With a lot of races getting postponed and/or canceled, I have received questions about how Kona Qualifying will work this year. This post looks at the timelines required before a Kona race and discusses at a few possible scenarios. As time goes by, some of these scenarios may become very hard to implement, resulting in other scenarios becoming more likely. My focus is on Professional racing, but a lot of the scenarios can be applied to age group qualifying as well.
Of course there are still a lot of unknowns at this point around the Corona crisis and when a return to racing will be possible. Also, I don’t have any special insights into organizing races so most of the timelines are my “best guesstimate” of the required time – some of it might be off, but I hope it’s at least a good starting point to discuss the different scenarios.
Baseline: “Almost Normal”
The “Ironman World Championships” in Kona are currently scheduled for Saturday, October 10th. Of course, there are a lot of things that have to happen before race day, here is a look at how an almost normal racing season for 2020 could look like:
Working backward from the race date, the following phases can be distinguished:
- Kona Prep
The Pros racing in Kona will obviously need some time to prepare for the race, for organizing travel, acclimatizing to the conditions in Hawaii etc. Assuming that qualifying is still going to happen in Ironman-distance races, the final qualifiers will also need some time to recover from their qualifying race. At the same time, there are a lot of things that the race organizer has to take care of.
In a normal season, this period is about eight weeks.
Usually, qualifying races are happening across the whole year, but with races getting canceled because of the Corona virus, we are obviously looking at a shortened period for Kona 2020 qualifying races. With a period of roughly eight weeks, you should still be able to have a decent geographic distribution. In addition to the regular European and North American races there should also be races in South America (note that IM Brasil has been rescheduled to occur before the normal cutoff on August 23rd) and Asia/Australia (no new date
s for IM Australia andIM Cairns; IM Taiwan which was planned as an AG-only race might be another option).
- Race Prep
Athletes and race organizers will also need some lead time before having a good race. As for the Kona prep, this time will be needed both for doing the proper training (obviously athletes can’t be “almost race ready” for a prolonged period of time) and for logistics (travel but also getting the required race infrastructure in place). Again, a period of eight weeks sounds reasonable to me. For this phase to start, most of the current “lockdown” restrictions (including re-opened swimming pools and the ability for unrestricted travel) will have to have already been lifted for almost all athletes and regions (or at least a firm short-term date is in place).
When you “stack” these phases after each other for a Kona race date on October 10th, you end up with a start date for the Race Prep period at roughly mid-April.
All of these periods may be shortened a bit, but at some point things will start to break down. For example, having a final qualifying Ironman four weeks before Kona creates an uneven playing field between those that qualified early (for example, late 2019) and can take all the time to prepare and those still having to qualify that late. If you shorten the qualifying period too much, athletes will only have a single shot to qualify as it becomes difficult to prepare well for two qualifying races, and there may be a huge number of slots per race if the number of races shrinks much further.
Let’s have a closer look at the slots for this baseline scenario. At the time I’m writing this post, there are roughly 60 unassigned Pro slots (check out my post on the Kona 2020 Pro field). Starting with IM Austria on July 5th and ending with the planned cutoff on August 23rd at IM Mont Tremblant there is a total of eight Professional races (even if some of them have been planned as single-gender races). When adding IM Brasil (scheduled on the cutoff weekend) and a potential race in Australia/Asia, there could be a total of ten Pro races. That would result in three per gender in each of theses – something that could still be handled by the existing qualifying system. There are a few more races for the agegroupers (IM UK, IM Santa Rosa, IM Tallinn, IM Finland). According to Russel Cox there are roughly 1.400 slots still open, with 14 races that would result in 100 slots per race on average – a pretty large number but also completely workable with the existing system.
Regardless of how the 2020 slots are determined, there will have to be modifications for 2021 qualifying. At this time, there are already races with 18 2020 slots that have been moved into the 2021 qualifying period, plus another 10 slots from races without a new date. There will be a similar problem for agegroupers, at least 250 and potentially 450 slots may have been shifted to from 2020 to 2021. It’s unlikely that the Kona course will be able to handle these additional athletes, so changes for the slot allocation for 2021 are likely. It’s unlikely that there are going to firm announcements from Ironman until the exact number of slots that have shifted are know, and that will only be known when racing is able to restart.
As stated above, there are a lot of unknowns at the writing of this post (end of March), and it’s unlikely that we are going to be in an “almost normal” state by mid- or even end-April that would allow athletes a proper race prep period.
Here are a few modifications of the “baseline” discussed above:
- Condensed Periods
As discussed above, there is a limit as to how much you can condense the periods without creating an impossible or unfair race in Kona. The most extreme version I can think of is to “squish” them down to maybe four weeks. With the qualifying period this short, you can’t assign the Kona slots in a full-distance race and have to offer Pro Kona slots in 70.3s – something that Ironman hasn’t done for quite some time. For this condensed timeline, a “start signal” may come as late as at the end of June.
- No Qualifying
If the time is running out to have qualifying races, you could assign the remaining slots using another system. (Of course, the athletes already qualified should be on the Kona 2020 start line.) One suggestion would be the PTO World Rankings, maybe requiring at least score from an Ironman race, another idea (probably more likely) is to apply the old KPR points system to the results between March/April 2019 and the last races in mid-March 2020 so you have a full season of racing that counts for qualifying.
While this could work for the Pros, I’m not sure if the AWA system can be used in a similar way for agegroupers. If no suitable system for AG qualifying can be determined, then maybe Kona could be raced as a “normal IM” without the designation of “World Championships”, giving a lot of agegroupers (such as those looking to race on a legacy slot) the chance to race on the big island.
- Move Kona
Another option would be to move Kona, but obviously there are a lot of triathlon- and non-triathlon related influences which dates might work and which won’t. A date in December of February might give enough “breathing room” to implement one of the timelines discussed so far, but the lengthened 2020 qualifying period and the shortened 2021 season would also have to be kept in mind.
- Cancel Kona
If the Corona crisis lasts through the summer and fall, time may be running out for all options discussed so far, and there may not be a viable plan to organize Kona 2020 at all.
Here is a graphical representation of all the plans discussed:
As time progresses, certain timelines will no longer be possible. As stated above, there is a bit of wriggle room for these dates, but here are the rough dates when decisions will have to be made:
- Mid April: Feasibility of the “Almost Normal” timeline
- Late June: Feasibility of the “Condensed” timeline
- Mid August: Feasibility of the “No Qualifying” timeline, announce new Kona date or cancel Kona
There are currently much more important issues than an October sporting event on a Hawaiian island. I’m looking forward to a return to “normal racing”, wishing everyone to stay healthy (or only have mild symptoms) in the meantime.