In a typical year, qualifying for the Ironman World Championship race is a fairly straightforward process. The road to Kona usually takes one of three paths:
- Earn a slot at one of the full-distance qualifiers held around the world by winning or placing high in your age group or special division (such as in the Executive Challenge division)
- Race a minimum of 12 Ironman-branded races in your lifetime for chance at a “legacy” slot
- Be invited by the race (as in the case of celebrities, ambassadors, or the Physically Challenged lottery)
But COVID cancellations and postponements have ensured there hasn’t been a “typical” year since 2019, and the result now is a lot of understandable confusion. Athletes for the 2020 world championship race were first redirected to the postponed 2021 World Championships, which will now take place in St. George in May of 2022. But now those age-groupers who qualified for 2020 or 2021 also have the option of racing instead in the two-day 2022 World Championship event in Kona in October of 2022. (In fact, age-groupers who were qualified for 2020 or 2021 will be deferred to the 2022 race in Kona—unless they opt for the 2021 race in St. George.)
If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. The announcement of this unique format in order to catch up on the backlog from canceled and postponed events has presented a number of questions about qualifying—for pro and age-group athletes alike. To clarify their policies, Ironman has answered the most frequently asked questions from Triathlete readers about the 2021 and 2022 World Championship qualification process.
Will racing Ironman St. George in May of 2022 count against the minimum 12 races required for a legacy spot at the Ironman World Championship?
This does not count “against” the opportunity to compete in Kona. If legacy athletes race and finish the 2021 Ironman World Championship in St. George, Utah, the race can be used as a part of their legacy requirements towards racing the Ironman World Championship in Kona.
How many age-group athletes were already registered for the Ironman St. George in May? How many additional World Championship spots will be added to the age-group race?
Approximately 2,000 athletes were registered. Ironman has capacity for approximately 1,500 additional athletes.
What are the timetables/deadlines for qualifying for St. George, which is the 2021 World Championship event? How will those spots be earned?
Ironman will be adding 2021 qualifying slots to select Ironman races through the end of the year. If spots will be rolled out via any other process will be shared once it is finalized.
What happens if the Kona races fill up fast – are people automatically diverted to St. George?
There are two days of racing for the 2022 Ironman World Championship in Kona in order to manage the demands of deferred athletes, as well as the 2022 qualifying season athletes—meaning mathematically this is unlikely to happen.
How many total spots will there be across the two days in Kona 2022?
Ironman anticipates approximately 5,600 slots total.
How many have already been awarded via deferrals from 2020 and 2021?
How many spots will there be at each qualifying Ironman for 2022?
Ironman will be sharing updated slot allocations on their website.
Why were there fewer qualifying spots than usual at Ironman Indiana and Chattanooga? If spots are added later, will they be added to future races or retroactively to races that had fewer spots?
This was based on supply and what was initially one day of racing in Kona, plus the unknowns of February. There were limitations on slot allocations. [Ironman has since retroactively raised the spots to 45 at each race, and contacted the next athletes in line in the roll down via email to inform them of their slot.]
The latest updated slot allocations can be found on the Ironman website.
When will athletes know for sure if they’re racing on Thursday or Saturday in Kona in 2022?
According to Ironman, “This is a priority, as we understand the need for our athletes to have this information to plan for their race day.” As it currently stands, all age-group women will race on Thursday, with a few of the men’s age group also racing Thursday in order to fill out the field size. Saturday will be the remaining male age group categories. Details are still being finalized.
If you qualified for the Ironman World Championships for 2020 and 2021 or 2022, can you race both St. George and Kona, or do you only get one spot?
If age-group athletes qualified for 2021 and 2022, they would have the opportunity to compete in both the 2021 (St. George) and 2022 (Kona) Ironman World Championship events.
What about pros? How will the qualifying system for the 2021 and 2022 races work?
Pros largely have not already qualified for Kona in October, because they did not get the option of rolling their 2020 and 2021 qualification over to 2022. If they race the 2021 champs in St. George in May, then they will have to also qualify at another Ironman for the 2022 championship in October in Kona.
However, Ironman has announced they will be adjusting the qualification slots for October from the St. George championship in May. The 2021 World Championship race on May 7, 2022, will offer 16 pro qualifying slots for the 2022 Ironman World Championship in October. These will be distributed as eight men’s pro slots and eight women’s pro slots. These slots are in addition to automatic qualifiers, which include former Ironman World Champions for five years and the 2021 Ironman 70.3 World Champions. (There will not, however, be the traditional podium exemption, which allows the full podium at the Ironman World Champs to auto-qualify into the next year’s race.)
The races offering 2022 Ironman World Championship slots for pros are listed on Ironman’s Pro Athlete page. Qualifying for 2022 started on Sept. 5, 2021 at Ironman Switzerland and will continue through Aug. 28, 2022.