Dreaming of Kona: What It Takes to Qualify

  • By Paul Moore
  • Published August 18, 2009

Photo: John Segester

There are just three races left before the big one. But what sort of times do the athletes competing at Ironman Canada, Louisville and Wisconsin need to do to get to Kona? Jim Vance got his calculator and an Excel spreadsheet out and worked it all out.

In the accompanying charts, you can see the trends that have set the performance standards to qualify at each race. Below are answers to some questions that athletes may have.

Can Simply Showing up and finishing the race qualify you? It is possible at certain events if you are in the upper age divisions (age 60 and higher). The charts show the events at which this may be possible, but athletes should also recognize the challenges of these courses to give themselves the best chance of finishing.

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What are the chances that i could get a roll-down slot if I don’t finish in an automatic qualifying position? Perhaps the most important chart for qualifi cation is the one titled, “Average Last Place to Qualify in Each Age Group.” In this chart, the average fi nal place that received and accepted a qualifying slot for Kona is listed for the past three years of each event. Though the opportunity for an athlete to qualify at or near this place is not guaranteed, this value shows the likelihood of a roll-down at that event.

Is my age group helping me or hurting me? Does it help to have a few really fast athletes in front of me in my age group? The number of slots given to each age group is based on the number of athletes in your age group, not the quality of the athletes. If you are in the deepest and most challenging division, you are accordingly offered the most slots. This also gives you a greater opportunity to benefit from the roll-down of slots.

The one benefit of having very fast athletes in your division is that some may have already qualified and therefore don’t need to accept the slot they may earn, creating a greater roll-down opportunity for other athletes.

Based on these charts, an athlete would be wise to choose the races where, according to the data, he or she would have the best chance of qualifying. Obviously, if an athlete is in the 30- to 49-year age groups, he or she should attend the races showing the largest number of slots available to them, which often coincide with the races where other age groups are not as well represented. Within this subset of events, the race that has the greatest roll-down on average would make that race the most likely opportunity to win a slot, with all other things being equal.

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Some of the charts list 0.33 slots offered on average. How can only 0.33 of a slot be offered or accepted? The 0.33 is the average for the past three years, meaning that, in total, only one slot has been accepted in the past three years. 0.67 would mean that two total slots were accepted in the past three years.

Which race gives the pros the best chance of qualifying? Ironman Canada has the greatest roll-down among the pro fields, with the men’s slot going to 15th and the women’s going to almost 12th place on average.

As stockbrokers and financial planners always say about investing in the stock market, so it can be said about Ironman qualifying: Past results do not guarantee future results or performance requirements. Plenty of athletes may exceed these standards and still not qualify. Triathlon is an ever-growing, ever-developing sport, and with a growing pool of athletes competing in Ironman races, in addition to improvements in training methods and technologies, these performance standards will likely get tougher in coming seasons.

Jim Vance is an elite coach for TrainingBible Coaching and a professional triathlete. You can visit his blog at

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Paul Moore

Paul Moore

Paul Moore is the Online Editor for Triathlete Europe. When not glued to a computer he can be found writing books - most recently Ultra Performance: The Psychology of Endurance Sports and The World's Toughest Endurance Challenges. Both are available on Amazon. Paul has also written Ultimate Triathlon: A complete training guide for long-distance triathletes which is also available on Amazon.