Getting Into The Ironman World Championship

Think entry into the Kona race is beyond reach? Think again. Sometimes it’s as easy as showing up the next day to nab a roll-down slot.

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Think entry into the Ironman World Championship is beyond reach? Think again. Sometimes it’s as easy as showing up the next day to nab a roll-down slot.

To snag a coveted spot on the Kona start line, you typically have to qualify by finishing an Ironman toward the top of your age group (there were also four 70.3 qualifying races in 2013—Eagleman, St. Croix, Auckland and Japan—but the roll-down slot rarely goes beyond the top three). At least that’s the popular perception. But WTC managing director of global race operations Steve Meckfessel says just cracking the top 10 can sometimes punch your Kona ticket. In fact, at more than half of Ironman races in the past 12 months, more than 50 percent of the Kona slots rolled past ninth position. And there were even more dramatic exceptions: One of the 2013 Kona slots rolled down to 63rd place in the 30–34 women’s category at last year’s Ironman Switzerland. Why? Because many athletes don’t stick around until the conclusion of the roll-down slot handout, assuming they’re already spoken for, or they miss out on the reallocation of slots. “In situations where a slot goes unclaimed (generally in the 18–24 age group, or an older age group where there’s just one or a couple of finishers) and rolls out of that age group, that slot is reassigned to another age group based on our formulation and awarded at the very end of roll-down,” says Meckfessel.

PHOTOS: 2013 Ironman World Championship – Men’s Race

“People who finish seventh, eighth, ninth and beyond assume the top finishers are all going to take the slots so they don’t bother to stick around for roll-down,” says Meckfessel. “That’s a big mistake. You have to crack the top 10—even 15th in the right age group in the right race will get you a spot, but you’ve gotta invest the extra hour to attend roll-down the day after the race.”

He says the key is going to a race that has a lot of slots—it’s where, on average, you have the best shot at getting a roll-down slot.

At any given Ironman race you can generally expect 50 age-group slots. “We’ve made a level playing field across all our races,” says Meckfessel. “When I joined the company eight years ago there were eight or nine 70.3 races that were Kona qualifiers; now there are four. We’ve shifted slots to our newer races.” On that same note, Ironman Japan will replace Japan 70.3 as a qualifier in 2014.

PHOTOS: 2013 Ironman World Championship – Women’s Race

However, there aren’t any plans to do away with the 70.3 qualifiers all together. “We want to make sure within a given region our athletes have access to qualifying,” explains Meckfessel. “If you look at St. Croix, it’s the only place that athletes in the Caribbean can go qualify. It’s just a unique destination event that benefits from having a Kona qualifying status.”

Click “next page” to see the 2013 Kona roll-down slots in numbers.

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