2016 Kona Qualification in Numbers

Latest statistics for the Ironman World Championship

With the 2015 Ironman World Championship on the horizon and two 2016 qualifying races already completed, I’m going to take a look at the statistics behind Kona qualification in 2016. The Ironman calendar has undergone large changes over the last couple of years growing from 31 races in 2014 to 40 qualifying races for 2016 and while the number of athletes racing in Kona and the number of available slots has also increased during that period, they’ve lagged behind. Qualifying slots are becoming more widely spread and with it the question of where best to qualify more difficult to answer.

Want to save yourself some time? The straight forward answer is there’s not much to choose between any of the races – if you’re fit enough to qualify at one you’re probably fit enough to qualify at another. If that’s not enough for you I’m going to dig a little deeper in this post and look at how the number have changed in recent years and what that means for the allocation of age group slots in the coming season.

Athlete Numbers at Kona 2003-2014
Year Number in Results Number of Finishers
2003 1713 1569
2004 1797 1578
2005 1797 1688
2006 1786 1624
2007 1835 1684
2008 1808 1637
2009 1853 1652
2010 1927 1770
2011 1918 1774
2012 2039 1887
2013 2134 1976
2014 2187 1985
2015 2240*

It’s quite easy to demonstrate growth at the Ironman World Championship. The archive of results on Ironman.com clearly shows an increase in numbers year-on-year. I can also attempt to predict numbers for this year’s race using the information provided. Taking the participant list (dated 9th August 2015), adding on 85 for the pro field and then a further 180 for outstanding qualifying races. It’s an estimate, but it does look like they’ll be a few more athletes racking at the pier again this year.

Allocation of Kona Slots to Ironman Races by Qualification Season
Race 2013 2014 2015 2016
Arizona 50 50 50 50
Australia 40 40 40 40
Austria 50 50 50 40
Barcelona 50 50
Boulder 50 50 40
Brazil 50 50 75 75*
Cairns 40 40 40 40
Canada 100 50 50 40*
Chattanooga 50 50
Coeur d’Alene 50 50 50 40
Copenhagen 50 50 50 40
Cozumel 50 50 50 40
Florida 50 50 50 50
Fortaleza 50 50
France 60 50 50 40
Frankfurt 100 100 75 75
Japan 50 40 40 40*
Lake Placid 60 60 50 40
Lake Tahoe 50 50 50
Lanzarote 40 40 40 40
Los Cabos 50 50 Moved 40
Louisville 50 50 Moved 50
Maastricht-Limburg 50 40
Malaysia 50 40
Mallorca 50 50
Maryland 30 50
Melbourne 100 100 75 75
Mont-Tremblant 75 75 50 40
Muskoka 50
New Zealand 40 50 50 40
South Africa 50 50 75 75
Sweden 40 50 50 40
Switzerland 60 50 50 40
Taiwan 25 25*
Texas 50 50 75 75
UK 50 50 50 40
Vichy 50
Wales 50 50 50 40
Western Australia 40 40 40 40
Wisconsin 50 50 50 50
World Championship 25 25 25 25
Total 1570 1620 1855 1905*

The increase in athletes at Kona is largely the result of increasing numbers of qualifying races with a share of a growing pool of qualifying slots. The total number of qualifying slots at Ironman races has increased year on year and is likely to continue into 2016 (some numbers, in red, estimated where race dates and slot allocations aren’t finalised). It should be noted that prior to the 2015 season a number of qualifying slots were available at select Ironman 70.3 races which are not included in this table. The large shift in slot numbers from 2014 to 2015 is largely a result of this reallocation; there was still a net gain in slot numbers, but not of the magnitude shown.

While there are more athletes in Kona and more qualifying slots, the process of getting there has only become harder. The other change of note in the slot allocation over the last few years is one of a reduction in slots at individual races. Most races appear to be normalising at an allocation of 40 slots, with championship races (of which there are more now than in 2014) having 75. Standardisation is a good thing, but fewer slots at a race means fewer qualification opportunities available.

Assuming the level of competition largely remains the same, where a M40-44 athlete might have got a slot with a 7th place finish before, he’ll probably need to come at least 5th now. For the smaller age groups, where one or two slots was the norm, this won’t mean much, but for 30 to 50 year old men there’s less slack. To see the full impact of these changes on age groupers, I’ve estimated slot allocations across the coming race season in the tables below (PDF versions available to download further down).

Estimated Male Age Group Kona Slot Allocations for the 2016 Ironman World Championship Part 1
Estimated Male Age Group Kona Slot Allocations for the 2016 Ironman World Championship Part 2
Estimated Female Age Group Kona Slot Allocations for the 2016 Ironman World Championship Part 1
Estimated Female Age Group Kona Slot Allocations for the 2016 Ironman World Championship Part 2

With a start list I can easily estimate the age group slot allocations for a race – the maths isn’t perfect, but comes pretty close to Ironman’s own allocation. Of course I don’t have start lists for most 2016 races. So to create these tables I used 2015 race numbers or, if a race was new, the average age group distribution in 2015 to estimate how slots might be allocated. When you check out your age group remember these figures are estimates upon estimates upon estimates.

Images aren’t the most usable format for tables of data, so here they are in PDF format too:

For comparison I produced the same set of tables for both the 2014 and 2015 qualifying seasons. These figures are based on actual start lists so while the allocation itself is an estimate it’s based on more reliable numbers.

If you’re an athlete I coach, a friend or have simply asked nicely you may have received a PDF like this. In it I list and average times for the top finisher and last Kona qualifier in a given age group across all Ironman races. It gives some idea of the sort of performance required to qualify at these events. Whether an athlete can achieve that performance is a different question, but it gives them something (good or bad) to consider when making race plans.

This leads to the next step – which I didn’t have time for on Sunday afternoon – converting my tables of predicted slot allocations for 2016 into tables of average race splits. I’ll follow up with this data later in the week.

Finally, to summarise this long post: numbers of slots for and athletes at Kona have gradually increased year-on-year, but growth in competitors and races has outstripped this. For most it is getting harder to qualify. Qualifying for a World Championship – even if self-proclaimed – shouldn’t be easy. If you’re good enough to qualify at one Ironman, chances are you’re good another to qualify at any Ironman (you might just need the right day). If all else fails, work hard and rise to the rank of Executive to improve the odds! Whether a – self-proclaimed – World Championship should have an Executive Challenge (or random celebrity slots) is another question.

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