A common criticism of the #50WomentoKona movement is that “there are more male pros than females pros, so the men deserve more spots.”  What is interesting about that argument is the reason WHY there are fewer female pros than males pros.  In the United States Elite License qualification is governed by USAT.  Looking at the USAT qualifications, there are equal opportunities for males and females to receive elite licenses.  Here are the criteria for non-ITU athletes:

CRITERIA A: Finish within 8% of the winning elite time on the same course as the elites (distance and format) in three USAT sanctioned events that offered a prize purse of $5,000 or greater. All three results must be from the same calendar year.

CRITERIA B: Finish top-10 overall and within 8% of the winner’s time at the ITU Age Group Olympic Distance World Championships.

CRITERIA C: Finish top-10 overall in the amateur field at Ironman 140.6 World Championships in Kona.

CRITERIA D: Finish top-5 overall and within 8% of the winner’s time at USAT Age Group Olympic Distance National Championships.

Criteria C is of particular interest.  Based on their finish times at Kona, 10 males and 10 females have the OPTION of taking an elite license.  They’d don’t have to, they can choose to continue racing as amateurs.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  Significantly more males than females appear to choose to take an elite license.  From 2011 – 2014, 26 of the Top 10 female finishers returned to Kona as age groupers (meaning they did not accept an elite license).  Nine of the 26 posted at least 1 additional top 10 finish.  Katrin Esefeld (2011, 2012, 2014) and Susanne Davis (2010, 2011, 2013) placed in the Top 10 three times each (and raced in Kona as age groupers four times each).

On the male side only 11 top-10 males returned to Kona as age groupers between 2011 and 2014. Only Sam Gyde was a multiple time Top 10 finisher.

Now there are lots of reasons why females may be declining to take their elite licenses, however, you hear elite age group women say over and over again, “I’d take my pro card but I want to race Kona.”  If this is the case, there are opportunities as an age group female that don’t exist if you compete as a professional.  Increasing the number of slots available to women increases opportunity.  Equal slots are the first step on the road towards equal participation at the professional level.

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Kelly Burns Gallagher

mccarter english employment litigator / oiselle team runner / coeur sports triathlete / sonic endurance coach & race director / witsup.com writer / dartmouth '02 / emorylaw '05

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