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Kona Validation Debate

Updated: Sep 3, 2021

After Daniela’s (Ryf) scintillating performance at Roth I made a fairly cheeky suggestion that as a gesture Ironman could do the right thing for the sport by validating her place at Kona:

This elicited a range of responses on social media, which I would just like to give context to one last time before we move back to our training and coaching articles!

Rules are rules. No exceptions for Individuals!

Well of course I know that.

And while I wish that the reigning World Champion didn’t have to validate her Kona spot at Zurich this weekend 7 days after a full Iron distance performance at Roth, I’m not so naive to think Ironman would change their rules after a social media post.

The real point I’m trying to make is this is not about one athlete. This is about all professional athletes and their place within Ironman.

In my opinion the Hawaii World Championships should be about having the world’s best athletes competing against each other at the very peak of their powers. With that, I believe that validation rules which make it impossible for Olympic medallists to qualify for Kona are not good for the sport. Nor do I think that having an athlete like Jan Frodeno hobble around Ironman Lanzarote at 70% fitness just to qualify is a good look for Ironman.

If someone from the ATP suggested Novak Djokovic compete at a tournament he wasn’t fit for in order to validate for Wimbledon in six months time they would be laughed out of tennis.

At Ironman they’d get a promotion. And the problem with rules that show no respect for athletes are that the athletes in turn have no respect for the rules. The result being exchanges like this between Ironman World Champions and the Ironman CEO:

An open letter to Ironman CEO _ Pete Jacobs (1)
Download PDF • 655KB

Or racing like this:

And that is a bigger problem than any individual athlete or season. Where you have a situation where all the people actually involved in competing in the sport know a rule is a joke but the administrators choose to ignore them anyway.

You knew the rules and had plenty of time! Another common response on social media has been to: ‘Stop whining. There was plenty of time and opportunity for Daniela to validate.’

If you are simply trying to defend an Ironman World Championship that thinking may hold true.

But if you are also trying to defend Triple Crown + European Ironman + Ironman 70.3 World Championships at the same time then it is very mistaken. The truth is there’s very little room to move in terms of your race planning.

I’d be very, very surprised if you see Frodo lining up to defend his 70.3 World’s title this year. Which is a shame, as spectators would have preferred to see that than a validation race earlier in the season.

Not that either Daniela or Jan has much to complain about. The past two seasons have been very profitable for both. But the point is if you are going to add on events like a Triple Crown to the calendar – how it fits within existing validation requirements should be taken into account – and there has been no consideration or consultation as to how it may factor into an athlete’s overall season.

The problem with this argument is that Ironman Frankfurt wasn’t bad luck. Nor was it bad planning on the athlete’s part.The problem was a bad decision from race organisers, which like always, the pro athletes then had to pay for. If Frankfurt was one off mistake, then fine. We understand that mistakes happen and would have tried to adjust and get ready for the next available Ironman event.

But as I have tried to point out Ironman Frankfurt was not a ‘one off’ mistake. It is was just the latest in a series of Championship events which are becoming more and more unfair for the professional participants. For a variety of reasons, choosing a fair but competitive race is becoming very hard:

On this final point I have no rebuttal. Completely true. But no-one wants to leave Ironman. We want to see the sport flourish.

As a business Ironman is now close to a monopoly, and what happens in any industry with a monopoly?

  • The quality of service goes down while the prices go up. They bully their competitors.

  • They get too arrogant to listen to constructive feedback.

  • They eventually fall or are replaced by a more nimble and innovative product.

It may seem like good business policy to try and buy or ‘kill’ iconic events like Roth. But it is short term thinking that will backfire when the actual participants become more and more upset with the tactics and model that replaces them.

And we’re trying to help Ironman right now. The gates of Rome are on !re. The pro athletes are livid. Feedback from our camps is that age group athletes are more disillusioned with the brand than at any time in my many years in it. For every race that pops up in a new market it seems one from a traditional location dies.

A monopoly is in no-one’s interest.

We are here for the long run and had hoped that Ironman and Wanda were too. But they need to be kept in check for their own good. And I encourage our followers to support their local races and tremendous home grown race series like Toughman. It’s in everyone’s interest to do so.

With a bit of imagination the sport could be so much more on a global scale. At present it continues to be constrained by small time thinking. We’ll be providing Camps and Training advice again from next week.

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