More on qualification: gender and age

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As I wrote earlier, many oversubscribed races use a performance-based qualification process as a way of selecting participants. What I mostly passed over, however, is whether different people should have to meet different qualifying standards. If your goal is to get the best people, you could simply just pick the top X%. However, if you were to do that, what you would get would be primarily men in the 20-40 age range. To give you an idea of this, consider Ironman Canada 2011, which had 65 Hawaii Qualifiers. If you just take the first 65 non-Pro finishers, the slowest qualifier would be around 10:17. This standard would have two amateur women, Gillian Clayton (W30-34) at 10:01.58 (a pretty amazing performance, since she's 18 minutes ahead of the next woman) and Rachel Ross (W35-39) at 10:12.17, and no man 55 or above.

If you're going to have a diversified field, then, you need to somehow adjust the qualifying standard for age and gender. The standard practice is to have separate categories for men and women and five year age brackets within each gender. (Some races also have "athena" and "clydesdale" divisions for women and men respectively who are over a certain weight, but at least in triathlon, these are used only for awards and not for Hawaii qualifying purposes.) However, it's also well-known that these categories do a fairly imperfect job of capturing age-related variation: it's widely recognized that "aging up" from the oldest part of your age group to the youngest part of the next age group represents a signficant improvement in your expected results.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention. Western States 100 has a completely gender neutral qualifying standard, but it's comparatively very soft.

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