corbin USA 00:58:24 04:48:29 03:07:15 08:58:58 -13:13 US$ 10,000
11 Sarah Piampiano USA 01:05:04 04:52:01 02:59:26 09:01:57 -15:56
12 Liz Blatchford AUS 00:52:09 04:53:32 03:15:17 09:06:20 -05:09
13 Mareen Hufe GER 00:58:34 04:43:50 03:18:40 09:06:35 -11:50
14 Heather Jackson USA 00:58:18 04:44:45 03:21:56 09:09:16 06:32

Here’s the Race Development Graph for these athletes:

Kona 2018 Women

Kona Champion: Daniela Ryf

Even jelly fish stings shortly before the race couldn’t stop Daniela from defending her title and also setting new records:

Kona Dani

Before the race there was pretty much agreement that Dani would be able to defend her title unless something serious happened to her. This year, something serious did happened to her – she was stung by jellyfish under both armpits and was seriously thinking about not even starting the race. She decided to give it a try and said she felt so slow that she was sure she was in last place. It wasn’t quite that slow (she still swam under an hour and faster than Mirinda Carfrae or Kaisa Sali), but she lost nine minutes to Lucy Charles (twice as much time as last year) and when she took some extra time in T1 she was even further behind, starting the bike in 22nd place in a group with a few other contenders who were probably very surprised to ride with Dani. She gained a few spots in the first hour of the bike, but didn’t make up any ground to Lucy. But once she passed the Airport, she was able to put the pain from the stings aside and slowly started to move ahead and close the gap. By the turn in Hawi, she had moved into second place and was also riding too fast for Sarah Crowley who had been riding with her for a few miles – but she was still seven minutes behind Lucy.

What followed was a demonstration of her domination on the Ironman distance: She closed the gap to Lucy in the next 40 miles and posted one of the fastest second half bike splits overall. (One of the stats making the round after the race was that she rode the last 70k of the bike quicker than male winner Patrick Lange, and there were only seven Pro men riding that section faster than her.) She took the lead from Lucy at about mile 102 (even a bit earlier than last year) and with a bike split of 4:26:07 annihilated the long-standing bike record (4:44:19 by Karin Thürig from 2011). Even though the conditions were fast this year and there were five more athletes breaking the old record, she still posted the fastest bike split by more than twelve minutes!

Still, Dani started the run only 90 seconds ahead of Lucy, so she still needed a solid run after that very hard bike leg to secure her fourth Kona title in a row. She never allowed any doubt about her marathon (or any hope for Lucy): In fact she almost posted a new marathon PR, her 2:57 missed her best run from 2016 by just 14 seconds. In the end, an ecstatic Dani crossed the line with a ten-minute margin to second place, of course with a new course record of 8:26:07 – an improvement on her 2016 time by more than 20 minutes. In all the excitement on race day it went pretty much unnoticed that this is also the fastest time ever in an Ironman-branded race, there are only three quicker finishes in Roth (8:22 by Dani in 2016 and Chrissie Wellington’s 8:18 and 8:19 in 2010 and 2011).

Dani Finish

Second: Lucy Charles

With another great performance, Lucy again claimed second place for the second year in a row:

Kona Lucy

Once again Lucy had a great start of the race and was leading the race into T1. She had said before the race that she wanted to go for the swim course record, and from the gun she was swimming at a hard pace, quickly leaving the rest of the field behind. Her pace was spot on: Her 48:14 broke Jodi Jackson’s 1999 swim course record by 29 seconds. She didn’t know anything of Daniela’s problems during the swim and started to also set a fast pace on the bike. She delivered another great performance in Kona: In addition to breaking the swim course record, she was six minutes faster than the old bike course record, and almost posted a new run PR (she missed her run time from South Africa by five seconds). When she crossed the finish line in 8:36:14, she was ten minutes quicker than the old course record. Nonetheless, Lucy’s 2018 race was pretty much a copy of last year: Leading after the swim and for most of the bike, she was overtaken by Dani shortly before T2, and a good run allowed her to finish second by a good margin to third place: two minutes in 2017, five minutes this year.

Lucy Palani

Third and Fourth: Anne Haug & Sarah True

While the first two places were pretty much decided in T2, the race for third was close until just before the finish line when Anne Haug was able to overtake Sarah True:

Kona Anne Sarah

Both didn’t lose too much time in the swim (four minutes for Sarah, six minutes for Anne), and both were happy to settle into a bigger big group that formed behind the leading athletes. The positions shown in the graph above are a bit misleading – the group was close to 15 athletes riding between fifth and 20th place. For most of the bike ride, the two rookies were happy to follow the pace set by more experienced athletes, eventually riding 15 minutes behind the leaders. Around 90 miles into the bike, Sarah was still feeling good and started to ride a strong, focused pace and the group started to fall apart. Anne was able to match her pace and they started the run in fifth and sixth place within 30 seconds of each other. Sarah and Anne were running the fastest pace in the female field and by the time they left the Energy Lab, they had moved into third and fourth place, still less than a minute apart. Anne was especially strong towards the end, moved into third place less than five miles from the finish and ran the best female marathon of the day with a 2:55 – the fastest Kona run since Rinny’s course run record in 2014.

Anne Finish

Sarah admits that she ran the first part of the run with too much excitement: “I paid for my early pace after the halfway point and started to have GI distress and problems with nutrition. Before Anne passed me, I was aware that I might have difficulty finishing if I didn’t slow down through aid stations and start to take in more nutrition. While this approach helped me salvage my race, I definitely suffered quite a bit. I don’t remember the last bit of the race which is a shame. I wanted to experience all of Kona, but being in survival mode meant that I don’t remember crossing the finish line very well. I guess I’ll have to go back to experience it fully!”

SarahT Finish

Fifth to Ninth: Mirinda Carfrae, Sarah Crowley, Kaisa Sali, Angela Naeth, and Corinne Abraham

Kona 5to9

There were two athletes that were able to ride between Lucy and Dani in front and the large bike group about ten to 15 minutes behind the lead. As last year, Sarah Crowley (orange line) was sticking to Daniela, but had to let her go shortly after the turnaround. By T2 she was over twelve minutes back, and she was overtaken by Corinne Abraham (green line) who was able to ride five minutes into the big bike group by posting the third-best bike split (just 6 seconds slower than Lucy Charles). Corinne wasn’t able to do much run training and after the race was happy to finish in ninth place when she rallied to run with Angela Naeth after the Energy Lab. Sarah ran in third place on Ali’i, but then she was overtaken, first by Anne and Sarah and then – shortly after exiting the Energy Lab – by Mirinda Carfrae. Sarah ended up finishing sixth but she was clearly racing for more.

In her comeback season, Mirinda Carfrae (aqua line) had a solid Kona race. She was part of the big bike group that formed after the swim and while she lost almost twenty minutes to Daniela Ryf and started the run in 14th pace, she was just over five minutes behind the podium ranks in T2. Rinny quickly moved into the Top 10, but others from the bike group (Anne Haug, Sarah True) were running a bit quicker than her so this year her run through the field ended in fifth place.

Rinny Palani

The other proven strong runner in the big bike group was Kaisa Sali (blue line). A 3:06 marathon was good enough for a seventh-place finish but not enough to make up ground to the athletes in front of her. Even though Angela Naeth (red line) was five minutes slower than Kaisa on the run, she is probably quite happy with her Kona marathon – the only time she ever ran a better time was in her win at IM Texas in 2015. Angela has been getting faster in each IM marathon she completed in her 2018 season.

Falling Back and Coming From Behind: Linsey Corbin, Sarah Piampiano, Liz Blatchford, Mareen Hufe and Heather Jackson

There are two different story types for the athletes finishing between ninth and 14th place:

Kona 10to14

Linsey Corbin (violet line) quickly lost touch with the big bike group, but riding her own pace she didn’t lose too much time: In T2 she was 18th, but only three to five minutes behind a lot of athletes. A steady 3:07 marathon saw her slowly climb the ranks and finish in tenth place, the last Pro to earn prize money.

The fourth sub-3 Kona 2018 marathon was run by Sarah Piampiano (turquoise line) who ended the race in eleventh place. As is typical for her, she lost a lot of time in the swim and started the bike in 36th place (fourth-to-last). By T2 she was able to gain a few spots, but she was still 15 minutes behind tenth place. But she had an almost evenly paced marathon, ending up in eleventh place just three minutes short of the Top 10.

The next three spots were taken by athletes that worked hard on the bike to put themselves in good positions but then didn’t quite have the runs that would have been needed for a Top 10 finish. Liz Blatchford (orange line) lost contact with the bike group in the final miles of the bike but then had a solid 3:15 run to finish twelfth. Mareen Hufe (light blue) was once again one of the strongest athletes on the bike and started the run in the Top 10 but with a lot of strong runners around her. She didn’t concede too many spots, but a 3:18 marathon saw her drop back into 13th place.

Mareen Bike

Heather Jackson (pink line) started the run in eighth place and a lot of her fans thought that with her typical fast run she’d be a strong podium contender. But to her own disappointment, she never found a good rhythm and even struggled in the last ten k, dropping back to 14th place.

Credit: All photos by Ingo Kutsche

Observations about the 2018 Female Race

There are a couple of things that have been unusual about the 2018 race:

  • Fast Times
    Even more than on the men’s side, this year’s Kona was extremely fast. Daniela Ryf set a new course record and also the fastest IM-distance time outside of Roth. There are now 22 sub-9 finishes in Kona – ten of them from this year. Until now, there has never been a year with more than two sub-9 finishes!
  • Dominance of Daniela
    Daniela has now won the last four races in Kona, and all of her wins weren’t even close – the smallest gap was in 2017 when Lucy was nine minutes behind. Even this year’s troubles before the swim didn’t stop Dani. If she continues to stay motivated and (mostly) healthy, there isn’t a real challenger for her in sight.
  • Big Bike Group
    With a big bike group forming after the swim that then gets progressively smaller, the female race is becoming more and more similar to the men’s race. Other than Daniela and Lucy (who were in a separate race for most of the day), no one was rewarded for trying to ride their own pace: Both Sarah Crowley and Corinne Abraham who rode in front of the group fell back on the run, and the best-placed athlete behind the group was Linsey Corbin who finished tenth.
    At the same time, the strong bike riders will probably have to think about how they can build a gap in T2 to put some extra pressure on the runners. “Riding steady” as they seemed to do this year is no longer enough to shake off the athletes not quite as strong on the bike, but a gap will be needed if they want to place well in the deep Kona field.
  • Strong Running required
    The marathon in Kona is getting quicker from year to year, and a sub-3:10 run is now almost required for a Top 10 finish. (In 2018 there was only Corinne who was more than a few seconds above 3:10, while there were four each in 2016 and 2017.) While this is also a consequence of the big bike group, this is unlikely to change in the next years – if anything run times will stay at the same level while the bike times are also getting faster. Quite a challenge for the athletes that want to step up to a Top 10 finish!

Kona Pro Slots – Part 3: Opinion

In this series of blog posts on Kona Pro Slots, I’ve looked at Reverse Engineering The Assignment Algorithm and ideas for Different Approaches – both of these posts have been close to the facts. This post contains my views on the current algorithm, a bit of speculation on what Ironman was looking for and some bigger and smaller changes going forward. The following thoughts are my opinion, and I would love this to be a starting point for a broader discussion of how to get the best, most interesting races in Kona as possible.

On Its Own, the Assignment Algorithm Is Fair

I’ve had a detailed look at potential algorithms for assigning slots in Part 1 of this series. Here’s the graph summarizing the different approaches:

Algorithms4Slots

The algorithm that makes it hardest for the larger group (usually the men) to get both slots is “Hamilton Unassigned” – but it’s quite unfair as their share of slots would always be smaller than their share of starters. The next-best algorithm for the smaller group is the “Jefferson Unassigned”, and that’s the algorithm that Ironman has in all likelihood chosen to use (that’s why it’s highlighted).

I also find it reasonable that Ironman slightly tweaks the algorithm for Regional Championships as they have more fixed slots: If they used the unaltered Jefferson Unassigned, again you’d end up with a situation where the larger group’s share of slots is always smaller than their share of slots. The tweak is not very elegant, but the resulting slot assignment looks quite reasonable to me.

But Only If You Accept Proportional Assignment Based on Starters

Even if the slot assignment algorithm is fair, this doesn’t mean I like the overall system as it’s solely based on the number of starters. At first, this sounds reasonable (after all it has been used for assigning age group slots), but there should be other factors in order to determine the athletes that will likely have the biggest impact on the Kona races. (I have highlighted some of these factors such as Strength of Field or Race Performance in Part 2 of this series.)

I want to note that this discussion is a slippery slope as it can quickly deteriorate into an “X doesn’t deserve to be in Kona” type of argument that isn’t fair to anyone involved (or useful). For example, I think that Carrie Lester’s 8:44 in Arizona should have been good enough for a Kona slot – but that would have to come at the cost of TJ Tollakson who has been working hard to overcome his back problems and it’s great to see him qualify once again for Kona. But it’s hard to avoid this “men vs. women” discussion – after all the women will only get more slots if they “take” them from the men which is hardly the best way of developing our sport.

So Why Is Ironman Keeping the Algorithm Secret?

One of the criticisms leveled at Ironman is that they haven’t made much information about their slot assignment algorithm available – and the quick conclusion by some was that “Ironman must be hiding something”, even going so far as suggesting that there isn’t a real algorithm and that the unassigned slots “always go to the men”. As stated above, that is not the actual procedure (see Western Australia for a counter-example), but not being transparent has led to some confusion and frustration.

To be honest, I’m not really sure why Ironman isn’t making more information available. I can only guess that they want to avoid discussion at race sites about the slots (both for the Pros and the agegroupers) and that they want to be able to change some details whenever they see the need for it. But even in the absence of “official details”, I don’t really see “sinister motives” on Ironman’s side in keeping things private.

Has Ironman Just Been Unlucky With Arizona and Mar del Plata?

On one hand, Arizona and Mar del Plata have been very close to ending up with equal slots. (For Arizona, things shifted between the race meeting and race day, for Mar del Plata just one more woman or one less male would have made a difference.) Based on last year’s numbers Ironman probably expected equal slots: Arizona was 25–22 and Mar del Plata was 16-13, with would have clearly been equal slots.

I think that Ironman was hoping for a more equal distribution of Pro slots than in the past – maybe not providing equal slots but at least a lot closer than under the KPR system. And to a certain degree, that is what’s going to happen: Even if all the currently unassigned slots in the 2019 races go to the men, we will have at least the same number of WPROs with Kona slots as in the past.

On the other hand, the small number of starters pretty much assures that there will be some more “weirdness” in assigning the slots, similar to what we’ve seen in Arizona and Mar del Plata. This is a result of the small number of slots and the small number of racers. The “random” decisions of just one or two athletes can influence how the slots will be assigned, while that is extremely unlikely with around 50 agegroup slots and typically 2000 racers or the even larger numbers of seats and votes in context of elections.

Equal Slots Is the Cleanest Solution to This Conundrum

So what should be done moving forward? For a while there has been a push for equal slots for the Pro men and women in Kona, and I continue to believe that this is the cleanest solution on how to assign slots: When giving men and women the same number of slots we won’t have to debate the merits of this or another slot assignment algorithm. ‘Nuff said!

But I Also Have a Few More Realistic Suggestions

As “Equal Slots” would be a pretty big change for Ironman, I’m not holding my breath for this to happen in the next few seasons. (Though as Rachel Joyce has put it, I’m sure that “equality will prevail eventually”.) While I’m also not a fan of drastic changes without giving the current system to play out a bit more, here are a few ideas for minor “tweaks” intended to make the current system work a bit more smoothly:

  • Announce Slot Distribution at the Pro Meeting
    In order to minimize surprises on race day, the slot distribution could be fixed on the number of Pros that sign in at the Pro Meeting. This would also give Ironman a chance to announce the slots at the Pro Meeting.
    The difference between the number of athletes at the Pro Meeting and on race morning is almost always relatively small – and I’m not sure why someone getting sick in the last few days should have an impact on how the slots fall. I also don’t think that this leaves too much room for manipulation – when someone shows up to the Pro Meeting, the extra burden of putting their toes in the water on race morning is pretty small.
  • Fix the Total Number of Male and Female Slots for the Season
    Looking at the total number of Pro starters in the 2018 qualifying season (September 2017 to August 2018), I get 416 female and 772 male Pro starts. Applying those numbers to 20 unassigned slots (ten for the Regionals and another ten for Ironman races with unassigned slots) would lead to 7 female and 13 male Pro slots (pretty much regardless of the actual algorithm). When announcing the races for the upcoming season, Ironman could assign the slots to the races on the calendar, making it clear long before the races how many slots there will be for each gender.

While minimizing the surprises, implementing either of these suggestions would keep the base “proportional” system in place.  I hope that Ironman will at least discuss tweaking the system for 2020, maybe after we’ve had some more experience with the current system in the first half of 2019.

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