Qualifying tourism for ironman hawaii: kona at any price?

A few days ago, a message with the following question fluttered into our Pushing Limits mailbox: What do you actually think of an athlete flying halay around the world in order to compete in an Ironman 70.3 races to qualify for Ironman Hawaii? A subject on which opinions differ.

  • Cover photo: Getty Images for Ironman

Ironman Hawaii is the elixir of the World Triathlon Corporation. A participation at the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island is something like the accolade for every endurance athlete who has managed to qualify for this race by a special performance. At 41 Ironman events worldwide, athletes have the chance to secure one of the coveted and hotly contested Hawaii slots. Meanwhile, it’s over 2.400 athletes compete in the Hawaiian heat each October to find the world champions in their age groups.

The trip to Ironman Hawaii

The romantic notion that Ironman Hawaii is all about sporting intentions is long outdated. On the one hand, Ironman is, of course, about 3.8 kilometers of swimming, 180 kilometers of cycling and 42 kilometers of running – all combined into high-quality organized and well-designed events. On the other hand, Ironman is also about business. Of course, this is okay and understandable to a certain extent.

Over half the distance to Ironman Hawaii

In addition to the 41 qualifying events, all of which are held over the full Ironman distance of 226 kilometers, there are now also four Ironman 70.3 races where Hawaii slots are awarded. Ironman 70.3 is the little brother of an Ironman and is held over half the distance (1.9 kilometers swimming, 90 kilometers cycling, 21 kilometers running).

Ironman 70.3 races where a Hawaii qualification is possible:

With the exception of the Ironman 70.3 Hawaiis are therefore exclusively races that take place in China. But also the Ironman 70.3 Wiesbaden, which is now no longer held, Hawaii slots were awarded in 2013. So it’s not a phenomenon that just popped up again. However – the question that arises is: Is it necessary??

Quali-tourism: The "easy" way to Hawaii?

Well, even at one of these Ironman 70.3 events, you first have to qualify for a slot through athletic performance and get the slot in your age group, that’s clear. There are even prominent examples who have already chosen this path: Jan Sibbersen, Sailfish boss and Patrick Lange manager, signed up in 2017 at Ironman 70.3 Qujing secured one of 30 Kona slots and a year later competed in Ironman 70.3 in Xiamen again the way over Asia to Kona was chosen.

Ironman opens this way, therefore it is understandable that some athletes take it.

The Asian triathlon market is important for the Ironman company and with the Kona slots they create the necessary incentive to attract starters to the races in China and to lure them to the Far East. The travel time from Frankfurt to Xiamen for example is roundabout 30 hours. One way. To a 70.3 race. As an amateur. Just sayin’. You have to want it very badly.

Actually, the people who take such a trip from Central Europe deserve a Kona slot per se.

Joking aside. But if a triathlete dreams the dream of Ironman Hawaii, shouldn’t the way lead also classically over the Ironman distance to Kona? I haven’t quite made up my mind on this yet, so I’d be quite interested in what you guys out there think about it. My first thought is: If someone wants to go to Ironman Hawaii, then not via qualifying at a 70.3 races. And I say this without wanting to offend anyone personally.

I think it would make sense, for example, if the Kona qualification was only possible over the full distance: The athlete would prove that he is able to complete an Ironman over 226 kilometers in a healthy way. Theoretically it is possible that someone who has qualified somewhere in China over the half distance does his first long distance at Ironman Hawaii. I find only go-so-cool.

Ironman hype at any price?

Currently Ironman gives out 105 slots for the world championship in Hawaii with 70 athletes.3-competitions. It gets funny when you look at the details a little bit: At Ironman 70.3 Liuzhou in April, just 707 triathletes finished, devastatingly few. At the 70.3 in Xiamen there were 1.068 finishers and in Shanghai only 933 athletes reached the finish line. These are peanuts compared to the European races, where the number of finishers is in the range of 2 to 3.000 move. At all these races 25 slots will be distributed each time. So whether there is the necessary power density in these qualifying races in Asia to justify a start at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii would be debatable.

A small example calculation: At the Ironman 70.3 Liuzhou all 25 slots were distributed to 574 men (the women were left empty handed). That means 1 slot on 23 athletes. At Ironman Hamburg there were 31 slots on 1.939 men given, means: 1 slot on 62. This milkmaid calculation speaks at least for a better quota in Liuzhou and not necessarily for Hamburg, if you want the Hawaii qualification at all costs.

What about the following argument? "I tried it at an Ironman, but I just missed the qualification. That’s why I traveled to Asia and did it there."To be honest, not every athlete has to qualify for Ironman Hawaii. Even though it might be a very big dream, but wouldn’t it still be acceptable if you don’t make the qualification at a full Ironman? A close miss is also a close miss.

Conclusion: Don’t get me wrong

Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge every athlete a start at Ironman Hawaii. And if he made the qualification, no matter how and where, then I’m glad that his dream comes true. But that Ironman created this possibility, I think it’s stupid. Do you have to organize a triathlon at every place in the world? And do you have to suck your own elixir to get the fields of participants more or less full, because you don’t know how to get the business going any other way?? Hach, Ironman.


from my point of view too much "mimimi" in the article. There is arbitrariness everywhere in sport. To qualify for the World Cup via the Asian group, you certainly don’t have to be as good at kicking as you do in Europe or South America. the fourth best German luge athlete easily makes it into the top 10 at a world championship, but only 3 from one country are allowed to start. It is similar with the Chinese in table tennis. Now not everything is completely fair in the world. If you plan smart and pick the right IM races to get the slot, you deserve it.

Generally I think it is up to everyone and since Ironman offers the way completely legitimate. It is business and nothing else. And since IRONMAN is the market leader, they decide the rules. If you don’t like it, you can boycott. After all, there is legacy program and auctions, so from there…
The whole thing is at most questionable from a health point of view, because the problem-free completion of a middle distance does not mean an injury-free race in KONA. But for that all sign the waiver before the race&

Agree with the two before me. It’s not pretty, but hey, there are many injustices in (sports) life. So why get upset about something you definitely can’t change? I prefer to invest the energy in more important things like training. &

Slot Hawaii should be given over long distance

Hmm… good question… if there is the possibility, the athletes are not to be blamed for anything. Who wants can use that.
I don’t think it’s good on the part of those responsible – for a world championship over the long distance, you should also only be able to qualify over a long distance. The slots could be much better distributed among the existing races over the full distance.

Isn’t it already a knighthood to get a slot at a 226? The feeling of having qualified for the world championship in the classic way is the real thing.
70.3 Qualis are just marketing. Nice if it works out, but since a 226 hurts 4 times as much as a 70.3, the pride is quite another. I’m also participating via Legacy at the latest in 2022, but still the goal is the direct qualifying at one of the 41.

As someone directly involved (who unfortunately didn’t make it), I’m honestly at a loss for words when I hear that in Asia 1 out of 23 qualify over a middle distance, while in Europe they qualify as 5. fastest woman (total without pro’s) doesn’t get a slot…and still I personally wouldn’t go the way over Asia/70.3 – then I don’t deserve to come to Hawaii&&♀️ but surely everyone has to decide for himself, if this is what he wants for himself..

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