I am a firm supporter of #50WomentoKona and I make no bones about the fact that I support equality for professional triathletes.  Due to my outspoken stance on the issue I have been asked several times what my views are on the age group qualification process for Kona.  First, let me stress that the professional race and the age group race are two very separate things.  They start at different times, they have different rules and there are different rewards for the respective winners.  That being said, I do see issues with the current Kona qualification process.  Let me explain.

Per Ironman’s website slots  for Ironman Kona are distributed as follows:

– Prior to race day, at least one slot shall be tentatively allocated to each Age Group category (both male and female). Please see the official Age Group category breakdown on the FAQ page.

– Final slot allocation will be determined on race day based on the number of official starters in each age group. If there are no starters in a particular Age Group, then that slot will be moved to the next calculated Age Group within the gender.

– Final Slot Allocation shall be representative of the actual number of Age Group starters in each age category in the race.

– Athletes MUST claim their slot in-person at the qualifying race during the IRONMAN World Championship Slot Allocation and Rolldown Ceremony.  Please check the event schedule of events for time and location of the ceremony.

What this means is that each age group gets at least one Kona slot.  In the case of an Ironman race with 50 Kona slots, a single age group winner represents 2% of the total slots available, regardless of the the actual percentage of athletes competing in that age group.  What this does is cause over representation of age groups at the far ends of the bell curve and under representation of age groups at the center of the bell curve.  Let’s use the numbers for Ironman Florida in 2014 as an example.  In 2014 there were 2362 total finishers.  Here’s how the numbers played out:

Age Group Number of Finishers % of Total Finishers Number of Kona Slots Percentage of Kona Slots
M65-69 16 .6% 1 2%
M70-74 3 .12% 1 2%
M75-79 1 .04% 1 2%
M80+ 1 .04% 1 2%
F60-64 11 .4% 1 2%
F65-69 2 .08% 1 2%
F30-34 97 4% 2 4%
F35-39 96 4% 2 4%
F40-44 140 6% 2 4%

Obviously some age groups receive a significantly higher percentage of slots than are “justified” by the participation numbers.  If the purpose of the Kona age group qualification process is to provide proportional representation based on participation, its not working at the edges.  As slots for individual races continue to be reduced (from 100 to 75 to 50 to 35) in order to accommodate slots for new WTC races, which seem to appear every day, the “problem” will grow.

Do I know of a solution? Not really.  I suspect that WTC is working hard to perfect its All World Athlete ranking system to be able to use those rankings for Kona slot allocation, similar to the current KPR rankings for professional athletes.  This makes sense from a business perspective as it would reward not only athletes who race well, but also athletes who race often.  I have also heard rumblings that Kona qualification will become a two tiered system — first you would qualify for a regional championship (currently Texas, Melbourne, Frankfurt, Brasil and South Africa) and then you would race the regional championship to qualify for Kona.  Again, this serves the business goal of getting athletes to race more often.  Finally I have heard that WTC will limit Kona slots to certain races, much like it has limited pro prize purses to certain races.  I dont know that WTC cares about disproportionate allocation of slots, but I do know they care about maximizing profits and if they want to continue to aggressively expand the number of 140.6 races, they’re going to need to address the issue of Kona slots.

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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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