Where's the Kona wild card?

Pro sports routinely offer wild card entries to their major events. Why doesn't Ironman?

| August 23, 2017 | NEWS

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

In the world of Ironman triathlon, it seems like the pro is often an afterthought. The money in running these events sits solely with the numbers - read the age groupers. With volume of entrants comes the cash. Unlike other sports that fund themselves via other models, Ironman triathlon is still largely an amateur undertaking with some professionals eking out a living based more on outside sponsorship than the lure of the prize money.

That aside, the whole qualification set up for Kona, the most prestigious race in the triathlon world, is based on numbers. Collect enough points and you get your pro ticket to Kona. Talent aside (and we use that term loosely), if you get enough points from multiple races, you’re in. And this works well, to a point. Sometimes there are those who might not be in the top 50 in the world (Ironman wise) who "work" their way into the field. And there are those who simply don’t want to be on the start line. Whether that is due to a lack of form, motivation or a reluctance to put themselves into the furnace affects both sides of the men's and women’s draw.

But, if Ironman has any pull on the average person, it is from the big names. And the big names need to be there. It’s the biggest week of the triathlon year. It towers above anything that Challenge and ITU can put forward. This is the holy grail of all triathlons world wide. So the question remains: why aren't wild cards given for this day?

Ironman brought in the Kona Points system (KPR) in 2010 and one little "dot point" on their radar was a wild card option. This allowed for misadventure and for Ironman to be able to award an entry. And, of course, with that announcement came the cries of "unfair," etc. from those onlookers who want to maintain the sanctity of the concept that everyone must qualify and earn a spot to be on the island. In simple terms, when it relates to the pros, their argument was garbage. The pros must be treated as a different species. They are not age groupers off for the big athletic adventure. This is a livelihood.

The wild card is not new to elite sports. The organizers of the Ironman World Championship should simply reserve the right to give a wild card to whomever they see fit. Tennis uses it regularly.

In professional tennis tournaments, a wild card refers to a tournament entry awarded to a player at the discretion of the organizers. All ATP and WTA tournaments have a few spots set aside for wild cards in both the main draw and the qualifying draw, for players who otherwise would not have made either of these draws with their professional ranking.”
And, in the light of what we have just seen one on the stars of Ironman racing, Rachel Joyce, go through to get her qualification spot, it is time that the wild card was used and Ironman grew up and evolved itself and it’s professional ranks. The sparing use of a wild card for the likes of a Rachel Joyce is an investment in the race. Joyce has had to cover the Ironman distance three times in the last few months to get to Kona, a feat that, while extraordinary, is way outside the common experience. In short, this is a path that never should have been blazed. Joyce, media friendly, athletically talented and experienced in the race didn’t need to have put herself through this.

We’ve been calling for a pro restructure for yeas now and way to affect the first part of this change is to bring back the world card and have the best in the business racing each other on triathlon’s biggest day.