Tim Don before IM Copenhagen

TimDonFinishAnyone who has ever reached a difficult goal such as finishing an Ironman knows that crossing the finish line can be quite intense, often with a number of conflicting feelings. Tim Don wasn’t an exception when finished Ironman Hamburg in late July, and he was very emotional when he received his finisher medal from his two children (see photo on the right).

Ironman Hamburg

The end of an Ironman is always a relief – especially when hot summer weather leads to a canceled swim and you have to come up with a new race plan from scratch as the swim is replaced with an initial 6k run.

Tim’s finish in Hamburg was even more special as he had to fight his way from a career-threatening injury back to an Ironman finish: Just two days before Ironman Hawaii in October 2017, he was hit by a car during his final shake-down ride and broke his neck. The best option for a full recovery was wearing a halo for three months, even if that was probably the most uncomfortable choice. The story of his recovery from that injury is detailed in the documentary “The Man with the Halo” (available on YouTube). Being able to finish an Ironman just nine months after his horrible accident is a fantastic result.

But Tim is also a professional athlete, and it was clear that “just finishing” wasn’t his main goal: Hamburg wasn’t supposed to be the end of his recovery story but just a stepping stone on the way back to the World Championships. After he was able to win 70.3 Costa Rice in June, he had a chance to qualify for Kona. A fourth place finish would have secured a slot, and he was among the first four athletes for most of the day. But then he struggled in the last 20k of the run, eventually falling back to ninth place. Therefore, the elation of having finished was mixed with the disappointment of not having qualified for Kona.

Ironman Copenhagen

After beating up his body and mind all day chasing an Ironman finish and a Kona slot, the last thing an athlete wants to think about how soon he can do the next one – but that’s exactly what Tim needed to do if he still wanted to race in Kona this year.

But I’ve seen a few athletes change their mind quickly once the initial disappointment and exhaustion have worn off. One example this year is Will Clarke who DNF’d while chasing a Kona slot in his home Ironman UK on July 15th. After weighing his options for a couple of days he decided to race IM Hamburg, the same race Tim did. Will was able to finish fourth with a solid day and secure his Kona slot.

Just one day after the race in Hamburg, Tim resolved to give qualifying one more chance. As he already had two good 70.3 scores, that required him to do another full Ironman race. He and his family had planned to stay for some time in the UK after Hamburg, so he decided to go for the last European Ironman race before the final Kona cutoff – Ironman Copenhagen on August 19th.

With only ten male slots available, it’s a bit hard to calculate what Tim will need to qualify. He’s currently in seventh position of those looking for an August slot, but a good number of athletes will likely pass him on the last weekend of racing. I think he’ll be safe for a Kona slot with a seventh-place finish (or better), but there are still many moving parts.

I hope that Tim’s body allows him to have a solid race in Copenhagen, without a doubt he’ll then finish in a position to receive a slot. It would be awesome to see him compete in Kona just one year after breaking his neck on the Queen K.

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New Kona Pro Qualifying System

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.

Main Elements

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.

  1. 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.)
  2. Some races will have an additional two “floating” slots, each of the Regional Championships and about five other Ironman races. These floating slots will be proportionally allocated to the male and female Pros based on the number of starters (see example below).
  3. 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.
  4. 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 athletes with floating 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 floating 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)

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.

Implications

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).
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Ironman Italy (Sept 22nd) – Entry List

IMItalyMale Race Participants

Name Nation
Victor Arroyo Bugallo ESP
Morten Banke DEN
Reece Barclay GBR
Christian Birngruber AUT
Sebastian Gaugl AUT
Pedro Gomes POR
David Hanko HUN
Josef Krivanek CZE
Markus Liebelt GER
Andreas Niedrig GER
Jesper Nybo Riis DEN
Stefan Overmars NED
Lukas Polan CZE
Kevin Portmann FRA
Ivan Risti ITA
Davide Rossetti ITA
Mike Schifferle SUI
Pavel Simko SVK
Michal Volejnik CZE
Lukasz Wojt GER

Female Race Participants

Name Nation
Nikki Bartlett GBR
Irene Coletto ITA
Heini Hartikainen FIN
Sue Huse CAN
Minna Koistinen FIN
Simona Krivankova CZE
Jessica Mitchell AUS
Laura Philipp GER
Celine Schaerer SUI
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Ironman Wales 2018 (Sept 9th) – Entry List

IMWales_LogoMale Race Participants

Name Nation
Peru Alfaro ESP
Nick Baldwin SEY
Fraser Cartmell GBR
Victor Del Corral ESP
Sebastien Escola Fasseur FRA
Brian Fogarty GBR
Henry Irvine GBR
Matthew Leeman GBR
Michael Louys BEL
Daniel Niederreiter AUT
Mike Schifferle SUI
Christoph Schlagbauer AUT
Matt Trautman ZAF
Craig Twigg GBR
Diego Van Looy BEL
Frederik Waer BEL
Cameron Wurf AUS
Andrew Yoder USA

Female Race Participants

Name Nation
Nikki Bartlett GBR
Anja Beranek GER
Lucy Gossage GBR
Dede Griesbauer USA
Sue Huse CAN
Melanie McQuaid CAN
Maggie Rusch USA
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Ironman Wisconsin 2018 (WPRO-only, Sept 9th) – Entry List

IMWisconsinFemale Race Participants

Name Nation
Uli Bromme USA
Katy Cargiulo USA
Linsey Corbin USA
Jessie Donavan USA
Kelly Fillnow USA
Kimberly Goodell USA
Sarah Graves USA
Erin Green USA
Ericka Hachmeister USA
Kirsty Jahn CAN
Sarah Jarvis GER
Melanie McQuaid CAN
Robin Pomeroy USA
Lenny Ramsey NED
Katie Thomas USA
Natasha Van der Merwe USA
Amanda Wendorff USA
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