Kona Points

My coach Steven Lord posted an interesting question in his blog earlier this week. The question was this:

As there are a finite number of points to be won by any pro triathlete under the new Kona Points Qualification system implemented by WTC for the Hawaii Ironman, there must be a number of points that guarantees an athlete to qualify, because if one athlete had amassed more than that number of points it would be impossible for 50 (30 if female) other athletes to amass more than that number of points. What is the threshold?

A professional [I presume Steven is thinking about this as his partner, the rookie pro Jo Carritt, is probably planning her 2011 season right now] could then design their season to try and get that many points and once they had met that threshold they could quit racing and just focus on training for the big dance in Hawaii with confidence that they were safe instead of waiting for the deadlines of point accrual set out by WTC.

In case you are unaware points are awarded as follows:


       IRONMAN RACES   70.3 RACES  
Place P-6000 P-4000 P-2000 P-1000 P-3000 P-1500 P-750 P-500
1 6000 4000 2000 1000 3000 1500 750 500
2 5400 3520 1760 880 2000 1200 660 440
3 4900 3120 1560 780 1500 1000 585 390
4 4450 2800 1400 700 1200 700 525 350
5 4000 2400 1200 600 1000 600 450 300
6 3300 2240 1120 560 900 560 420 280
7 3100 2080 1040 520 800 520 390 260
8 2900 1920 960 480 750 480 360 240
9 2700 1760 880 440 650 440 330 220
10 2500 1600 800 400 600 400 300 200
11 2300 1440 720 360 540 360 270 180
12 2100 1280 640 320 475 320 240 160
13 1900 1120 560 280 420 280 210 140
14 1700 960 480 240 360 240 180 120
15 1500 800 400 200 300 200 150 100
16 900 200 100 50 75 50 38 25
17 800 200 100 50 75 50 38 25
18 700 200 100 50 75 50 38 25
19 600 200 100 50 75 50 38 25
20 500 200 100 50 75 50 38 25
21-30 400 100 50 20 40 25 15 10
31-40 300 100 50 20 40 25 15 10
41+ 200 100 50 20 40 25 15 10

Downloaded from ironmanusa.com on October 5, 2010

The race schedule distributes points at the following race according to the race classification:

Date for
Kona 2011
Event 70.3
Prize Purse
9/12/2010 Ford Ironman Wisconsin   P-1000 $50,000
9/12/2010 Subaru Ironman 70.3 Muskoka P-500   $25,000
9/19/2010 Ironman 70.3 Syracuse P-500   $25,000
9/19/2010 Ironman 70.3 Cancun P-750   $50,000
9/19/2010 Ironman 70.3 Centrair Tokoname Japan P-750   $25 000
9/19/2010 Ironman 70.3 Branson P-500   $25,000
9/26/2010 Ironman 70.3 Augusta P-500   $25,000
10/9/2010 Ford Ironman World Championship   P-6000 $580,000
10/17/2010 Ironman 70.3 Austin P-500   $30,000
10/30/2010 Ironman 70.3 Taiwan P-500   $15,000
10/30/2010 Rohto Ironman 70.3 Miami P-750   $50,000
11/6/2010 Ford Ironman Florida   P-1000 $50 000
11/13/2010 Foster Grant
Ironman World Championship 70.3
P-3000   $100,000
11/21/2010 Ford Ironman Arizona   P-2000 $75,000
11/28/2010 Ford Ironman Cozumel   P-2000 $75,000
12/5/2010 Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship P-1500   $75,000
12/5/2010 Ironman Western Australia   P-2000 TBD
1/16/2011 Ironman 70.3 Pucon P-500   $15,000
1/23/2011 Ironman 70.3 South Africa P-750   $50,000
3/5/2011 Ironman New Zealand   P-1000 $50,000
3/19/2011 Ironman 70.3 San Juan P-750   $50,000
3/20/2011 Ironman 70.3 Singapore P-500   TBD
4/2/2011 Ironman 70.3 California P-750   $50,000
4/10/2011 Ironman South Africa   P-2000 $75,000
4/10/2011 Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas P-1500   $75,000
4/17/2011 Ochsner Ironman 70.3 New Orleans P-750   $50,000
5/1/2011 Ironman 70.3 St Croix P-750   $50,000
5/1/2011 Ironman Australia   P-1000 $25,000
5/1/2011 Ironman 70.3 Port Macquarie P-750   $15,000
5/7/2011 Ford Ironman St George   P-2000 $75,000
5/14/2011 Thomas Cook Ironman 70.3 Mallorca P-500   $15,000
5/15/2011 Ironman 70.3 Florida P-500   $15,000
5/21/2011 Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas   P-4000 $100,000
5/21/2011 Ironman Lanzarote   P-1000 $25,000
5/22/2011 Ironman China   P-1000 $25,000
5/22/2011 Ironman 70.3 China P-500   $15,000
5/22/2011 Ironman 70.3 Austria P-750   $50,000
5/29/2011 Ironman Brazil   P-2000 $75,000
6/4/2011 Ironman 70.3 Hawaii P-500   $15,000
6/5/2011 Powerbar Ironman 70.3 Switzerland P-750   $50,000
6/5/2011 Ironman 70.3 Mooseman P-500   $15,000
6/11/2011 Ironman 70.3 Boise P-500   $15,000
6/12/2011 Ironman 70.3 Kansas P-750   $50,000
6/12/2011 Subaru Ironman 70.3 Eagleman P-750   $50,000
6/19/2011 Ironman 70.3 UK P-500   $15,000
6/26/2011 Ford Ironman Coeur d’Alene   P-1000 $25,000
6/26/2011 Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake P-500   $15,000
6/26/2011 Ironman France   P-1000 $25,000
7/3/2011 Karnten Ironman Austria   P-2000 $75,000
TENTATIVE Ironman Japan   P-2000 $75,000
7/10/2011 Ironman Switzerland   P-2000 $75,000
7/10/2011 Amica Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island P-500   $15,000
7/17/2011 Ironman 70.3 Racine P-500   $15,000
7/17/2011 Ironman 70.3 Vineman P-750   $50,000
7/24/2011 Frankfurter Sparkasse
Ironman European Championship
  P-4000 $100,000
7/24/2011 Ford Ironman Lake Placid   P-2000 $75,000
TBD Ironman 70.3 Antwerp P-500   $15,000
7/30/2011 Whirlpool Ironman 70.3 Steelhead P-500   $15,000
7/31/2011 Ironman UK   P-1000 $25,000
7/31/2011 Viterra Ironman 70.3 Calgary P-500   $15,000
8/7/2011 Ironman Regensburg   P-1000 $25,000
8/7/2011 Ironman 70.3 Boulder P-750   $50,000
8/14/2011 Ironman 70.3 Germany P-1500   $75,000
8/21/2011 Ironman 70.3 Timberman P-750   $50,000
8/21/2011 Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines P-500   $15,000
8/27/2011 Ironman 70.3 Brazil P-750   $50,000
TENTATIVE Ironman Korea   P-1000 $25,000
8/28/2011 Ford Ironman Louisville   P-1000 $25,000
8/28/2011 Subaru Ironman Canada   P-2000 $75,000

Downloaded from ironmanusa.com on October 5, 2010

Different races are set to distribute the points according to different schedules, similar to accumulating points towards the Alberta Bicycle Association Alberta Cup where some races are ‘Schedule-A’ and some races are ‘Schedule-B’. Intuitively you know that if you do good at the good events you are going to soak up the points, but the competition knows this at the same time and they’re going to show up there as well and stiffen the competition for those points. It will be quite interesting from a spectator’s perspective to watch how the pros decide to go about accruing points in the next year… I haven’t seen any “instructions” or guidelines directing people on what’s a decent strategy. It might be the case that some of the professionals aren’t going to quite figure out how to play the Kona-Points-Game in the first year that it exists. That will be interesting as then they’re going to want to have exceptions made according to the Lance-Armstrong clause that so many of them whined so much about in the last few months. I’m not confident I understand the strategy for second-tier pros well enough to make a suggestion of where they should focus their efforts on racing well to accrue points, though for the highly competitive professionals I think that the system quite clearly suggests one strategy.

I’m pretty sure that the strategy for the big guns is to make sure that they shy away from the P-1000 ironman races and to make sure that you have flexibility in your schedule until they’re past the threshold (I’ll get to that in a minute). They need the flexibility to make sure that they could race two full WTC Ironman races and three WTC branded 70.3s. You’ll see soon that for the real hotshots in our sport, they can net themselves a Kona berth without dedicating their whole season to race as a “WTC owned athlete” which is what I’ve heard some grumbling about. A half decent finish in Kona this year, perhaps backed up with a season-wrapper-upper at Arizona, Cozumel or Western Australia and you’re almost done. Then pick up a couple WTC brand 70.3 races next year to tune up for wherever else you want to race… like Roth, Copenhagen, Henley-on-Thames, or Abu Dhabi and you’re set. If you don’t do well in Kona this year to get a good start on your points (doing well in Kona is a big boost to get back to Kona, I quite like this aspect of the system) then you probably want to schedule in racing either the new IM Texas or the Frankfurt race. Put together a good race (top 5) at either of those races, do a couple 70.3s where you’re likely to win or at least come second, and you’re set. The ladies from TBB can all go on racing an IM every weekend and they’ll qualify without thinking about it, but the system isn’t requiring much more racing than what I understand most pros to be doing (some of the german guys being the exceptions… they’ll need to race a bit more, and requiring the non-Kona ironman out of people like Crowie and Carfrae who opted to skip it this past year.). Like I said, I don’t really know what the strategy is for people who aren’t yet famous and just trying to crack into the pro ranks. Do you avoid the big races so you can win or come second at some of the smaller ones? I dunno, time will tell I suppose.

OK what’s the number!

Truth is – I don’t actually know the number. It’s a pretty complicated process to figure it out and pretty quickly after trying to solve the problem exactly I wrote a little monte-carlo simulation to search for the answer instead. One thing we do know is that for Men (50 qualifiers) the threshold MUST BE BELOW 6714 and for Women (30 qualifiers) the threshold MUST BE BELOW 8525. If you’re a pro and you reach this threshold then for sure there is no way that you won’t get an invite to roll on the Queen K. However, the actual threshold is quite a bit below this. I can only say quite a bit because I’ve only run a simulation to find solutions to the problem and not actually “solved” anything.

This simulation does not take into account:

  1. The requirement that each pro must race one Ironman other than Kona
  2. The limitation on using only 3 70.3s for points
  3. The athlete could potentially enter a race twice at the same time and win both first and second place. This isn’t an issue with P-2000, P-1000 or P-750, P-500 races, but is an issue with the impossibility of scooping points twice in kona, texas or Clearwater.
  4. There’s no accounting for the possibility that the past 5 years champions somehow came 1-5 on the Kona podium and scooped up the highest points totals rendering them “useless” in terms of earning qualification as they’re all going to be allowed to come anyways. That would make a killer race though. I want to see Macca and Crowie running neck and neck for the win out of the Energy Lab this year, it would be great! Macca would be trying to get inside Crowie’s head the whole time.
  5. There is no accounting for athletes earning an “early qualifier” at the end of July and then some others contesting the final few spots during the August races on the calendar, I can’t really comment on whether or not that helps anyone or not, one thing I do know is that it offers peace of mind to a bunch of people who are liable to get very stressed out about this kind of thing. The athletes asked for this clause and WTC granted it to them, there’s a mark of hope for the world to look at!
  6. Not so much a “disregarded contingency” but to be clear, we’re going to presume here that no-one other than the 50 men (30 women) seeking a Kona slot place in all the top ranks at all 69 of the races on the schedule, enough to scoop all of the highest point totals to use for their point-stash… but we know there are more people who will inevitably scoop some of these big scores up but not enough to qualify, and some who do not do any full IM races to try and come to Kona.

All of these things are limitations to how many points different athletes can actually accrue and so the sum total of points that can be won by all the athletes is less than the simulation suggests so the threshold to qualify for kona is actually all but guaranteed to be less than these metrics. In addition, it’s very very highly unlikely that all the points are going to be distributed in the worst possible way for the kona qualifying threshold to be driven up higher and higher. The really good athletes are going to blow past the threshold and scoop a lot of extra points, that’s going to lower the threshold. Points are going to go unclaimed when fields are not super deep, that’s going to lower the threshold too.

The worst case scenario’s that I’ve been able to find are as follows:

  • It’s possible with 50 qualifying slots (Men) that the Kona Points Threshold for qualification gets as high as 6600 pts
  • It’s possible with 30 qualifying slots (Women) that the Kona Points Threshold for qualification gets as high as 8360 pts

I all but guarantee that it will be lower than this, and my guess is that it’s going to be between 5% and 20% lower than this. It’s interesting to note that the Men’s winner likely just needs to finish an Ironman in 15:59 and he’s allowed to come back with this points breakdown, after completing the stipulations (of a non-kona IM finish) of validating his entry he likely doesn’t even need to exercise his free invitation. (I’ll add that it’s possible that, even with the computer running on this calculation, it didn’t actually find the worst case scenario (which we know can’t be above 6714 and 8525 anyways), but take note of all the reasons above why this worst case scenario is unlikely to happen anyhow.

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