Each year, more than 80,000 athletes vie for slots to the IRONMAN World Championship at qualifying IRONMAN events worldwide—while only approximately 2,000 make it to the starting line on race day.
The lucky few get a chance to prove to themselves that "Anything is Possible," the mantra that has become a mainstay of the IRONMAN lifestyle. Considered the most challenging one-day sporting event in the world, the IRONMAN World Championship offers athletes of all abilities, ages, shapes and sizes the opportunity to test their limits.
Qualifying isn't the only route to Kona, though. There are four ways you can find yourself at the starting line for the IRONMAN World Championship: earning a slot at one of the full-distance qualifiers held around the world, getting a spot through the IRONMAN Legacy program, winning an entry in the IRONMAN Lottery Program or purchasing an entry through the IRONMAN Foundation's charitable eBay Auction. Those in the military can also qualify at select events, while hand cycle division athletes can compete at a qualifying event in their region to earn a spot at the start line in Kona.
Every full-distance IRONMAN event offers a minimum of one qualifying spot per age group for the world championship. The oft-googled question of "which race is easiest to qualify at" is pretty much a moot point these days as age group racing has become so competitive. The number of qualifying slots in each age category is dependent on the number of competitors in each group—typically the 35 to 39 and 40 to 44 age groups have the most competitors and the most slots—so you don't always have to win your age group to get a spot in Kona. While you might have to win your age group in an older category, there are often fewer competitors, although these days it's not unusual to have multiple athletes in the men's 75 to 79 category, and there were four men competing in the men's 80 to 84 category in Kona last year.
Lottery and Legacy Programs
A mainstay in the history of IRONMAN, the IRONMAN Lottery began in 1983 thanks to the vision of IRONMAN co-founder John Collins as a way to provide athletes ranging in athletic ability the opportunity to be a part of the world's most challenging one-day endurance event. More than 7,000 athletes apply for the IRONMAN Lottery each year. In 1990, IRONMAN created the Passport Club that, in addition to other member benefits, gives athletes an increased chance of being selected through the lottery by offering one additional entry.
As of 2012, luck isn't the only way you can win a spot in Kona. The IRONMAN Legacy Program grants 100 loyal athletes an opportunity to compete in Kona at least once in their lifetime. To be eligible for selection through the Legacy Program, athletes must have completed a minimum of 12 full-distance IRONMAN-branded races, have never started the IRONMAN World Championship, have completed at least one full-distance IRONMAN event in each of the last two years and be registered for a full-distance IRONMAN event in the current year.
Every year starting in April, IRONMAN auctions off a number of slots with the proceeds going towards the IRONMAN Foundation. The auction incorporates four phases with one slot available per week. Each slot begins with a minimum bid of $10,000, with 100 percent of the money from the final winning bids of the first four slots going to support the foundation's efforts.
Athletes who are paraplegic, quadriplegic or double above-the-knee amputees and use a hand cranked cycle on the bike segment and racing chair for the run segment, may compete for IRONMAN World Championship qualifying slots at IRONMAN 70.3 Cairns (one male/one female), IRONMAN 70.3 Luxembourg (one male/one female) and IRONMAN 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake (two male/one female).
The 2014 SUPERFROG Triathlon in Coronado, California offered 20 qualifying slots to the Military Division of the 2015 IRONMAN World Championship. The slots are reserved for current military personnel from any nation. Other military division qualifying events will be announced.
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