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KPR Thoughts (3) – Why have a Points-based system?

This is number three of my blog post series with my thoughts around KPR issues. Today, I’ll have a look at the reasons why WTC switched from a slots system to a points system across all Ironman races. My intention is that this is not only a historically interesting discussion, but that it could also be helpful to develop ideas for an improved system.

Before the KPR

The „old” system (I’ll call it „Slots System“ for short) was similar to the system currently used for age groupers. There were only a few Ironman races on the calendar, and the qualifying system for Pros was relatively simple:

  • The Top 10 finishers in Kona got an automatic slot for the next year (as far as I can remember even without the need to validate).
  • Each Ironman race had a handful of Pro slots (e.g. four). When you finished high enough (in the Top 4 in the example) you were awarded a slot.
  • If someone was not interested in a slot (or had already secured a slot in earlier race), the slot rolled down to the next placed athlete.
  • You had to be within 5% of the winner to be eligible for a slot.

When the number of races increased, this system lead to larger and larger Kona fields and was more and more problematic, so in June 2010 WTC announced the „Kona Pro Ranking“ and implemented it for the Kona 2011 qualification.

Assessment of the Slots System

The Slots System has a number of advantages:

  • Once you raced and placed well, you had a slot. You knew the day after the race whether you qualified or not. This gave athletes certainty, for example they could fix their travel plans.
  • The certainty of a slot also allows for a focused, long-term Kona preparation (instead of having to be ready to scramble for some last minute points in case the cutoff moves).
  • The system rewards good, single day performances – which is also required if you want to win Kona.

In his blog post on ideas for a new Kona qualifying system, Tim Bradley suggests to completely revert to a Slots System with 12 qualifying races. However, there are a number of serious drawbacks to a slots system:

  • With the growing number of races, the Kona fields got too large. (Between 2005 and 2009 you had more than 100 Pros finishing the race, since the introduction of the KPR the number is around 65.) This lead to crowded swims and also drafting problems on the bike.
  • If you wanted to reduce the size of the Kona field, the number of slots per race would be very small. At more than 30 races as we have today, basically there is just one slot per race except for a few „special“ races that might get two. In this scenario, there is a big element of luck in picking the race without „a rockstar“ showing up at the last minute. Tim’s scenario with 12 races could work.
  • Another element of luck is the rolldown of slots not claimed by athletes. Later in the year there might be more athletes that already have a slot, so you could speculate on the rolldown going a bit further.
  • The system does not reward racing often while missing the podium. There have always been a number of athletes in Kona that aren’t contenders each time they race. It would be next to impossible (or very lucky) for these to work towards a slot – I think there has to be a way for those racing often and well, but not spectacular to have a realistic chance to make it to Kona.
  • There is no system in place in case a slot that was already claimed later gets released again. (Say someone qualified in November, but gets injured in May and can’t race.)

My assessment: As long as the number of races with direct slots is small and there are not too many slots per race, direct slots could be a good addition to the current KPR. However, a system solely based on slots is unlikely.

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