It’s time for a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of post. Or, if you’re more romantic… We’re all holding dandelions whispering “she loves me, she loves me not” as we pluck. As I began writing this post, I didn’t know how to accurately discuss it. If you’re uber competitive and have a strong disdain for short cuts, are you frustrated, maybe even feeling cheated? If you’re viewing it from a business perspective, are you applauding? What are these split personalities conflicted about, you ask? Well, that would be the updated WTC Ironman Lottery and Legacy programs.
Brief Background Summary
Thousands of triathletes (approx. 70,000, Ironman.com) compete every year for the opportunity to qualify for the World Championships in Kona (Hawai’i); the Holy Mecca of Triathlon. In the past, these lusted spots have been distributed via athletes winning their respective age groups in qualifying races, selected via a paid lottery system, locally born and raised, physically challenged, or purchased charity spot donations. Effective for 2012, there has been a reorganization:[quote] …athletes will have an increased chance of being selected for the Ironman Lottery (IML) based on the number of years that they have entered…. For example, if an athlete registers for the 2012 IML and has registered for every lottery from 2001 through 2012, he or she will have 12 chances of being selected for a lottery slot..
The newly launched Ironman Legacy Program will grant loyal Ironman athletes an opportunity to compete in Kona at least once in their lifetime. One hundred Legacy winners will be chosen by WTC and selection will be based on several criteria. To be eligible for selection in the Legacy Program, athletes must have completed a minimum of 12 full-distance IM-branded races, have never started the IM World Championship, have completed at least one IM.. IRONMAN Press Release, 10/31/11[/quote]
It’s a dying practice. When it costs more money to acquire new customers than current customers, one would think showing some love to current customers would be as simple as that. I’ve been banking with one bank for fifteen years and they’ve never given me anything other than a lousy interest rate. Ironman athletes invest tens of thousands of dollars to race in their lifetimes. Following the Loyalty Plan, an athlete does twelve races at around $550 a pop, (that is $6,600 in entry fees alone, MINIMUM). It doesn’t include TRAVEL expenses, any IM-branded gear they buy (I’m looking at you IRONMAN COLOGNE), and family commitments they may
neglect miss. (Wait.. we have TWO kids?) and they are entered into this program.
You’re no longer driving to be the best. Competitive nature is not as strong as it should be. Is there a flaw with having a mental attitude of “I need to do x-amount of races to make Kona”? Some may say they still are, but are they really? S/He may start off really motivated, but the “I’ll endure” mindset may creep in. For the competitive natured folks, they want to work hard, kick your butt, and earn it. Maybe they’ll make it, maybe they won’t. While loyalty is being rewarded, read some of the forums, they say that “loyalty” is diluting the caliber of competitors. It’s not like the WTC is hurting for athletes. Their own stats say 70,000+ are vying for a few spots.[hr]
â€œAs the popularity of the sport continues to grow, qualifying for the Ironman World Championship becomes more difficult,â€ stated WTC CEO Andrew Messick in a statement. â€œMore than 70,000 athletes are competing for only a handful of coveted slots [and] the Ironman Lottery provides another way for athletes to enter the race and cross the finish line on Ali`i Drive….Messick said that the program was designed to reward the loyalty of the athletes whose dream it is to compete at the birthplace of the Ironman.”
With the boom of triathlon, more and more people are flocking to the sport. It is fantastic. Everyone from little kids (have to be 18+ for Kona) to eighty year old grandpas are doing these races. It is going to be extremely difficult for some people to ever win or place high enough in qualifying races to make it. Part of the Ironman brand is the experience. Ironman needs to deliver that experience to everyone, not just the super competitive die-hards (but do they need to deliver the Kona experience?)
Life.Is.UNFAIR. We can’t get everything we want in life. One of my favorite phrases is “The American Dream has no snooze button”. It’s a simply mantra: If you want it, you have to dedicate every ounce of your being to it. No one should be giving hand-me-outs; you shouldn’t expect anything from anyone. To be successful and reap the rewards of your hard work is making that dream a reality. However, let’s repeat — life is not fair. This is like the ever-growing “Participant Trophy” little league players get. We’re guiding society into the belief you’ll eventually get it. But you say, “Zane, every endurance event gives out finisher medals!” True, but this race is the Holy Mecca of Triathlon. It is an event you QUALIFY for (see random thoughts later). “The better team won, but here’s a trophy anyways” belief is pathetic. Where is the COMPETITIVE DRIVE?! You lost. Get over it and start working for next year. We’re no longer fueling our competitive nature. When did it become that we all deserve to be there?
The HEART OF TRIATHLON
An interview by Slowtwitch.com had CEO Andrew Messick say this: This was my first trip to Kona and it reinforced what I knew about the event, that it is far more than just a World Championship. Kona is a unique celebration of the sport of triathlon. The team has done a fine job in finding the right balance between producing a World Championship caliber event and a providing a stage on which we celebrate triathlon.
The lottery began in 1983 thanks to one of the Ironman founders, John Collins. He wanted to “provide athletes ranging in ability the opportunity to qualify for the world’s most challenging one-day endurance event” (Ironman Press release).
Not everyone can afford to travel to multiple Ironman branded events. It could make someone’s dream a reality. For non-pros, we need to realize, this is a life experience. Being the top dog in your age group shouldn’t be the be-all.
Athletes that train and commit to the lifestyle have fewer spots to compete for (but still the majority). They are everyday athletes too. They are spending the cash-money! Their abilities vary too. Heck, I’ll act like a worried mother for a moment and say safety issues could emerge (I don’t like acting like a worried mother and creating a nanny-state, but insurance costs worry me for race directors). The landscape of Kona is brutal, trained athletes should be competing. With the growth of triathlons and “couch to Ironman” training programs, it’s a nightmare. However, that is why the WTC weights the number of years an athlete has been entering more now. Finally, I see my peers’ tweets, emails, blogs, and Facebook updates about racing all over the country. They are very good, but the elusive Kona spot is still a sought after carrot. I hate it for them, but their drive is never wavering. If anything, their motivation prospers. HOWEVER, I would hate to win a lottery spot and tell them….
Wrapping Things Up:
I know why the WTC did this. It makes sense. They provide an experience. It rewards loyalty, commitment, and huge financial investments/sacrifices by athletes. It makes some people’s dreams come true. It’s my bank rewarding me with a $20 gift card to Chili’s. However, for myself, I feel the competitive drive in me would be forever tarnished if I did not earn it via qualifying. I may never be good enough to qualify for Kona. Sure, it stings my ego a little bit, but I will do my damnest to make myself better and maybe, just maybe, one race, the stars will align and all of my hard-work, sacrifice, and determination will pay off to qualify. If not, life’s unfair and I’ll move on. I’m still going to race my a$$ off.
Thank you for reading,
This is a hot topic among many athletes. What are your thoughts?
P.S. Click here to see our Hawai’i inspired triathlon bike gallery by a 19x Ironman finisher.
[hr] Assorted Links to News of the Programs and References
Ironman Corporate Qualification Info
Ironman Corporate Official Press Release
Slowtwitch.com WTC CEO Interview:
Slowtwitch Brief Overview
“The American Dream Has No Snooze Button” quote by Krish Dhanam