WTC has announced some changes to the Pro qualifying system for Kona (known as Kona Pro Ranking or KPR). This post has a closer look at the changes and the impacts for Kona qualification.
Changes to the KPR
On July 5th, WTC announced changes to the KPR system for the 2014 season (apparently after some discussion with athletes). The changes are:
- Kona becomes a P-8000 race (instead of P-6000).
- There are no more P-1000 races, all of these become P-2000 races.
- The points in each race favor the top racers (i.e. the drop off is much steeper, e.g. in a P-4000 race 6th place get 1.670 points instead of 2.240). This also applies to 70.3 races.
Some things will stay the same:
- The number of athletes (50 male, 35 female) and cutoff points (end of July and August) are unchanged.
- The regional championships (currently Melbourne, Frankfurt and Mont Tremblant) stay P-4000 races.
- Point levels for 70.3 races stay the same. (There are still 4 levels of 70.3 races: P-3000, P-1500, P-750 and P-500 races.)
Impact to KPR qualifying
After running a simulation of the new KPR system, the main impact is that KPR cutoffs move down:
- For men, the cutoff moves (at #43) from 3.790 down to 2.820 points (a reduction of 25%).
- For women, the cutoff moves (at #31) from 4.740 down to 3.930 points (a reduction of 17%).
At first this sounds a bit surprising with P-6000 becoming P-8000 and all P-1000 races becoming P-2000 races, but the steeper drop-off results in the total number of KPR points going down. (The total number drops from about 973.000 points to about 807.000 points – a reduction of 17% which is pretty much in line with the KPR cutoff reductions.)
Here are some athletes that would not qualify at the July cutoff:
- Petr Vabrousek (dropping from #13 with 5840 to #48 with 2655)
- Balazs Csoke (dropping from #34 with 4060 to #51 with 2565)
- Thomas Gerlach (dropping from #42 with 3800 to #86 with 1640)
- Mirjam Weerd (dropping from #18 with 5840 to #34 with 3590)
- Mareen Hufe (dropping from #23 with 5280 to #36 with 3405)
Instead, some of these athletes would get a spot:
- Daniel Fontana (moving up from #47 with 3625 to #28 with 3765)
- Marino Vanhoenacker (moving up from #45 with 3720 to #33 with 3450)
- Luke Bell (moving up from #78 with 2230 to #37 with 3230)
- Jennie Hansen (moving up from #38 with 3960 to #25 with 4685)
- Eimaear Mullan (moving up from #40 with 3910 to #28 with 4350)
- Rebekah Keat (moving up from #36 with 4160 to #29 with 4000)
If you want to have a closer look at my simulation results, you can download an Excel sheet with the KPR points under the old and new system.
Here are a few implications for qualifying strategies that I see:
- after a top 10 in Kona you basically only have to validate (for the men, even a top 13 is probably enough)
- winners and podium finishers are rewarded (e.g. Marino, Luke Bell, Jennie Hansen, Rebekah Keat – another case that would be avoided now is Mary Beth Ellis having to win three Ironman races in order to qualify for Kona 2011)
- the changes make it harder for the frequent racers (e.g. Petr Vabrousek, Thomas Gerlach)
- By sacrificing prize money, you may be able to pick a weaker P-2000 field.
To further nail this down, let’s have a look what is needed to qualify. The July cutoff of 2.820 (men) and 3.930 (women) from up to five results means that an athlete needs on average 564 (men) and 766 points (women). In a P-4000 this corresponds to a 10th and 9th place, in a P-2000 to a 5th and 4th place. (In the old system, you qualified by placing an average 10th or 8th in a P-2000 race.)
It is clear that qualifying by “racing often” is now very hard to accomplish. Instead, athletes have to make sure that they get the majority of points needed to qualify from one very good result. (After winning a P-2000 race, you can probably qualify with a few extra points from 70.3s.)
Where can this lead to?
- I expect more strategic “DNF”s: If an athlete is too far behind during the bike, there is not much “business sense” in trying to move from 12th place to 10th place: Still no prize money, and not enough points for qualifying. Instead, it’s probably better to call it a day and try again in the next race.
- It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the fields in P-2000 races. Originally I thought they would “even out”, but I think that the races with the better prize money (the “old” P-2000 races, typically with a 75k$ prize purse) will continue to attract the better fields – which will make it easier in the old P-1000 races to make some decent points. (As far as I know, most of these races still offer 25k$.) This is a tough choice to make for the professional athletes.
- There will be even more changes to the start lists in the last few days than we already have. (If there’s a strong field, withdraw; if there is a weak field, try to enter late.) Athletes can register for as many races as they want, and can enter or pull out just a few days before the race without any penalties.
In order to address the last point, I’ve been suggesting for some time that WTC should introduce tighter procedures for registering for and withdrawing from races.
In my opinion, the KPR system has been working well in the last years in choosing the best athletes for Kona. (There are always some close calls around the cutoff.) I like the increased focus on the top finishers, but I think this is a minor tweak of the part of the system that has been working pretty well.
However, the main point of contention has not been addressed: The doubts whether the KPR system results in the best Kona race, i.e. the best athletes in their best Kona shape. Some questions that should be discussed:
- the qualification requirement of one full Ironman race in addition to Kona (some “pathological” cases: Andreas Raelert walking the marathon in Regensburg 2011 to recover from an injury; lots of athletes following their Kona race with a “going through the motions” late-season IM just to validate)
- qualification races in August (not leaving sufficient time for recovery and a decent Kona build)
I would like to see the discussion around the KPR move to these issues.