Last updated 22 Nov 2023
There are several ways for triathletes to qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, or Nice, France:
1. Do well in an Ironman Qualifying Race: Athletes can qualify for Kona by finishing in one of the top spots in their age group at one of the designated Ironman qualifying races held throughout the year.
These races award a certain number of Kona slots to the top finishers in each age group.
Tip: Look for races that have extra slots for your age and or gender. For example, if you’re a woman, your chances have improved as in 2023 Ironman opened up more spots.
2. Try your luck at rolldown: Even if you don’t finish top of your age group, you can still go to the rolldown ceremony where the spots are announced (and sold!) to try your luck.
If there are three slots for your age group, for example, and you finished fourth, all you need is one of the three athlets ahead of you to not take his or her slot, and that third one rolls down to you.
I’ve seen it roll down quite far in some races.
Tip: Compete in a race towards the end of the season when all the faster athletes have taken most of the World Champs slots. This will mean there will be a higher chance for more rolling down.
3. Come close to qualifying in an earlier race: What? You mean even if you don’t qualify you can…qualify?
Yep, Ironman may extend the number of slots they allocate to more athletes after a race is long over.
In fact, I received an invite months after my race, and I was quite far from being a qualifier. I think Ironman was desperate to fill spots.
4. Win Your Age Group at Hawaii 70.3: Although only a 70.3, this race gives out a total of 45 Kona slots out to its age group winners.
Sounds a lot easier than earning it from a full, but I bet it’s competitive!
5. Be a Resident of Hawaii: If you raced the Hawaii 70.3 and didn’t get a slot, simply being a resident of the 50th state will entitle you to a drawing where you can win one of 26 slots.
Tip: Move to Hawaii 😅
6. Go via the Legacy Program: Athletes who have completed a certain number of Ironman races – 12 to be exact – are eligible for a slot to the World Championship race.
7. Bid for a Bib: If you’re willing to bid $25k you may have a chance. Ironman Foundation’s annual Charity Bib Auctions are held each April, and benefit the non-profit.
Along with entry to the race, the winner receives two Silver VIP passes and exclusive activities before the race.
Over the last 20 years, the World Championship Charity Bib Auction has raised more than $3 million supporting organizations like Hospice of Kona, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, and many more.
8. Get Special Entry: Athletes who are unable to qualify through the above methods may be given a special entry into the World Championship under certain criteria like being a professional athlete, humanitarian reasons, medical hardship and etc.
That said, most pros have to qualify the same way age-groupers do.
I remember in St. George 70.3 World Championships meeting an athlete from Afghanistan. She was admitted via special entry.
The number of slots available at each Ironman qualifying race varies and can depend on the total number of athletes competing and the size of the field in each age group.
Here is the Ironman’s 2023 breakdown of how many slots they’ve allocated:
|EVENT||RACE DATE||LOCATION||MALE SLOTS – NICE 2023||FEMALE SLOTS – KONA 2023|
|IRONMAN Argentina||December 4, 2022||Mar del Plata, Argentina||29||11|
|IRONMAN Western Australia||December 4, 2022||Busselton, WA, Australia||40||65|
|IRONMAN 70.3 Western Australia||December 4, 2022||Busselton, WA, Australia||1 (Hand Cycle Slot)||1 (Hand Cycle Slot)|
|IRONMAN New Zealand||December 10, 2022||Taupō, Waikato, New Zealand||40||25|
|IRONMAN New Zealand||March 4, 2023||Taupō, Waikato, New Zealand||50||50|
|IRONMAN South Africa – African Championship||March 5, 2023||Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth, South Africa||75||65|
|IRONMAN Texas- The Americas Championship||April 22, 2023||The Woodlands, Texas, USA||100||100|
|IRONMAN Australia||May 7, 2023||Port Macquarie, NSW, Australia||50||50|
|IRONMAN Lanzarote||May 20, 2023||Lanzarote, Canary Islands||50||25|
|IRONMAN Tulsa||May 21, 2023||Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA||35||35|
|IRONMAN Brazil||May 28, 2023||Florianopolis, Brazil||40||40|
|IRONMAN 70.3 Hawaii||June 3, 2023||Kohala Coast, Hawai`i, USA||12||(52 Age group/13 Hawaiì Resident) Total: 65|
|IRONMAN Hamburg||June 4, 2023||Hamburg, Germany||175||80|
|IRONMAN Philippines||June 11, 2023||Subic Bay, Philippines||50||25|
|IRONMAN 70.3 Eagleman||June 11, 2023||Cambridge, Maryland||1 (Hand Cycle Slot)||1 (Hand Cycle Slot)|
|IRONMAN Cairns- Asia-Pacific Championship||June 18, 2023||Cairns, QLD, Australia||75||75|
|IRONMAN Kärnten-Klagenfurt||June 18, 2023||Klagenfurt, Austria||175||50|
|IRONMAN 70.3 Luxembourg||June 18, 2023||Region Moselle, Luxembourg||2 (Hand Cycle Slots)||1 (Hand Cycle Slots)|
|IRONMAN France||June 25, 2023||Nice, France||200||50|
|IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene||June 25, 2023||Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, USA||65||115|
|IRONMAN European Championship Frankfurt||July 2, 2023||Frankfurt, Germany||200||50|
|IRONMAN UK||July 2, 2023||Bolton, England||100||65|
|IRONMAN Kazakhstan||July 2, 2023||Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan||50||25|
|IRONMAN Switzerland||July 9, 2023||Thun, Switzerland||75||35|
|IRONMAN Vitoria-Gasteiz||July 16, 2023||Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain||100||50|
|IRONMAN Lake Placid||July 23, 2023||Lake Placid, New York, USA||65||100|
|IRONMAN Tallinn||August 5, 2023||Tallinn, Estonia||2024 Slots Only||25|
|IRONMAN Gdynia||August 6, 2023||Gdynia, Poland||2024 Slots Only||25|
|IRONMAN Kalmar||August 19, 2023||Kalmar, Sweden||2024 Slots Only||75|
|IRONMAN Ireland||August 20, 2023||Youghal/Cork, Ireland||2024 Slots Only||50|
|IRONMAN Mont Tremblant||August 20, 2023||Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada||2024 Slots Only||100|
|IRONMAN Copenhagen||August 20, 2023||Copenhagen, Denmark||2024 Slots Only||50|
So, a race with more spots could give you a better chance of qualifying.
But perhaps more critical is the number of spots allocated per age group, and this varies proportionate to the number of athletes competing in each age group.
Each age group gets at least 1 slot. Usually, the oldest age groups just have 1.
The biggest age groups, like 40-44, will have the greatest number of World Champs spots allocated to them. But of course, they’re the most competitive.
The number of slots awarded is also based on the time of the winner of the age group and the time difference between the winner and the last slot, so the field could be small and tight or big and generous.
Ironman isn’t very transparent about how many slots they offer per age group, but the table below (credit goes to Coach Cox) shows indicative allocations, by gender, age group, and region.
This is based on a race offering 80 slots, so one offering more would obviously have higher figures, but the proportions should be about the same.
|North America||Europe||Africa||Australia / Asia|
Additionally, the rolldown process and the Ironman Lottery also limit the number of spots available.
In general, the chance to qualify for Kona or Nice is less than 10% for most age groupers, and for most of the IMQ events, it is less than 5%. That said, many triathletes consider the journey of training and competing in an Ironman event to be its own reward, regardless of whether they qualify for or not.
It’s also worth noting that even among professional athletes, it is not a guarantee to qualify for Kona, as it depends on their performance on that specific race day and how many slots available in their professional category.