In discussions of long-course pro triathlete prize purses, we never hear of annual winnings. Instead, we read of annual Kona Points, which only have a loose correlation with prize winnings. When money is discussed, it’s simply about the total purse from individual races. And seldom do we realize that a race featuring a $60,000 prize purse means that the two winners (one man, one woman) only earn $12,000 each, and that eighth place gets paid $500.
Ironman generally tries to bury this information. But we’ll shed light on the topic, simply because it’s the kind of banter we as fans enjoy. It will tell us who’s been hot in the past few months, and it will help us understand just how much pro triathletes make from prize winnings.
The January-March season is a unique one. For many athletes, it’s off season, with no racing. But for those living Down Under, it’s a great time to race the Ironman Asia/Pacific circuit, picking up early Kona points and maybe even an automatic Kona qualifying spot at the regional championships in Australia and South Africa. There are also a slew of Challenge half distance races. In February, Challenge Dubai offered a $300,000 purse, twice the amount of the highest Ironman race this quarter.
This analysis looks at prize winnings of full and half ironman distance races put on by Ironman and Challenge—by far the two biggest sources of winnings. In the past quarter (January to March), $1.2 million in prizes were paid ($710,000 by Ironman, $475,000 by Challenge).
The table below shows the top 20 winners of the quarter. The top of the list is made up of those who podiumed at Challenge Dubai, as well as the Ironman regional championships. Some notable names are missing because they are currently enjoying their off season.
Trailing 6 Months
The table below shows the 50 winners of the past six months (including Kona 2014). During that time, $3.5 million in prize money was awarded (about 40% of the expected annual total). About 165 women and 185 men collected winnings. The top 50 in each sex collected almost 85% of that total. The top 10 in each sex collected almost 50% of the total.
While it’s tempting to double everyone’s 6-month salary to project their annual salary (ending in Sept. 2015), this won’t work for most athletes. The ones at the top are there because they podiumed in a big race (Kona, Challenge Bahrain, or Challenge Dubai). But the only big money races left in the next six months are Ironman 70.3 Worlds ($45k to the winner) and Challenge Oman (likely $65k to the winner).
Which means I don’t expect anyone other Daniela Ryf to crack the $200,000 mark over this time period. I do think it likely that the top 10 of each sex will break $100,000, and the next 10 men and 10 women will break $60,000.
While this information helps us understand who’s been racing the best in the past six months, it also illuminates a much more sobering fact: the annual income of most age-group triathletes is greater than all but maybe 20-30 professional triathletes.
And it leads us to ask: is this really how little pro triathletes are worth to the sport?