Competitors dash for the water in last year's Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Ironman and Ironwoman Series Trial.
Competitors dash for the water in last year's Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Ironman and Ironwoman Series Trial. Contributed

Grant Kenny says ironman events turned into 'welfare'

 Ironman legend Grant Kenny has accused the organiser of the national ironman and ironwoman series of turning them into virtual welfare events.

The Coast-based surf icon demanded new organiser Kellogg's stop the "free handouts" and reduce the number of automatic qualifying spots.

Kenny savaged the cereal giant after it was revealed only four Nutri-Grain Series spots would be on offer for both sexes at the trials at Salt Beach, New South Wales, this month.

He said the decision would result in some of the country's best surf lifesavers being robbed of the chance to showcase their talent in the showpiece annual event.

Instead of the top 10 from the previous series automatically qualifying, the four-time Australian ironman champion called for a top five.

That would open up more spots through the trials and inject more talent into the series.

Kenny, an ex-Olympic kayaker who almost single-handedly turned ironman into a summer happening in the 1980s, claimed some of the sport's best would shun the trials because it was too "cut-throat".

"I think if they want to be serious and breathe life back into the series, they need to cut down the number of people who get free handouts from last year and make it a bit more competitive to get back into the series," he said.

"Stop giving handouts to everyone who gets a sore thumb or runny nose and make them show up and fight to get their spots."

Nominations for the September 14-15 trials close on Friday, with 56 men and 34 women entered to date.

For the series, the men's and women's fields have been reduced from 17 to 14 athletes - with each having a wildcard option for "exceptional circumstances".

Kenny's 18-year-old son, Jett, will race at the trials, which offered five qualifying spots for both men and women last season.

Series sponsor Kellogg's took over the running of the series this year from Sydney-headquartered Sports & Entertainment Limited and promised to deliver an improved product.

Mooloolaba head coach Michael King, a former leading ironman, is "totally" on Kenny's side.

The assembler of one of the sport's premier squads, King warned there would be a talent drain if more qualifying positions were not made available.

He said rival sports were constantly swooping on surf lifesaving's elite, pointing to his former charge Kelly-Anne Perkins' recent decision to defect to triathlon as a case in point.

King said: "I just think it hasn't been thought out too well … the future of the sport and ironman and ironwoman racing needs to be looked at."

Mooloolaba's Ali Day, third in last season's series, agreed a rethink was needed.

"Looking at the trials and seeing four positions, you have to have a hell of a race on the day," he said.

Kellogg's Australia marketing manager Ian Blackhall said the company had teamed with Surf Life Saving Australia to establish an Athlete Advisory Panel to enhance the trials and athlete pathway, and improve selection transparency.

"We look forward to keeping the surf lifesaving community updated on further panel developments over the coming months," he said.