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Monday, August 20, 2007

IAAF World Rankings Kaput


The IAAF unveiled its own World Rankings a few years back. They were somewhat akin to those used in professional tennis and golf, but but not quite as useful. In fact, sometimes they were downright awful.

I respect and honor Track & Field News' annual world rankings; the format is simple, the criteria are objective, and a subjective "town meeting" of great minds determine the results. They have been recocgnized as THE world rankings for over half a century.

Still, the teeming millions hunger for more. tafnut: "perhaps someone could use the T&FN methodology (assuming T&FN is too busy itself to do it) to come up with a 'better mousetrap' to serve the world's real fans." on an interim basis. Well, I was going to wait a year to roll this out, as I am in no way ready, but I'll at least explain my idea.

The IAAF more or less pioneered the system of a season-long points race (the Grand Prix circuit) that qualified the top athletes to a season-ending championship (the GP Final). NSACAR and the PGA have stolen the idea. Nowadays they call it the World Athletics Tour and the World Athletics Final. The tour encompasses every invitational meet that means anything, and they still keep season-long standings. I like it because you can see exactly what one athlete needs to do in order to leapfrog another.

But the points standings system has drawbacks. First, it doesn't encompass all meaningful meets. The upcoming World Championships don't count, and neither does the World Final. International and regional games and cups (e.g., Pan-Am, Euro Cup) don't count, and neither do national championships. Indoor track and cross country are totally left out. The now-defunct World Rankings addressed this, but attempted to shove everything into a one-size-fits-all formula and obviously it didn't work. More to the point, the IAAF's rankings were heavily based on marks and used place in the competition as merely a supplement. It really should be the reverse.

And that's just what I'm going to do. In any competition, an athlete will earn points for place just like on the World Athletics Tour, and just like on the tour the bigger meets score more points. Athletes can earn up to ten bonus points in a meet based on their mark. The eight best competitions for the year will count. The top athletes will be the ones who consistently place high in the biggest meets and consistently put up good marks.

I will have one major departure from tradition, though. This year we've seen athletes wander into events other than their major emphasis, such as Allyson Felix in the 400 or Alan Webb in the 800. Success in related events has some meaning and we all know this. So up to two of the eight competitions can be in other events.

This is an experiment, one that I won't even be able to get off the ground until next season. I've played around with it in the men's 100 meters and here's what I've got (scoring only seven best meets since the season isn't to its climax yet):
1. Tyson Gay (134)
2. Derrick Atkins (119)
3. Asafa Powell (99)
4. Marlon Devonish (77)
5. Francis Obikwelu (74)
5. Churandy Martina (74)
7. Shawn Crawford (70)
8. Walter Dix (64)
9. Nesta Carter (61)
10. Trindon Holliday (59)

This is not any prediction of how they'll run at the Worlds or even a merit ranking in the manner of T&FN's. It's merely a way of tabulating what they've done; Powell ranks lower than he should due to the fact that he's only run six races this year (five 100s and a 200). In fact the numbers aren't even quite right as I haven't awarded time points for any 200m races (if I did, Gay would be even farther ahead).

Where this is superior to any other system is for determining some kind of jackpot winner. The Golden League (and its predecessor, the Golden Four) have always paid off the undefeated. This rewards not neccessarily the dominant athletes but sometimes the ones with no competition. At the end of the season there's no drama except for spoilers. Bo-ring.

Suppose instead we havea hot rivalry between two really good, say for example, hurdlers. They just about split their head-to-head meetings, rarely if ever lose to anyone else, and put up great marks in the process. That's the kind of competition that should be rewarded; in my setup they'd almost assuredly have the highest point totals of any athletes in any events. And they'd have to battle to the end of the year for a jackpot. Exciting!

As I say, this is merely an experiment. We'll see how it goes somewhere around next May.

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