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Will this be the easiest year to qualify for Kona?

That very much depends on where you live

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

Yesterday we had a look at the number of Canadians likely to end up in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii for this year’s Ironman World Championship. Today we’ll have a look at where most of the qualifiers are likely to come from for this year’s event. (Right now, as the Center for Disease Control in the United States announces that fully vaccinated Americans can safely stop wearing masks in many situations, and with racing well underway in the United States, it’s hard to imagine the race in Kona won’t happen.)

As of March 5, there were 1,389 age group athletes on the participant list for this year’s Ironman World Championship. As we mentioned yesterday, 47 of those are Canadian, and the chances of that number growing appreciably are slim and very dependent on whether or not large events can be run by August, and how quickly Canadians can start traveling.

The lion’s share of the current list of qualifiers are American with 504 qualifiers or legacy athletes (athletes who have finished 12 full-distance Ironman events who have never competed in Kona)  on the list. Americans (and those able to travel to the United States) will likely have three opportunities to go after a qualifying slot for this year’s race – Ironman Tulsa on May 23 (75 slots), Ironman Coeur d’Alene on June 27 (40 slots) and Ironman Lake Placid on July 24 (40 slots). With the United States and the European Union working hard on developing a vaccine passport that will allow for international travel without quarantine restrictions, some American athletes might be able to go after a Kona slot over in Europe later this summer, too. Since the US events are all full (there are just under 2,600 athletes on the Tulsa start list), and with the depth of competition the country routinely displays, it’s hard to imagine that this will be an easier year for Americans to punch their ticket to Kona.

In terms of Kona qualifying, it would appear that this is the year to be living in Australia. Last year 75 of the 199 finishers at Ironman Cairns earned themselves a spot at the Ironman World Championship. That impressive qualifying number puts Australia a firm second in the number of Kona qualifiers this year with 146. That number is only going to grow with the Ironman Cairns Asia-Pacific Championship on June 6, where there will be another 75 qualifiers. The vast majority of the just under 1,500 athletes registered for the Cairns race are Aussies, so it is not hard to imagine the Aussie list of Kona qualifiers will be over 200 once that race is complete. (Ironman New Zealand, which took place in March, had 40 qualifying slots. That country has 32 qualifiers on this year’s Kona list, with the other qualifiers appearing to have deferred their entry to 2022.)

Related: Coaches Corner – Qualifying for Kona

Jan Frodeno wins the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

Germany has the next-highest number of qualifiers on the list – 83. That number could grow appreciably if the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt takes place on August 15. There are 75 qualifying slots for Kona at that event.

In fact, August is shaping up to be a non-stop Ironman festival in Europe with Ironman Talinn (Aug. 7), Ironman Gdynia (Aug. 8), Ironman Finland (Aug. 14), the Ironman European Championship Frankfurt (Aug. 15), Ironman Ireland (Aug. 15), Ironman Kazakhstan (Aug. 15), Ironman Kalmar (Aug.21), Ironman Copenhagen (Aug. 22), and Ironman Vichy (Aug. 22).  (If Ironman extends the qualifying window by a week, as it proposed last year, Ironman Hamburg slated for Aug. 29 can be added to that list, too.) With so many races in such a short time, will that make it easier to earn a qualifying slot for the world championship? It will be fun to analyze the qualifying stats at the end of August.

The same question will arise this fall with the many qualifying races that have been rescheduled to September. That includes Ironman Australia, Ironman Switzerland Thun, Ironman France Nice and Ironman Austria Karnten. Add all of those races to the regularly scheduled events in Wales, Wisconsin, Italy (Emilia Romagna), Maryland and Chattanooga, and you have another busy month of Ironman qualifying, albeit for the 2022 world championship. October remains busy with events in Indiana, Barcelona, Texas, Mallorca, Philippines, Portugal, Waco, California and Malaysia.

The bedlam continues in November with Florida, Brazil, South Africa, Arizona and Cozumel. Add in Ironman Western Australia in December and you have 23 qualifying events for Kona taking place in less than four months. Last year Ironman CEO Andrew Messick predicted that as racing resumed after the pandemic we’d see more regional racing around the world. That will seemingly make it easier for athletes in some regions to earn themselves a qualifying spot for Kona as athletes from more competitive countries and regions won’t be able to fly in and grab qualifying slots. Seeing how Kona qualifying develops over the rest of this year, though, will be fun to watch as we see so many races happening in such a short time period. That, coupled with the challenges of international travel, makes it hard to say whether getting to Kona is going to be easier, or more of a challenge over the next couple of years.