Note: Ironman has been forced to cancel the February 2021 race.
With all the canceled and rescheduled races that would have carried Kona slots, the Pro qualifying system also needs to adjust – otherwise the fields would be very small and a lot of deserving athletes wouldn’t have a chance to qualify. Andrew Messick, the CEO of Ironman, has sent a Message to Pro athletes on June 30th that outlines the elements of how Pro qualifying for the February race is likely to work. He himself admits that “we have very little insight into what is going to happen in the next few weeks and months”, but outlines the framework for Pro qualifying going forward as “the best we can do at this point”. This post has a closer look at what the implications of Andrew’s outline of what can be expected.
No Validation Required for Automatic Qualifiers
With the formal suspension of Pro qualifying rules for the current qualifying year, Ironman has also waived the requirement of slot validation for Automatic Qualifiers (former Kona winners, the most recent podium, and likely also the 70.3 Champion).
This means that Daniela Ryf, Anne Haug, Lucy Charles and Sarah Crowley can plan for February without needing a previous Ironman finish, as can Patrick Lange, Jan Frodeno and Sebastian Kienle on the men’s side. (Tim O’Donnell is also an AQ, but he had already validated at IM Cozumel.)
It’s not totally clear if that also applies to the 70.3 Champion, but it’s unlikely that Gustav Iden will be interested in preparing to race Kona in February when he has his eyes set on the Olympic Games later in the season.
Slot Allocations to reflect where Pro athletes are
As there are expected to be significant travel restrictions, slots shall be offered where athletes are.
Let’s have a look at where Professional Ironman athletes came from in 2019 and what share of the prize money they have made:
|Europe||276 (58,7 %)||1.394.250 $ (56,5 %)|
|North America||110 (23,4 %)||595.500 $ (24,1 %)|
|Oceania||45 (9,6 %)||403.250 $ (16,3 %)|
|South America||24 (5,1 %)||28.750 $ (1,2 %)|
|Africa||10 (2,1 %)||39.250 $ (1,6 %)|
|Asia/Pacific||5 (1,1 %)||6.000 $ (0,2 %)|
The majority of Pros comes from Europe (about 57%), with North America following in second place. Next is Oceania (mainly Australia and New Zealand), they have made a bigger share of prize money than their share of Pro athletes indicates, for South America it’s just the other way around. Africa and Asia/Pacific are very small compared to the big continents.
What will this mean for Kona Pro slots? In 2019, there were 57 men and 44 women who qualified for Kona. (There are fewer women as some slots are assigned based on the ratio of Pro men and women in a race.) Up to IM New Zealand in March (the last qualifying race before races were canceled because of Covid), 19 women and 20 men had already qualified which would leave between 25 and 37 slots still open. (Have a look at my Kona 2020 page for details.) Let’s apply this number of open slots to the percentages above and see which potential races there are for these slots.
With 56% of the Pros, this would mean that between 14 and 21 slots would be assigned to the European races.
Currently, the following European Ironman races are planned:
- September 6th: IM Hamburg
- September 19th: IM Italy
- September 20th: IM Austria
- October 4th: IM Barcelona
- October 11th: IM France
- October 11th: IM Vitoria
- November 7th: IM Portugal
With the exception of Barcelona, all of these are rescheduled races, so it’s six or seven potential races with slots for February 2021. This would mean between two and four slots for each gender would be available in each of these races.
North America has a smaller share of the Pros, roughly 24%. That would still result in about 6 to 9 slots for the North American races.
Currently, the following North American Ironman races are scheduled:
- September 19th: IM St. George
- October 17: IM Texas
With St. George as the designated Regional Championships (usually resulting in additional slots), it seems possible that all North American slots are awarded at these two races.
There are additional races that have been planned as qualifiers for the October 2021 race:
- September 27th: IM Chattanooga
- November 7th: IM Florida
- November 22nd: IM Cozumel
- November 22nd: IM Arizona
As noted above, Pros from Oceania have been more successful than their number would indicate, let’s work with a number of 13%. This would result in 3 to 5 slots per gender.
Currently, the following Australian Ironman races are scheduled:
September 13th: IM Australia(canceled after writing the post)
- September 27th: IM St. Cairns
Assigning the Oceania slots in these races shouldn’t be a problem. It seems that in order to “make space” on the Pro calendar for these races, 70.3 Sunshine Coast and 70.3 Western Sydney are no longer Pro races.
In addition, there is a 2021 qualifier:
- December 6th: IM Western Australia
Regardless of which South American quota you want to use, they should receive about one slot.
However, there are currently no Pro races scheduled for South America, IM Brasil has been rescheduled but not as a Pro race. It’s unclear where South American athletes will be able to qualify, especially with all the Corona problems they are currently suffering from, travel restrictions are likely to take some time before being lifted.
In fact, South American Pros have very little earning opportunity after the cancellation of IM Mar del Plata there is no longer a South American Regional Championship, IM Brasil isn’t a Pro race on it’s rescheduled date, and all Professional 70.3s have been canceled as well.
There aren’t very many African athletes (their quota corresponds to less than one slot), but there is a Pro race scheduled:
- November 15th: IM South Africa
In the past, this has been a Regional Championship and a popular early season race for a lot of Europeans (unlikely to want to travel to South Africa late in the year), but at least one slot each still seems very likely.
The Asia/Pacific region has had a very low number of Pro IMs for some time, and there haven’t been many Professional athletes. Depending on where athletes are located, they will have to look to European or Australian races if they want to qualify for Kona.
In addition, Ironman has been removing all Pro 70.3s from the calendar – probably a mixture of the difficulty of organizing Pro races with a sizable purse in these times and because they have to focus on putting on Pro races in other regions.
Flexible Prize Money and Slot Allocation to payment to field sizes
With all the uncertainties, the prize money and the slots available at a race will be determined relatively close to race date based on the number of Pros who start race. Andrew says that “we will not know the total prize purse until the race weekend” and that they want to pay deeper into the field to give more Pros a chance to earn some money. A similar approach will be used for the number of Pro slots: According to Andrew a “minimum allocation of slots will apply, with additional slots .. for every X number of athletes”.
While I agree that there needs to be a lot of flexibility, I hope that Ironman is going to “fix” the prize money and the number of slots before race start so that Pros have a better understanding of what they need to be shooting for.