With 2018 Kona qualifying almost completed, a lot of Pro athletes are already planning their qualifying for Kona 2019. At the end of last year, Ironman has announced a new system for Kona Pro Qualifying that is going to replace the existing KPR system, starting with qualifying for Kona 2019. The first Pro races under the new system are going to be Ironman Wales and Ironman Wisconsin in early September. This post is a summary of my understanding of the new system and the implications for Pros that want to qualify.
Here are the main elements of the new “slot-based” system. Ironman is expected to release “the fine print” on the new system after the end of 2018 qualifying, but I don’t expect any significant differences to the elements outlined in this post.
- Each Pro Ironman race will have at least one base Kona slot each for the male and female Pros. The slot will go to the winner of the race (or the best-placed athlete not yet qualified, see #4). Races designated as Regional Championships (currently Mar del Plata, South Africa, Texas, Cairns and Frankfurt) will have two base slots for each gender. (There will also be single gender races, these will have a slot just for that gender.)
- Some races will have an additional two “unassigned” slots, each of the Regional Championships and about five other Ironman races. These slots will be proportionally allocated to the male and female Pros based on the number of starters (see example below).
- There will also be Automatic Qualifiers (subject to validation by finishing an Ironman in the qualifying season): As under the existing KPR system, Kona winners will receive a five-year exemption, in addition there will be a one-year exemption for the 70.3 Champions and the other podium finishers in Kona.
- Similar to the system for agegroupers, Pro slots have to be accepted after each race – so it’s likely that the Pros will also have to attend the “World Championships Slot Allocation” ceremony that’s usually held the day after the race. When Pros are not interested in a slot or have already qualified at another race, the slot will roll down to the next athlete.
Determining the 2018 Kona Field with the New System
Obviously, simply using the results from this season and applying the new system has a number of limitations. First of all, the races with unassigned slots are not fully determined yet. (Ironman has published the slots for the 2018 races, among them IM Arizona and IM Western Australia will have floating slots in addition to the Regional Championships in Mar del Plata.) In addition, the number of slots available will influence where athletes will race and how the floating slots will be divided between male and female Pros.
The following example from IM Frankfurt shows how the slots would have been distributed and how far slots might roll late in the season:
- First of all, as a Regional Championship Frankfurt has 4 base slots (2 for the females and 2 for the male Pros) and 2 unassigned slots.
- The 2018 start numbers were 21 male and 13 females. Proportionally, this means 3.7 slots for the men and 2.3 for the women. Clearly, this means that both floating slots go to the men, so it’s 4 male and 2 female Kona Pro slots in total.
- Male Slots roll down to seventh place (in order of the finishers): Jan Frodeno (AQ slot as previous Kona winner), Patrik Nilsson (#1 slot), Patrick Lange (AQ slot as Kona winner), Nick Kastelein (#2 slot), Josh Amberger (already qualified in South Africa), Philipp Koutny (#3 slot), Tyler Butterfield (#4 slot)
- Female Slots roll down to fourth place: Daniela Ryf (AQ slot as Kona winner), Sarah True (#1 slot), Sarah Crowley (AQ slot as Kona podium), Anne Haug (#2 slot)
(Update Nov 24th, 2018: After the first few races, there are some more details on the algorithm that IM is using to determine how the slots will be assigned to the genders. Based on my understanding, when there are at least twice as many male Pro starters, both slots will go to the men, otherwise the slots will be evenly split. In the Frankfurt example above, there are fewer men than twice the females, and there would have probably been three slots for the MPRO and three for the WPRO.)
When simulating the 2018 field with the new system, here are some changes:
- Ironman winners, but not enough KPR points
Laurel Wasser (winner IM Taiwan), Diana Riesler (winner IM Malaysia), Jesper Svensson (winner IM Brasil) and both winners at IM France (Giulio Molinari and Corinne Abraham) would be in under the new system, but haven’t been able to qualify in the July KPR. (Some are still looking to qualify in August.)
- Getting a “high” rolldown slot
If IM Brasil or IM UK had been a race with floating slots (as mentioned above, this is possible but not certain), the slots would have rolled down quite far to “local” athletes doing their home IM. Obviously, knowing that there would have been a number of races would have impacted who would have raced there.
- Podium results, but no wins
Athletes such as Jens Petersen-Bach (qualified by finishing second at IM Italy and IM Malaysia and finishing fourth at IM Lanzarote) or Mike Philipps (second IM Barcelona, fourth IM Switzerland, fifth at IM New Zealand and winner 70.3 Taupo) have been able to collect a number of KPR points, but would have missed qualifying under the new system.
- Athletes having raced well in Kona or at 70.3 Champs
With the KPR system, a good result in Kona or at the 70.3 Champs was almost good enough to secure a Kona slot. This season, Ben Hoffmann, James Cunnama, Annabel Luxford or Emma Pallant were able to qualify even without winning an IM.
Here are some consequences of the new system to be aware of:
- Less Racing Required
To Qualify With the new system, you can secure your Kona slot as a Pro with just one good race, addressing the main criticism of the old KPR system that it forced athletes to race too much. This also offers better chances to qualify for athletes that have been injured or pregnant in the previous season.
- Some Luck Required
As most races have just one slot available, one “superstar” showing up can severely decrease the chances for everyone else in the field. Especially second-tier athletes will need some luck to pick a race without any strong athletes racing there in order to qualify.
- Earlier but Final Rolldown Decisions
With the KPR, all decisions about accepting or declining slots happens at the cutoff dates in late July and August. The new system pushes these decisions to right after the qualifying race. Once a slot is assigned, it won’t get re-assigned even if that athlete decides not to race Kona after all (maybe because of an injury).
- Decreased Weight of Kona (and 70.3s)
In the past, a Top 10 in Kona (or a good result at 70.3 Worlds) gave you a solid head start for next season qualifying, and lots of athletes secured their slots just by adding a finish in a late-season IM. With the new system, even a fourth place in Kona does not give you any help for the following year.
- Still no Equality in Kona
As almost all IMs have more male than female Pros, the majority of the floating slots is likely to get assigned to the men. (A likely distribution of the 24 floating slots is 18 MPRO and 6 WPRO, leading to a total of about 55 male and 42 female Pros in Kona.)
- Number of Qualifiers Tied to Number of Pro Races
Changes in the Pro racing calendar (adding/removing races) would impact the number of total available slots for Kona. This will have a bigger influence on 70.3 Worlds Qualifying that will use almost the same system (1 base slot per gender, no floating slots) but has a larger number of races in the calendar (about 75 70.3s with a Pro category).