Saturday, September 14, 2013

Intemperate, much?

Regular readers, few though you are, may remember my rumination a while back about the qualification for USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships.  At most triathlon events, the top 10% in a given age group qualify for nationals -- a sensible, and fairly challenging to achieve, cutoff.  At some races I make it, at some races I don't.  At a few "regional qualifiers," the top 33% qualifies.  But the regional qualifiers are big city events like Nation's Triathlon that are not very hotly contested but instead appeal generally to the "bucket-list" crowd.  (That is, if you want to run a triathlon before you die and you live in driving distance of DC, you will run Nation's.)  The result is a very long "tail," making the National's qualifying standard much easier to meet.

All this is fine.  But the result is that the cool championship events are not USA Triathlon championships, they are Ironman championships -- Kona, Mt. Tremblant for 1/2 Ironman, and HyVee for Olympic distance.  Those championship events are exclusive.  Try as I do, I may one day qualify for 1/2 Ironman (not sure, but I might just have squeaked in at Timberman last month); I may one day qualify (but have not recently qualified) for HyVee; but short of keeping my speed until age 60 I will never qualify for Kona.  My analogy:  USA Triathlon is selling Hondas and World Triathlon Corp. is selling Mercedes.

I wrote to USA Triathlon to point this out.  Here is Michelle's response:


Only  a short list of special and regional qualifiers qualify athletes at 33%. All other races are 10%. Read the qualification page for accurate information. USAT and Ironman are two different types of organizations with two different purposes. USA Triathlon is the National Governing Body of the sport, a non-profit, with a major purpose of growing the sport. The World Triathlon Corporation, Ironman, is a corporation whose purpose is to make millions of dollars off triathletes each year. These facts are easily found on Google. If you would like more information do your homework and get back to me with additional questions. 


Michelle Thomas
National Events Coordinator

USA Triathlon"

My best guess is that Michelle has been fielding complaints about USAT non-stop and is sick of it. But, really?


  1. That's good entertainment. For a long time, WTC has taken flack from many fronts for having near-impossible qualification standards while simultaneously reserving 200 slots or so for a random lottery open to anyone. That's their effort to let the common man race, but I don't have much sympathy for it; to me, someone who trains for years and misses out on a Kona slot by 30 seconds, but who would have qualified if there were one more slot, deserves it more than a lottery winner. There are also Kona slots given out to celebrities like The Biggest Loser contestants. WTC also auctioned a couple of slots on eBay a couple of years ago for charitable purposes. If I recall correctly, $30k would buy you in.

    Boston, of course, also has charity fundraising slots.

    The bottom line is there's a Tiffany effect to these events -- the joy comes not necessarily in racing them, but in qualifying. The harder it is to qualify, the more satisfaction one gets from doing it.

    Personally, I think the 33% qualification standard at a few larger races is ridiculous. A guy I know (Andy) won his AG at Nations Tri Oly, placing first out of 485 or something. But at a local Oly the next spring, he was something like 4th of 17 because some regional ringers showed up. That's an extreme example, but it confirms the basic premise that there's some weirdness going on.

    FWIW, qualifying for Worlds is, by any measure, extremely difficult. That is, it's one thing to qualify for USAT AG Nationals, but another thing entirely to do well there.

    1. I'm not in your camp on the Ironman lottery. In part it is historical accident: when the race was founded it was decided (1) it will always be a 7 am to midnight race and (2) it will always be open to regular Joes and Sallys. (Maybe other things, too; I simply don't know.) The latter requires a lottery or a race-to-sign-up date, which is obviously silly.

      I fully agree with your concerns about Oprah slots. (Not that I believe Oprah is shooting for this, but you get the idea.) Then, charity: heck, if you can incur 0 incremental cost and raise $30K for charity, I say go for it.

      All this assumes there are enough slots for people who work hard to qualify. The market would suggest there are. We're all out beating ourselves up giving it a try, when the only difference between Ironman and Challenge (another promoter that, by all accounts, puts on incredible races) or Rev3 (same as Challenge) is the vanishingly small possibility of qualifying.