New Kona Qualification Rules Coming in 2012, automatic entry for 12+ races in lifetime

ironman_logoWhile everyone else was busy trying to get interviews with the World Champions at Kona this weekend, the guys from the IM Talk Podcast instead grabbed the head of the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) – Andrew Messick and talked about some of the big issues facing the Ironman brand (and the sport of triathlon).

The biggest news coming out of the interview revolves around the (existing) Kona lottery system.  This starts off at the 22:55 marker regarding the lottery:

“Starting in 2012 we’re making two pretty substantial changes to that [the lottery].  The first is that for athletes who have are serious triathletes who have done twelve or more full’s in their career and are still racing, we’re going to guarantee them a chance to race Kona.”

Now, remember that Kona has always had a lottery in recent years, which allows a subset of a few hundred athletes to enter and potentially win a slot to race in Kona the following year.  These slots will not add any additional lottery slots, but rather replace some of the existing lottery slots.

He went onto talk about how it will work:

“It might take a little bit of time for us to be able to cycle them all in, but we feel that you should have an opportunity to race Kona once in your lifetime.  If you’re a serious triathlete, if you’re serious about the sport, you’re dedicated, you’re loyal, and you just happen to not be fast.  I believe that being a serious long term triathlete and demonstrating by doing twelve or more full’s, that you deserve it as much as people are who are super quick.  So part of our lottery slots are going toward those people.”

So, if you’ve raced 12 or more Ironman branded triathlons (full 140.6 distance only), then you’ll get automatic qualification – coming out of the existing lottery pool.  However, since some folks have raced quite a few more, then they’ll be sorting them by total number of races entered.  Thus, just because you’ve raced 12, doesn’t mean you have an automatic entry into Kona in 2012:

“We’re going to start by the people who have done the most, and start by ticking them off every year and then get through all of them.  I believe the long term people who are committed to us, get the chance to come here.  Because it’s a magical place and it’s special and you deserve a shot at Kona.”

Finally, there’s some changes coming to the general lottery.  For the remaining lottery slots, they’ll be introducing waiting system, based on waiting list. Going back six years, each time you entered – adds a ticket to the lottery. 

There’s actually quite a bit of good information from Andrew in the podcast, starting when he comes on at roughly the 13 minute marker, and through till about the 30 minute marker.  You can listen to the full podcast here (which I recommend doing, lots of great insight in there).

One of the more interesting moments is when he talks about attracting more money into the sport (comparing it to the pro cycling world, which is where he came from), and makes the valid comment that cycling as a sport is “100 years older”, and thus comparing triathlon to cycling is tough just starting from that as as entry point.  Nice to see some fresh thinking there – hoping that continues to be the case.  At any rate, I’ve got an e-mail into Andrew with a slew of clarification questions.  Will post an update here as soon as I get something back.

So what do you think?  Is this what you’re looking for?  Is this good for the sport?

P.S. – For those that remember, I was on the IMTalk podcast last year around the holidays, talking about my favorite sports gadgets.  Maybe I’ll be back on again later this year.


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  1. This is fantastic news! I’m sure a lot of the people applying for the lottery already were dedicated Ironmen, but now to know they are definitely going to get there – awesome! Kona will mean so much more to someone who’s done 12+ Ironmans.

    Instead of the Kona field being filled with the fastest and the luckiest, it will now be filled with the fastest and the most dedicated.

    Even someone like me, who’s only done 1 Ironman, can think; “Hmmm, 2 a year, and in six years I could be visiting the big island!”. Love it!

  2. Anonymous

    Sounds like a good deal for the WTC at $700-1000+ per entry fee x 12+ races. I say support local ultra distance directors and vacation to an exotic destination with the money you will save :-)

  3. I wonder how many people there are who have done 12 Ironman races (and not done Kona). My first thought is that those are some rich people.

  4. All of the above. I actually do have friends who have raced 10+ Ironman races and they try to get in the lottery every year and then get disappointed. I think rewarding them is a great idea.

    It is also impossible to overlook the reality that people who really want to race Kona will race a lot more IMs than they otherwise would have which is a great money maker for WTC.

    People who are not rich spend a ridiculous amount of money on IM. I also support the idea of doing a non-branded race and going on a real vacation – without the race.

  5. Anonymous

    It sounds warm and fuzzy but it’s a terrible idea for the event. They are destroying the main aspect that makes this race so prestigious…it’s (nearly) impossible to get into for regular people.

    It’s like making a super exclusive club and then letting everyone in. No longer exclusive.

    I’m not a super fast triathlete and have not raced kona. But this change is goingto significantly alter the perception of this race. Ironman has taken some hits over the last few years…so one can understand they are looking for some good PR.

    Short term fix but it will have long lasting negative effects.

  6. Yeah I have a chance to get to Kona ^^ Now I just have to be patient and do my irons :)

  7. Ben (Currently in Kona)

    It’s a horrible idea. Why reward mediocrity? Kona was designed as a world championship for the elite amateurs and professionals (+200 lottery winners). This is just another way in which WTC is diluting the Ironman name. In my mind, if you’ve done 12+ ironman events and haven’t qualified, then you aren’t World Championship material.

    I wanted to be a professional soccer player. If I tried out for a team 12+ years in a row and didn’t make the cut, should I be eligible to play at the elite level despite not having what it takes? The answer is no.

  8. this borders on “buy your way to kona”-

    remember Access Ironman?

  9. In response to several of the comments above: The change to get 12+ racers into Kona is not impacting the general qualification guidelines. Note that the change is to the “lottery.” The lottery is already for folks who have been unable to qualify for a spot via winner (or nearly winning) their age group. I don’t see this as diluting the talent pool as some have asserted, but rather making the lottery harder for those who have a)not done 12+ races and b) never entered the lottery before. As long as these changes only impact the lottery allocated race slots…no problem.

    At Ray: Your writeup adds some confusion because at one point you quote Andrew Messick as saying, “…twelve or more full’s (sic)…” and then you state, “12 or more Ironman branded triathlons…” Those are not the same thing. I did 3 Ironman branded races this year…2 half IMs and 1 IM. So we don’t all have to go and listen to the interview…was it 12 Full IMs or 12 WTC races?

  10. I like the change. I’ve never done a full iron distance (and again – does he mean 12 M-dot full irons, or just 12 iron distance races? or just 12 M-dot races, period, including 70.3s?) but when I get there I’ll be nowhere near winning my age group. I’ll still be nowhere near winning my age group if I double my volume and work on speed every day (not the ideal training program, but you get what I mean – I’m not fast).

    Rather than ‘diluting’ the applicant pool to make it ‘mediocre,’ this is only affecting the lottery pool. So, theoretically, the lottery winners are now more qualified than they were before. You’re still only looking at 200 competitors, just giving the more persistent/committed ones an edge.

    That said, I can’t help observing that it means a big pile of money for WTC (when the experienced iron triathlete says, “I was going to to do Rev3 Full / Beach to Battleship / Vineman” etc but changes her mind to get closer to 12 WTC races, that’s a pile of money).

    And Ray – thanks for the consistently relevant, informative posts! You’re the best!

  11. I was hoping to grab one of those lottery spots for next year. It seems like it will make getting those lottery spots even harder now unless they create more spots.

  12. It’s for those with time and money-always has been and always will be. Still trying to qualify in my old age-but realize the other aspect of my life (teaching special needs and raising a family) is more important and will make my life fuller than getting to Kona some day.

  13. I think it’s a bad idea. As much as I would love to race Kona, I WANT TO QUALIFY. I ASPIRE to get there by qualifying. Why not have a separate race for those who want to “Buy” their race number. Seriously? Do people buy their way to the OLYMPICS? No, they have to qualify with tough standards. You want to go to IM world championships, qualify. Oh and I want to qualify for the London Summer Olympics in triathlon…can I buy a spot or win a lottery to compete….no! WTC should hold the same standards. Even if I do 20 IM’s, if I don’t qualify, I won’t go, and nor should anyone else. You know, having less qualified athletes increases the inherent risk to the qualified athletes. With the lottery system, I suggest they have a third wave. Pro’s, then the age group qualifiers, and then an OPEN non-qualifiers, with special entries ie, lottery winners, completed 12 IM’s, etc. You know this enough for me to boycott IM races. They are getting too money hungry. Don’t call it an Ironman WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP, if anyone can get into it. Because ultimately, anyone who PROPERLY trains for an IM can complete it…

  14. In response to some of the previous posts, I’m not sure how this makes a lot of money for WTC. The vast majority of IM branded 140.6 races fill up – many on opening weekend. I know that IMStG didn’t cap this year, were there any others? Regardless, driving more people towards the brand doesn’t seem necessary unless they’re planning on adding a lot more races to the calendar.

    I am interested in whether or not an IM-branded 70.3 will count towards the total; since we have both WTC and independent 70.3s here in Austin I could actually see that making a difference in my race calendar. In general, though, this seems fairly reasonable, especially assuming that there will remain pure lottery tickets (even if slanted heavily towards repeat competitiors/entrants).

  15. I agree completely with Ms. Duffy. It rewards the dedicated athletes who aren’t fast, and doesn’t dilute the Kona field, as it only affects the lottery spots. I wonder why some people are getting so worked up about Kona only being open to qualifiers-isn’t one of the great things about triathlon that amateurs compete alongside the pros (at least until they leave us in the dust)? How many other sports can say that?

    I also think it was a savvy business move (from their perspective), as I agree that it will pull racers that might have otherwise mixed in some Challenge or Rev3 140.6 races. Kona is the one thing they have that the other series’ don’t have, so it makes sense that they use it in a way that doesn’t dilute the value, and I don’t believe that it does.

  16. Kevin V

    Ben, that is not the only reason Kona was created….there would be no lottery today if that was the vision. In fact, the original creator of Kona insisted on keeping the lottery so that the “normal” person could have a chance to race on the island.

    Like others have said, this does nothing to dilute the race since it is pulling the slots from the lottery. If you asked me, I would rather see a lottery slot in Kona go to a 12+ finisher rather than someone who has never done an Ironman race and is only interested in ticking a box off their bucket list.

  17. As much as I would love to do Kona, and I have done two full IMs and another non-IM full distance tri, I am not sure I want to put the time and money into that much training, gear, travel, etc. There is an opportunity cost to this…

    Having said that, I will still do IM TX, FL, and other races I can get to easily.

  18. Anonymous

    Let’s call it Ironman Hawaii then, instead of Ironman World Championship. The pros have to qualify, why not everyone else?

    Reward those loyal to the brand even if they are slow. I saw on the live coverage Crowie bump into someone during the final stages of the run, what if a loyal slow lottery person accidentally took out one of the contender like that?

    You don’t see extra, non-fast people at any other world championship event, like track, swimming or even gymnastics, etc…

  19. It is a good business move by WTC. Sort of the WTC Frequent Flyers Program.

    I’d rather have people who have raced a bunch of IM’s on the course than the bucket lister lotto winner doing their first IM at Kona.

  20. Good idea, but I’m just gonna get rich and famous like Joe Bastianich and then I’m guaranteed entry.

  21. I agree that it is a good business move. Seeing a growing number of non IM iron distance races and some races starting to take longer to sell out, it seems to me that WTC is making a move to try to protect their market share.

  22. Good idea. At least giving back to those who have supported the brand over the years is one way to build brand loyalty. I like it. Thanks for posting.

  23. Anonymous

    This is really a good news and big encouragement for a triathlete like me. Done 12 IMs but not fast enough for Kona. It would be a great experience to race in Kona and bring back the experience to motivate fellow triathletes as well. Bravo!!!


  24. Dennis Budd

    Same negitive talk when Boston dropped the 2:50 stanard. Marathoning and wanting to get to Boston got bigger. This helped marathons all over the US, and there communities with the ecomonic impact. I would like to see a Firday , Sunday Kona weekend , Women on Fri. , Men on Sunday. who are you kidding this is no championship, you don’ strat with the Pro’s.ONE, TWO or three any age group any IM ,your in. I’m 60, I’ll knock off 11 more IM to go,fighting to win a spot in everyone, no easy spots.Maybe we can go live on TV in some areas like the NY or Boston Maratons, atleast a same dat delayed tape.

  25. kullerich

    @all who complain about the “diluting the elite quality of the field” issue, please read again the sentence saying that those slots will not be added to the current lottery slots, but taken from that number. So I do not see how this makes the performance level any lower?

  26. Kiwi

    I agree on Kullerich, i am doing Triathlons for 25 Years at age of 43, was in Kona with my wife to watch, while she competed, have finished 9 Im and 1 non IM in 11 – 13 h (Lanzarote 3 *) but honestly it would be quite a mission to do Kona once in a lifetime. Lottery is not my thing but with that it could be an Option somehow.

  27. When people bring up the aspect of needing to qualify for Kona and it being an “exclusive club,” what about the lottery system? There isn’t any qualification there, is there? I think that pretty much kills your argument unless you also argue WTC needs to do away with the lottery and all the charity cases and celebs…if you can call people like Tara Costa a celebrity, oh and the slots they sell on Ebay. With all those ways to get in, how is this an “exclusive club” again?

    I don’t see how this changes anything since they’re only taking away lottery slots that may go to people who have only done 1 IM or maybe even none.

    Is IM WC the Olympics? Are the Olympics owned by a private company? No and No.

    I’d also ad that I will never do Kona or Boston unless I qualify. If people want to take charity or lottery spots, more power to them. They’ll always know they didn’t qualify but who cares, I’m sure they still had a great time.

  28. Anonymous

    People say that this is a ‘business decision’ as if business decisions are bad for businesses to make.

    On a side note, think of finishing 12 as a new kind of qualification. For the grinders who go out and do it despite not being born with the natural ability you take for granted.

    I didn’t begrudge dumb people a spot in college if they were willing to work at it.

  29. Anonymous

    This is better than random luck, regular Jo’s who have spent several or more years dreaming of Kona may soon have a very good chance of experiencing Kona, I’m sure a qualified athlete would rather be rubbing shoulders with a veteran at the swim start than a lucky novice with no idea (as is the case now).

    One problem in Australia and I’m sure elsewhere is entering an IM! I have missed out on the last 4 IM in Australia as they sell out so fast. If you are online before registration opens as I was the last 2 times you still need lady luck on your side to get in, yes it’s that bad here in Australia. It is disappointing that WTC do not recognise non branded full IM races for the above reason. It’s not a loyalty issue when WTC fail to meet demand.

  30. I returned from Kona last week after a week of training for IM Florida and then volunteering on race day. I did the same last year. I have completed 2 M-dot IMs, #3 is in 3 weeks and I’m signed up for IMCDA, IM Canada in 2012. Now I’m motivated to keep going and sign up for IM FL 2012 on site. I think this is a good move. It definitely gives me an incentive to keep pushing, keep training, and keep racing Ironmans. Having an experienced Ironman triathlete in Kona finishing in 12 hours is better than a “lucky” winner doing his first Full IM in 16 to 17 hours! I saw quite a few of those last week, including those who didn’t make the swim or bike cutoffs!

  31. T-Bone

    I’ve concluded that qualifying for Kona is a major task and undertaking for any triathlete. It is truly an honorable accomplishment. However, I never liked the concept of doing the World Championships without earning it. So, I qualified for 70.3 World Championships in 2008. However, I got in on a major roll down, like 50 plus slots. Should I have been able to race based on merit? I didn’t think so and I didn’t feel accomplished but I trained for it bought my ticket and participated any.

    My point is, lottery, politics, marketing, executive challenges, and roll downs play a crucial role in this sport. I’m certain there are more the 200 participants in the World Championship race that did not “qualify.” However, without their support there would not be this massive growth of Triathlon in the world today.

    After competing 12 Ironman races, I think someone earns the right to participate because of their personal commitment and the financial commitment they make to Ironman. We know the funds support the marketing associated with the true “few” elite.

    Finally, do we put and asterisk on those who qualified and those who did not? I’m certain we would be surprised by the number of those who didn’t.

  32. Anonymous

    In my opinion, this is a great idea for those who have supported the WTC, whether it be by racing 140.6 events and/or the lottery.

    Some have expressed concern about racing the World Championships w/out having qualified. To that, I reply “Thanks!” I suspect you will not apply for the lottery.

    Whether you like it or not, as I understand my Kona history – when Valarie Silk sold the race to the WTC many years ago, a stipulation in the contract included the lottery.

    As abrasive as it this sound, if you don’t like the idea… don’t apply! The lottery exists as part of the event – you don’t need to agree with the policy, but pleae be resectful of those that support the idea.

  33. Anonymous

    It’s all a business decision by the WTC simply because we are waking up to the fact that Ironman races are not races any longer,,they are a business making venture for a group of people called the WTC! With triathletes getting pissed off at the entry fees and being gouged by all the local businesses when we arrive in town, we have decided not to race WTC races any longer. But wait!!!! I’ve done 8 of them…I only need to gut out 4 more to get in! The WTC is licking their greedy chops and will be laughing all the way to the bank on this one. Many triathletes now have a reason to go back to WTC Ironmans! Makes perfect business sense only, and only benefits the WTC! By the way….you still gotta pay the entry fee to Kona whether you qualified to get in or completed 12 Ironmans! The joke…is on the “athlete!” Wake up and stop racing the stupid WTC events everyone. These races are not about you, they are about the WTC’s bank account! Read DCRainmakers comments about how the WTC handled the 5150 series. Educate yourselves triathletes….based on our demographics we are much smarter than this!!!

  34. Cameron

    There should be no fatties at Kona.