17 Ways to Qualify for the Kona Ironman World Championships in 2023

kona ironman pier

The Kona Ironman World Championship race is one of the most sought-after races in the world. Similar to qualifying for the Boston Marathon for runners, the Kona Ironman is the holy grail for triathletes. Every year, athletes from all over the globe vie for a chance to compete in the grueling event that takes place on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The race is not easy to qualify for, but it is possible.  Below are all the known ways athletes can earn a spot at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

Win your age group in a full distance Ironman race

You are fast and you know it.  Typically 1 to 5 spots are available in each age group per qualifying race.  Certain races have additional spots  (North American championship, Asia-Pacific championship, Ironman Switzerland, Ironman Mont-Tremblant, etc.).  Each race website should display how many slots are available.  Pick one that favors your strengths and get it done.

Ironman Cairns and Ironman Frankfurt offer double the amount of other races – 100 slots total for each race.

Dedicated Women for Tri Events

Starting in 2023, Ironman is aggressively wanting to get many more female competitors to the World Championships. There are 17 dedicated Women for Tri events globally that have a lot of additional slots for women racing in these events. They are listed below.

EventDateExtra Women’s Slots
Ironman ChattanoogaSept 25, 2022100
Ironman ArizonaNov 20, 2022100
Ironman Western AustraliaDec 4, 202250
Ironman New ZealandMar 4, 202350
Ironman South Africa – African ChampionshipMar 5, 202365
Ironman TexasApr 22, 202365
Ironman HamburgJun 4, 202365
Ironman CairnsJun 18, 202365
Ironman FranceJun 25, 202350
Ironman Coeur d’AleneJun 25, 2023100
Ironman UKJul 2, 202350
Ironman Vitoria-GasteizJul 16, 202350
Ironman Lake PlacidJul 23, 2023100
Ironman KalmarTBD100
Ironman IrelandTBD50
Ironman Mont-TremblantTBD100
Ironman CopenhagenTBD100
https://www.ironman.com/im-world-championship-2023-slot

Win your age group in the previous year’s Kona Ironman

If you participated in the Ironman World Championships and won your age group, you get to do it again next year.

Hawaii 70.3 age group winners

This is one of the few 70.3 distance races that reward its athletes with a Kona Ironman qualification.  A total of 45 slots are allocated to the World Championships through this race.

Hawaii resident drawing

If you are a resident of Hawaii, and you compete in the Ironman 70.3 event, there are 24 additional slots just for you.  Considering that most competitors are not residents of Hawaii, you have an excellent change of qualifying for the Kona Ironman just by racing in this 70.3.

Women for Tri Inspiring Woman Entrant

Female athletes can apply to be selected to represent Women for Tri at the Kona Ironman.  Selected athlete must raise at least $25,000 in support of Women for Tri charitable programs.

https://www.womenfortri.com/get-involved/fundraising-campaigns/

Be a Gold-Level All World Athlete

This year Ironman sent certain Gold All World Athlete’s an email inviting them to participate in the World Championship.  This particular invitation was for the St. George version, but a World Championship is still a World Championship.  My guess is that they were trying to add to the participant count since it was a unique venue and most people have Kona aspirations.  Nonetheless, it’s a way in.

Become a Celebrity

If you’re famous, this is your way to Kona.  Ironman is always trying to broaden their marketing reach so ask them for entry.  In the past they’ve given priority to NBC-related celebrities such as past contestants on the show The Biggest Loser.  Other recent celebs participating include chef Gordon Ramsey, ex-NFL MVP Hines Ward, and actor Sean Astin.

Special invites

The Ironman committee can grant a Kona slot to athletes that are deserving and have done something amazing recently like winning an Olympic medal (the 2021 triathlon gold medalists were each extended an invitation).  These invitations are at the discretion of the Ironman committee, so don’t hold your breath waiting for yours.

Ironman Foundation

Top fundraiser for Team IMF gets a Kona slot.

https://ironmanfoundation.org/team-imf/

Team in Training

Fundraise for Team in Training and get a guaranteed entry slot to the Kona ironman.  Limited guaranteed entries exist, but all fundraising benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

https://www.teamintraining.org/content/ironman-world-championship-kona

Ironman Executive Challenge

Ironman created the Executive Challenge which has its own Kona slot allocations.  If you are a business executive, you can apply at https://ironmanxc.com .  Athletes are separated into two age groups – 49 and under, and 50 and over – men and women are in the same age group.  There’s typically 5 to 20 executives total per race, and they routinely hand out 3 Kona Ironman slots.  One Kona slot to each age group winner, and then a special PR slot to the person who improves their PR by the greatest percentage.  This is a very cool setup but be aware – these athletes are no joke.  The winners in many races are finishing in between 9 and 10 hours.

Kona Auctions

Up to 5 Kona Ironman slots are auctioned off and bidding starts at $25,000 each.  All bids are tax deductible.  Winning bids are typically between $35,000 and $65,000.  eBay handles the bidding, and the auction typically occurs in April for that year’s race.  The auctions benefit both Women for Tri and the Ironman Foundation.

https://www.womenfortri.com/get-involved/fundraising-campaigns/

https://ironmanfoundation.org/kona-auction/

Legacy Program

If you’ve completed at least 12 full distance Ironman branded triathlons and have never competed in the Ironman World Championships, you can get there through the Ironman Legacy Program.  Details are at: https://www.ironman.com/ironman-legacy

Attend the Ironman Sports Medicine Symposium

Each year one lucky attendee will win a race slot into the following year’s Kona Ironman World Championship.  The symposium only allows 200 participants, and not all elect to enter the drawing, so your odds of winning are very good.

https://ironmansportsmedicine.com/become-an-ironman

Physically Challenged Drawing

The IRONMAN World Championship Physically Challenged Open/Exhibition Division is available to athletes with a medically verified physical, visual, or neurological impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

As Handcycle athletes are eligible to qualify at one of the three qualifying events worldwide, they are not eligible for the PC Open/Exhibition Division.

Five names (5) will be drawn for the IRONMAN Kona World Championship from the total applicants applying in the Physically Challenged/Open and Exhibition Division.  

https://www.ironman.com/policies

Smile Train / Team Empower

Fundraise for the Smile Train and you’re racing in the Kona Ironman!

$50,000 fundraising minimum which includes your entry fee to the race. Your fundraising for this race will provide surgery for 200 children!  You will also get an official team race kit, 1:1 coaching, fundraising support, and more.

https://www.mysmiletrain.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=516

Bonus Slots To Register for Specific Ironman Races

In certain years bonus slots were randomly awarded to registrants of a couple of specific races—including Ironman Boulder and Ironman Australia. Ironman hints at a similar upcoming promotion for other races.  I think this was a way to boost participation at certain races, and may not happen again until next year (2023).


Previous Ways to Get to the Ironman World Championships

The following methods were legit in previous years, but we are unable to verify that they are still active ways to qualify for Kona.  We’re listing them here and will move them to active if Ironman reinstates them.

Simply Register for Ironman 70.3 Hawaii

Thanks to a partnership with the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, Ironman is offering 10 Kona slots to athletes who register for the 2017 Ironman 70.3 Hawaii (set for June 3) by May 1, not including relays. The Kona entries will be given away based on a random drawing. 

Kona Drawing – formally the Kona lottery

Donate a suggested amount of $50 to enter.  10 slots.  Proceeds benefit the Ironman Foundation.

Compete in China

OK, traveling to China won’t give you an automatic entry but it does increase your odds dramatically and provides the rare opportunity to qualify at a 70.3 event. Ironman 70.3 Lioshou (588 finishers) (April 1) and Ironman 70.3 Qujing (Aug. 27) (326 finishers) will each offer 30 qualifying slots.  Those are good odds.

Military Division

Ironman 70.3 Superfrog (12 slots)

Prior to race day at least one slot will be allocated to each male and female Military age group category. Please visit the event specific Military FAQ page for the official military age group breakdown. Final slot allocation will be determined on race day based on the number of starters in each Military age group. Similar to the qualifying process for the IRONMAN World Championship for Age Group athletes, if there are no starters in a particular Military age group, the slot will be moved to the next calculated Military age group within the gender. Slot allocation and rolldown for Military athletes will be conducted during the same ceremony as Age Group athletes at all IRONMAN events.

Special Sponsor Entry

Ventum previously offered a free Kona slot with purchase of their top-of-the-line bike.  Since they are the Official Bike brand of Ironman, this must have been a special deal worked out with Ironman.

Kona Dreamin’ Allocation

For the 2019 Kona Ironman, the owners of Ironman (World Triathlon Corporation) gave 40 lucky Ironman participants (random participants it appears) an invitation to race in Kona later that year. Talk about a cool gift.

Conclusion

So that’s it! Qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona is not easy, but it is possible. There are always more ways than you think to get to the Kona Ironman, so try some of these out and let us know what you think.

If you know of any other ways to qualify for the Kona Ironman World Championships, please contact us and let we’ll add it to the list!

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