Late-season races like Ironman Arizona and Cozumel have become almost-mandatory business trips for pro triathletes seeking Kona glory in the coming year. If you want to enjoy the holidays and have an actual off-season, you better have that Kona box ticked before January. Chasing a Kona slot into next summer is a sure-fire way to be overcooked come October.
What’s more, qualifying for Kona 11 months in advance means athletes can be flexible with their race schedules and actually do the races they want to do. The old qualifying system meant many athletes were chasing points all season long. That watered down events like Challenge Roth, ITU Long-Distance Worlds, or the ridiculously-named-but-big-money Challenge THECHAMPIONSHIP. The new qualifying system has turned end-of-the-year stops like Florida, Arizona, Cozumel, and Western Australia into compelling races with real stakes, instead of events that remind us, “Oh yeah, that guy/gal is still racing—good for him/her.”
Sarah Crowley is the fastest Australian woman in Kona history and the fourth-fastest woman in the history of the race. She’s finished third on two occasions in Hawaii, including this year. Given those laurels, you would think her Wikipedia page would be more than three sentences long, but I respect someone who doesn’t care about Wikipedia or how ridiculous her sunglasses look.
What she lacks on Wikipedia she makes up for in swagger, and the always cool and collected Crowley executed a perfect race on Sunday. After the swim, she found herself six minutes ahead of the day’s other top contender, Heather Jackson, who will no doubt spend a lot of time in the pool this winter. Crowley and Jackson pretty much remained that way for the rest of the day, both catching early leader Lauren Brandon, who will be just fine if she doesn’t spend any time in the pool this off-season.
After nearly identical bike and run splits, Crowley and Jackson finished first and second, respectively, still six minutes apart. Meredith Kessler took third 10 minutes behind Jackson, with three-time XTERRA world champ Melanie McQuaid claiming fourth and Brandon rounding out the top five. Crowley had already qualified for Kona 2020 by way of her podium finish this year, so the two Kona slots rolled down to Jackson and Kessler.
With the temperature and humidity soaring in the Yucatan this weekend, getting to the finish at Ironman Cozumel was more difficult than navigating the new Ironman.com website. The heat took a toll on everyone during the marathon, except Tyler Butterfield, who closed with a 2:38:29 marathon to take the win and ensure he’s not watching Kona from the sidelines again next year.
Butterfield came off the bike in 11th place, nearly 10 minutes behind Michi Weiss. The Bermudan caught the Austrian with eight miles left to run, which was a blessing for @IRONMANLive’s mentions. Weiss finished second, earning a Kona slot, as did third-place finisher Mario de Elias of Argentina. Tim O’Donnell finished seventh to validate his Kona slot next year.
Aussie Carrie Lester wrapped up a career year with a dominant win and a new Ironman PR of 8:38:41. Lester swam nearly nine minutes faster in Mexico than she did five weeks ago in Hawaii, and a number of men swam well under 40 minutes. Must be something in the water (or the down current format).
It’s the third Ironman win of the season for Lester, whose Wikipedia page if a full five sentences strong. Joining Lester on the podium was a pair of Danish women—Maja Stage Nielsen and Michelle Vesterby—who will now have to pay 96 percent of their winnings in taxes, but it’s OK because Danish people are the happiest on earth and both of them are now in for Kona 2020.
The next chance for professionals to qualify for Kona 2020 is at next weekend’s Ironman Western Australia, which will offer two slots for both men and women.