The 2020 Ironman World Championship in Kona has postponed to February 6th, 2021. As I tracked the impact of the corona virus on Ironman racing and Kona qualification over the last couple of months it seemed increasing unlikely that Kona would go ahead as planned. Whether athletes would actually be able to travel or race in Hawaii, the entry numbers didn’t add up. At best we would have a half-sized World Champs.
Now that the postponement is official I’ll continue to track the changes to Kona slots and qualification for both the 2020 World Champs – I’ll continue to refer to it as that for clarity – and also the 2021 World Champs. Right now it’s not absolutely clear which races will be qualifiers for the postponed Championship and what this might mean for athlete numbers at the event.
You can find the current information on upcoming races and Kona qualification on my upcoming Ironman races page ⇨
As it currently stands all, but a few Ironman races are cancelled or postponed up until at least the end of August. Prior to the spread of Covid-19 820 Kona slots had been allocated with the final 40 of those being issued at Ironman New Zealand on March 7th. Delays and cancellations have so far removed 1140 slots from the original 2020 qualification pool – it’s easy to see why this would factor into shifting the event. Half that number have been postponed to later this year meaning they could still be availble as qualifiers for the new date. Other races have been outright cancelled meaning their slots are no longer in the pool.
We can divide the races of the 2020 qualification season into 3 groups: outright cancelled, postponed and a handful still scheduled.
Outright cancellations have currently removed 415 Kona slots from the regular qualification pool. These races will return in 2021, but long after the delayed 2020 World Champs. This represnts around one fifth of the Kona slots that are normally available in a qualification season. Potentially Ironman could redistribute these to other races held this year, either increasing slots at existing qualifiers (postponed or still running) or adding 2020 slots to 2021 qualifiers as they’ve done with Kazakhstan and Canada.
The majority of slots have been postponed until a later date in 2020. All of these races could still function as qualifiers for the February Kona. That’s assuming they are able to go ahead as newly planned. If they do that would push the qualification field for 2020 up to around 1500 athletes. Much closer to regular numbers for the event. Uncertainty remains though and where rescheduled races happen competitor numbers are likely to be impacted.
A small handful of races remain on the calendar. That doesn’t mean they’ll happen, but they’ve not been cancelled or postponed at this time. If they run as planned or are resceduled and not cancelled they add 140 slots to the 2020 pool. It should be noted that the 60 slots available at Kazakhstan are a recent addition to help raise potential qualifiers at the 2020 World champs.
The potential is there for age group numbers at the Ironman World championship to be close to normal. It very much depends on what happens later this year and also whether athletes want slots to race in February. For many that means a cold winter of preparation for a race in a hot and humid climate. The 820 existing Kona qualifiers have been offered the choice of racing in February, deferring to the 2021 World championship or transfering to another race. I can’t imagine many will transfer to a different race, but deferring to October seems the better choice.
At this point we know we have up to 820 age group athletes who could race in February. There are a further 760 qualification slots – either running as planned or rescheduled – this year and 295 slots that are awaiting a date and may remain in the 2020 pool. If races happen as they’re planned the potential is there to build the numbers at the February World Champs. I expect these qualifiers to look a little different than usual, with fewer athletes racing most and less travel involved for those that do. Numbers could be further raised by adding 2020 slots onto qualification races for the 2021 season. This has already been done and eough races are available to cover the 415 cancelled slots should they want to.
The opening remains for all Legacy program qualifiers to take a spot too. The new date may increase uptake of this offer and that would help increase numbers without requiring adjustments to slot allocations or offering a qualification choice at races.
After a few weeks of speculation there’s a choice and some certainty for those who’ve already qualified. Once we know exactly what is happening with qualification for the 2020 World Championship there’s also some new choices for those who’ve been looking to qualify. Postponed races may become more appealng as a late season chance at qualification. Similarly adding 2020 slots to 2021 qualification may give a lift to entries. That’s if you’re confident about travelling and racing at that time.