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After a three-year absence, triathletes will return to Kona, Hawaii this October for the 2022 Ironman World Championship—but, unlike in previous years, the event will be spread out over two days: Thursday, Oct. 6 and Saturday, Oct. 8. Female athletes will race on Thursday with a handful of men’s age groups at the back (50-54, 60-64, 65+, and 25-29), and the remainder of the male athletes (including the male pros) will compete on Saturday. It’ll be a first-of-its-kind event over the full iron-distance.
But Ironman announced today it will take that format a step farther in 2023 with a commitment to a two-day race in Hawaii next year and with dedicated solely women’s and men’s race days.
“We look forward to an incredible two-day event in 2022, and the ability in 2023 to further advance what a two-day format can look like,” said Ironman CEO Andrew Messick in a press release.
Next year, all female athletes will race on Oct. 12, 2023 and all male athletes will race on Oct. 14, 2023. Why then, this October, in 2022, are some men on one day and some on the other?
According to officials, it’s due to the overall field size and a backlog of deferrals from athletes who have qualified for the world championships over the last three years. Although there will be an equal number of pro men and women this fall, age-group women will still make up only about 26-28% of the slots awarded for Kona (per the most recent statistics). In order to even out the days to roughly the same number of total athletes (about 2,500 athletes each day), race organizers had to add men’s waves to the Thursday.
But that won’t be the case next year.
If you’re doing the math, then yes, that means that next year—in order to have roughly the same numbers of women on one day as men on the other—there will be additional Ironman World Championship qualifying opportunities for female age-group athletes beyond the typical Kona qualifying spots. About 1,200 additional Kona slots will be added and available through the Women for Tri program at 17 races, including Ironman New Zealand, Arizona, Lake Placid, Ireland, Coeur d’Alene, France, South Africa, Mont-Tremblant, Texas, and Chattanooga. (See the full list here.)
In 2017, Ironman first held a two-day 70.3 World Championship, with designated days for the women and men—and it has been widely praised for creating more opportunities for women, cleaner races, and more coverage for both events. It’s also helped turn the 70.3 World Championships into a premier prestige event.
“Creating a two-day race has been transformative for our Ironman 70.3 World Championship, allowing for deeper and larger fields with men and women racing on different days, and ultimately providing benefit to all,” Messick said.
“Women have a long history of stealing the spotlight in Kona,” joked the legendary Julie Moss. “A separate day of racing guarantees the professional and age-group women their time to shine. These amazing athletes deserve the opportunity to showcase their talents, separate and apart from the men.”
An additional cited benefit of creating more racing opportunities is that it will create more spots for everyone and take some of the pressure off the intense Kona qualifying process. Even as the number of qualifying events has grown around the world, the number of spots on the Kona pier has stayed nearly the same—making getting to the world championships increasingly cutthroat and limiting room for expansion into new markets. For comparison, the 2019 Ironman World Championship race had just under 2,400 starters total; 2023 will have about that many men and that many women—nearly doubling the size of the event.
Even with increased slots, however, officials noted in a press release that less than 6% of global participants will ultimately make it to the Big Island. Basically: Don’t worry, it’s still very exclusive.
Originally, officials had said they were waiting to see how the two-day Kona event goes this fall, with the increased level of logistics and traffic. For instance, unlike a 70.3, a full-distance race doesn’t finish until midnight, meaning athletes can’t check in for the next day’s race—creating the need for an additional day in between. But Hawaii officials have now committed to the two-day race in 2023 and fingers are crossed for continuing in the years after that.