Ironman Overhauls Pro Qualification System (Again)

The good, the bad, and the exciting bits of Ironman’s biggest pro shakeup in nearly a decade.

After creating the Kona Points Ranking (KPR) system in 2010, Ironman is going back to a slot-based qualification system for pros in 2019. In other words, the pros will once again qualify for Kona and 70.3 Worlds the same way you do: by winning their division, placing high enough to nab a slot allotted to their division based on the number of people competing in it, or scoring a roll-down slot.

It’s almost exactly the same pro qualifying policy as pre-2010. In September 2010, Ironman debuted its Kona Points System, a rankings scheme that critics argued made athletes race themselves into oblivion in order to score enough points to make it to Kona. (Where they might show up burned out instead of in top fighting form, ready to put on a real show for the rest of us.)

If an athlete were injured or pregnant for part of the year, the system threatened their ability to make it to the world stage without racing excessively to score enough points to get there. (See: Rachel Joyce, Kona 2017.) The KPR system also fixed the number of male pro slots in Kona at 50, and women at 35 (plus automatic qualifiers), prompting ongoing outcry about the inequality across the sport.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the new policy:

Kona Finally Has Equality, Sort Of
Kona will offer 100 pro qualifying slots. The difference: Male and female pros will have an equal number of guaranteed slots at ~37 each. They can nab those slots by winning or placing high enough at qualifying full-distance races (the same ~34 races that were qualifying races in the KPR system). Most races will award at least one slot to the men and one to the women. Regional championships will offer three and three.

The remaining ~24 slots, deemed “floating slots,” will be handed out at certain qualifying races in proportion to the number of pros competing. For example, at Ironman Arizona this year, both men and women would’ve received two guaranteed slots each. There were 25 male pros competing, and 22 women, so each division would’ve received 2 more slots. But at the Ironman African Champs, 36 men showed up and 23 women did, so the men would’ve received four extra “floating slots” while the women would’ve received two.

Had this system been in place this year, here’s a hypothetical look at how it would’ve played out:

2019 Qualifying Sheet Example

Age group slots are similarly allocated based on number of participants in each division. Just like in AG IM events, if pro women want more slots at certain races where the floating slots won’t be equal, more of them need to show up to make it them equal.

70.3s Will Not Qualify Anyone for Kona
“Part of this is that 70.3s have grown up,” says Ironman legend and advisory board member, Paula Newby-Fraser. There are so many of them now, she says, that they no longer need to be linked to the full-distance ecosystem; they stand alone. Under the KPR system, pros could earn points toward Kona at 70.3s. Now they must perform well at a full-distance Ironman to go to Kona.

70.3 Worlds qualification will work on the same slot system. However there will be 85 slots for women and 85 for men at that two-day event. That means there will be no “floating slots” at any qualifying events, just 70.3 qualifiers with a guaranteed number of slots for each gender.

Past WC Winners—and Now Podium Finishers—Return Automatically
Past Ironman and 70.3 world champions do not have to requalify for five years. If they want to race Kona or 70.3 Worlds again in that time frame, they just have to “validate” their slot. New this time around: second and third place finishers at the world championships get a one-year exemption. They can return the next year without qualifying, but they also must do a “validation” race.

Each race provides the previous year’s winner a slot if they want it. So 2017 Kona champ Patrick Lange could race 70.3 Worlds in 2018 without qualifying (but with a validation race) and 2017 70.3 world champ Javier Gomez could race Kona in 2018 without qualifying (but with a validation race).

The new system kicks off on Sept. 9, 2018 at Ironman Gurye Korea, Ironman Wisconsin, and Ironman Wales for the Ironman World Championship, and on July 8, 2018 at Ironman 70.3 Jönköping and Ironman 70.3 Ecuador for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. The first world championships under the new policy will take place in 2019.