Three-time Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington has responded to the World Triathlon Corporation’s recent announcements that it is potentially overhauling how it distributes prize money and Kona slots.
Written by: Courtney Baird
Late last week, the WTC e-mailed a document to all of its licensed pros that detailed the potential changes, asking them for comments.
It was the first time the WTC had asked its professionals for comments on how it distributes prize money and Kona slots—rules that it began changing in early February, just ahead of Ironman Malaysia. Prior to the race, the WTC announced that pros had to be within 8% of the winner’s time to receive prize money and 5% of the winner’s time to receive a Kona slot. The rules had formally stated that pros had to be within 10% of second place to receive prize money.
Many pros were upset about various aspects of the rules and spoke out against them, including Wellington.
The WTC’s most recent e-mail to its pros says that it is thinking about doing away with the 8% and 5% rules and establishing a complicated, points-based ranking system that will be used to qualify pros for Kona. The ranking system could take the place of the single-performance, slot-based system now in place.
Briefly, the Kona pro field would potentially be reduced to approximately 50 male athletes and 30 female athletes (based on the ratio of male to female pros in the sport), pros would be ranked according to their fives best performances during the qualifying year, all athletes would have to complete one full-distance Ironman each year other than Kona, and athletes could use three 70.3 races to qualify for Kona. Additionally, the e-mail outlined a potential wild card entry format and said that past world champions would no longer receive lifetime automatic qualification into Kona as pros. Instead, past champions get three years of automatic qualification as pros and then automatically qualify as age-groupers.
According to the proposed ranking system, different Ironman events will offer different point values. For example, 3rd place at a $75,000 Ironman event will be awarded more points than 3rd place at a $25,000 event and fewer points than 3rd place at the world championships.
And the system would be calculated beginning on September 1, 2010, and ending August 31, 2011.
She said that she is happy with the reduction of the pro field at Kona and the WTC’s solicitation of pro response and with the stated goals of the e-mail: reward the sports’ best athletes, create income opportunities for newer pros, qualify the best athletes to Kona, further limit the number of athletes who participate in Kona, and increase media exposure of its events.
But she said she was unsure as to whether the changes outlined would achieve their stated goals.
Among other things, she was concerned that the ratio of men to women competing in Kona was being incorrectly calculated because many athletes with WTC licenses only compete in 70.3 events. Additionally, she felt the rules were weighted in favor of 70.3 athletes as its point system overvalued 70.3 events.
“Kona qualification should be based principally on Ironman performance and not 70.3 performance,” she wrote.
She also said that August 31st is too late of a date to begin planning for Kona and would hamper athletes’ ability to prepare for the race. Additionally, the ranking system might encourage pros to try to earn all of their points early in the season, thus limiting the mental and physical break that is required after an Ironman season finishes.
She expressed concern about the new rules reducing “the flexibility athletes have in making decisions about whether or not to race a WTC event.” Briefly, she said competition by other race directors, such as those who run Rev3 and Challenge events, is good for the sport and that the rules would force athletes “by the need to accrue points, to only do WTC events.”
Wellington made some suggestions in her response.
Among them, she said that winners of $100,000 Ironman events should automatically qualify for Kona, a top-10 finish at Kona should be awarded points, the number of 70.3 races that can be used for qualification should be reduced to no more than two, the ranked athlete list should be made public, race-start lists should be published prior to events, and there should be more clarification on who can qualify for a wild card.
The WTC said in its e-mail that it will publish the final version of its rule changes on July 9th.