In previous years Ironman South Africa has offered a meagre 30 qualifying slots for the Ironman World Championships, meaning prospective triathletes would need to comfortably finish at the very top of their age group to have any chance of earning their place in Kona. This year there are 50 slots. Prospects have changed, in the most numerous age groups – male 30-34, 35-39 and 40-44 – there are likely to be 6 slots available. Potentially this is a good year to attempt to qualify at Port Elizabeth (at least if you’re a man). With less than a week until race day I’ve taken my usual look at previous results and the available Kona slots to build a better picture of the qualification process in 2013.
To simplify I have merged the results from 2007 through to 2011 to form the single chart of splits above. The distribution of splits shown is typical of that period of racing, yearly variation is minimal, both course and athletes appear consistent. South Africa is not a fast race, but neither is it a slow one, it sits somewhere in the middle, not necessarily one to choose when chasing a new PB.
But at some point every race has that year when conditions make for a tougher, slower, more memorable day for those who competed. For Ironman South Africa that was 2012, stormy conditions resulted in rough seas, high winds and distinctly slower finishing times as the second chart demonstrates.
These differences are more clearly seen when we look at the average age group splits for 2012 and the races prior to that. Both swim and bike in particular suffered under the conditions, they are notably slower, the impact on the run was more marginal and varies between the divisions.
A reminder that whatever the statistics say it doesn’t pay to be complacent on race day – you deal with whatever conditions and competition brings to the start line.
So, bearing in mind the impact this outlying year will have had, the following charts look at the average, minimum and maximum finish times for the top 20 athletes in each division. Every graph is overlaid with the predicted number of Kona slots for that age group (using an algorithm that appears to match the WTC one) based on the current starting list.
By time alone this is not the fastest qualifying race – I might be looking for a sub-10, perhaps a 9:45, to qualify in the male 30-34 age group. Remembering that 2012 will have raised the average times a little I would want to be under the red line to feel more comfortable in my chances of qualifying. There is an open question as to the quality of this year’s field? Will the increase in slots have drawn a more competitive range of athletes chasing a place in Hawaii?
There has been an 8.5% increase in the number of competitors this year, from an average of 1640 to 1781. Much of that increase has come from outside, South Africans typically make up 82% of the field, this year they comprise 76%. There are more Europeans, up from 10% to 13% of the field, whether that consists of fast athletes looking for Kona slots is another matter, but I know a few. Perhaps the increase in slots will be matched by an increase in competition, we’ll only have an answer to that after race day.
None of my current athletes are racing, but – athlete tracker allowing – I’ll be keenly following this weekend. As the season builds up there are more familiar faces on the start line, some of whom I’m expecting to earn their slots.