So here is some great news from Ironman… you can get into Kona a new way now… 1) qualify (ya right)… 2) lottery (almost as bad of odds)… 3) Ironman CEO Challenge (if you are fast… a CEO… and your company will write off a big “marketing” expense)… or the newest way… 4) by completing 12 Ironman triathlons! (slim chance… but a chance, none the less!… just 7 more to go!)
An interesting article by Devashish Paul, that he posted on the TriRudy website… I like the idea and rationale… have a read!
For those who have trained and raced for many years, and never had a chance to to go Kona, WTC announced a new loyalty program. In advance of the announcement, WTC CEO spent some time talking to me about how all of this came about. I tried to capture his mindset as well as possible in the following article that is on xtri.com
WTC Legacy Athlete Program: Everyone Should have a Chance to Race in Kona at Least Once
by Devashish Paul
Prior to WTC’s recent announcement on changes to its lottery program and the introduction of the legacy program, Andrew Messick, the new CEO, took some time to discuss the topic with Xtri.com.
Kona is realistically the birthplace of triathlon as we know it today. Sure, there were other triathlon races before the Ironman, and in fact the Ironman was originally held on the island of Oahu before moving to Kona in the early 80′s. But the stories, legends and the legacy of Ironman as we know it were largely formulated over the past three decades or so, with the various battles on the lava fields on the big Island of Hawaii. The attraction of racing in Kona is hard to describe on anything but an emotional level. There is a magnetic connection between this island in the Pacific and age group and professional triathletes worldwide. Arguably even for many professionals, they stand no chance at Kona. They realistically are not there for prize money, but like most age groupers are there for the experience. Few athletes outside of the top 10 will ever break even on the trip to Kona. The trip then becomes more about the experience, a physical and spiritual journey and a chance to compete on the same tarmac as the very best in the sport. Very few rugby fans will raise the world cup like the All Blacks, few football fans will catch a game winning pass from Tom Brady in the Superbowl, nor put the ball past a Barcelona goaltender as Wayne Rooney had in the UEFA Champion’s league finals in Wembley stadium. We can’t even get a sniff of the Olympic 400 m IM finals with Phelps, race up Alpe d’Huez with Cadel Evans or compete on the same track as Usain Bolt. But every athlete who competes in triathlon has a chance to race the best in the sport in Kona.
Years ago, the lottery was established to give every man a chance to experience the sport. Left out in the middle were long time participants. Perhaps missing a few steps of speed to get a Kona roll-down, with the lottery being perceived as a losing proposition and for many a path that was not based on any form of merit.
In his first 100 days as WTC CEO Andrew Messick, like any good CEO, decided to look at all sides of his business. He recognizes that he’s not just in charge of any business but one where there is a significant emotional attachment between his customers and what his company offers. He’s not just the guy in charge of a business, but the custodian of a legacy and culture that has deep roots spread across the world. As part of his first 100 day plan, before really changing anything, Andrew, an age group athlete himself, toured around, went to various races, spoke with all of his athletes, both professional and age grouper and wanted to hear what needed fixing, and what was working. He wanted to “hear from the street” the areas where the WTC could improve its offering and make a stronger connection with its customers. He said, “they’re not just customers, they are what makes us.”
During this time, he got to attend the banquet at Ironman Frankfurt Germany, now in it’s 10th year.
During this event, they brought to the stage every athlete who had done all 10 Ironmans in Frankfurt. That’s 10 Ironmans in 10 years in the same place for a decade. The enormity of this accomplishment was not lost on Andrew. It also occurred to him that these guys were not the very fastest at the event. To a person, they were not Kona contenders, rather, people who were physically, emotionally and financially vested in the sport. These guys lived and breathed the Ironman lifestyle. No doubt, they are the fixture at the local Wed morning ride, or the masters swim sessions. They are probably the guy pulling people to the monster training sessions in the Ironman buildup and telling the tales of past events. They are the ones guiding the newbie triathletes, helping them to learn the ropes and also helping them dream about crossing that first finish line. Most of these guys will never ever get a sniff of the Kona that the qualifiers get a chance to experience. They won’t dive in off the pier, they won’t drink Kona coffee off a catamaran on the Thursday morning swim. They won’t see Crowie and Macca hammering back from Hawi chasing Lieto and they won’t see Carfrae stalking Wellington out on the Queen K, hoping to pull back a victory. Yet, there they were, with all 10 Frankfurt finishes, up on the stage for their fellow athletes to cheer.
Andrew understood what he saw, and knows that at every event worldwide, and in every triathlon community there are men and women like these 10x finishers at Frankfurt. People who put enough energy into triathlon that it is literally like a second job. Their efforts far outstrip a hobby. It is deeply integrated into their lives, those of their families and for some is an extended part of their personal identity.
These people need a chance to go to Kona. Even if it is just once. They need to feel the breeze off of the pier and be able to share the same road as where Mark and Dave did battle. A program needed to be put into place for athlete like this.
While the cynical amongst us, might view this is a means to suck people into doing WTC races rather than competitors, we can’t really change the mind of the cynical. In reality, the number of athletes that this new loyalty program applies to is small enough that it won’t really change revenue for WTC much. It will offer athletes who dream a chance to realize that dream.
WTC took the existing lottery and took the 200 slots that it gets and put 100 into the their new “legacy athlete loyalty program.” It does not change the number of slots for qualifiers, nor professionals. Andrew is making a commitment that someone who does 12 WTC full length Ironmans will eventually get to Kona. When asked, “why 12, why not 5, or 10?”, Andrew replied, “We wanted to make it tough. In fact, we wanted to make it really tough. No one finishes 12 Ironmans by just signing up and showing up. This is a multi year commitment. For many, even with a few Ironmans per year, perhaps 5-10 years. You have to finish every one of these events and if you’ve already been to Kona as qualifier, or a previous lottery winner, you don’t get a shot through our new program. This is truly to give long time participants who are committed Ironman athletes who are not gifted enough to qualify, a chance to finally race in Kona. Right now our database is not sophisticated enough to go back enough years to have a comprehensive worldwide list of those who have done 12. If 12 is too much and we don’t fill 100 slots per year, we MAY lower it in the future, but we believe that 12 is a good starting point.”
Of course, the topic is about “getting to Kona” and the topic of slots at qualifier events came up as well. It seems that with the number of races that WTC is running, there are less and less slots at each event. Is there is a need to every WTC race to have Kona qualifier slots. In the past once could do a top 10 and get in a Kona slot in some of the larger highly competitive age groups. Today, with 50 or less slots in each event, one has to pretty well podium or win outright even in very deep fields. Why not have less events with Kona slots but have those events with more slots. A recent example was Ironman Lake placid where less that 25% of the field raced without wetsuit, meaning that they were there only for the race in Lake Placid and were not trying for Kona slots. Perhaps there is an opportunity to create some championship quality events where all the slots would be concentrated. To this topic Andrew said, “We understand the problem, we’re limited by racks on Kailua Pier and we have 5-6x the number of worldwide participants over 5-10 years ago. Bottom line is that the fields are deeper and faster and whether we spread the slots or put them in regional championship events, we feel that it won’t really won’t make a huge difference on who get to qualify for Kona.” This is the WTC’s position today, based on their event structure and format that is in play.
The bottom line is that the new Kona Legacy Athlete program really is about rewarding those who have committed to the sport in a massive way, making it part of their lives with a commitment that is often not seen in other walks of life. Andrew recognizes this as a special commitment and wants to create a path to Kona that makes the reality of racing in Kona a possibility for those who just might not have quite the same genetic gifts as the top Kona qualifiers, but have make the sport an integrated part of their lives.
About the Author: Devashish Paul is a master triathlete based in Ottawa Canada, and a 20x Ironman finisher and 10x Ironman Lake Placid finisher. He actually qualified for Kona in his 12th Ironman in 2006, 15 years after his first shot at the distance.