Melbourne, Australia, the capital of Victoria and the land down under’s second-largest city with a population of four million is eagerly gearing up for the inaugural Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship on March 25th. The race boasts a professional field that could easily be called the most competitive roster ever assembled outside of the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Pros are flocking to Melbourne with good reason – they’ll vie for a $125,000 prize purse and a chance to significantly impact their Kona Points Ranking (KPR) status.
The importance of the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship Melbourne in the KPR is pivotal. Professional athletes wishing to race the best of the best in October in Kona must prove themselves worthy through an intricate accrual of points at Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events throughout the season. Only the top 50 ranked men and top 30 ranked women will earn the opportunity to compete. Races vary in terms of the points on offer – a full distance Ironman may award the winner 4000, 2000 or 1000 points, depending on the venue (excluding the World Championship itself, which is the only race offering 6000 points to the victor), with points decreasing accordingly to the remaining professional finishers. The Melbourne race is one of only three Ironman events at the P4 (4000 point) level, with the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt and the Ironman U.S. Championship in New York completing the “Triple Crown”.
The addition of such a points-heavy race to the Asia-Pacific region seems entirely justified, considering the dominance of Australian athletes on the long-course triathlon scene. Not only does the new Melbourne race allow these athletes to train and race at home, the early season timing is also ideal, providing professionals an opportunity to validate their spots for Kona more than six months out from the big dance. Conversely, an athlete who might not perform to their expectations on race day will still have plenty of time to race a replacement Ironman and potentially still earn enough points to qualify for the World Championship.
The points, prize purse and timing appeal of Ironman Melbourne are evident in the names that will assemble on the start line. The men’s race will feature three-time Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander along with the likes of Eneko Llanos, Luke McKenzie, Luke Bell, Cameron Brown, Joe Gambles, Frederick Van Lierde and iron-rookie Greg Bennett.
On the women’s side, four of Kona 2011’s top five finishers will compete (minus only Chrissie Wellington, who is currently on hiatus from the sport). Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae will lead the charge for the Asia-Pacific Championship, joined by Leanda Cave, Rachel Joyce and Caroline Steffen. Other notable female pros include Belinda Granger, Rebekah Keat, Jessica Jacobs and Joanna Lawn.
In addition to the perks at stake for professional athletes, 75 age-group slots to the Ironman World Championship will be awarded, more than any other race in the Asia-Pacific region.
The inaugural Ironman Asia-Pacific Melbourne, along with the newly announced Ironman Cairns and the well-established Ironman Australia and Ironman Western Australia races brings the full Ironman tally to four events planned for this multi-sport hub in the southern hemisphere. The continent also plays host to four Ironman 70.3 events: Canberra, Busselton, Port Macquarie and Shepparton.