The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A Hall of Fame

When the Mitchell Report hit the fan a few weeks ago, the various talking heads on ESPN’s Sports Reporters took the position that baseball’s steroid problem was fundamentally different than that of other sports. This is because of the game’s historic nature; there is a reverence for records, and doping had done perhaps irreparable harm to the record book. As track fans, I think we can empathize.

The reporters also said that even though attempts at doping control were delayed and weak, the BBWAA can take its own action: refuse to elect dirty players to the Hall of Fame. In fact, it appears unlikely that Mark McGwire will ever gain entry. While this kind of punishment might seem a slap on the wrist, considering baseball’s hero-worship of the legends it might be the most appropriate punishment possible. It is final, and it is forever.

All of this led me to think about track’s Hall of Fame—or more accurately, lack of one. USA Track & Field has its own hall, but that’s only for Americans. There are international halls of fame for golf, swimming, tennis, boxing, bowling, gymnastics, motor sports, yadda yadda yadda. But track has none, and it might be the most international sport of all, maybe even more than soccer (which, oddly enough, also lacks a worldwide hall of fame).

One knock on USATF’s hall of fame is that politics play too large a role in who gains entry and who does not. I’ve always liked the LPGA’s approach, where accomplishments alone are the requirements and active players can be members. Measuring accomplishments in track & field is a bit more difficult, but of course I’ve come up with a workable system.

Athletes must earn a total of at least five points from a number of categories listed below.

World Rankings. 100 or more rankings points earn an athlete three Hall of Fame points; between 75 and 99 earn one point. Five #1 rankings earn three points, while three or four earn one point. (Events ranked only five-deep are scored 5-4-3-2-1, and the #1 position only counts half.)

Included in these point totals are Athlete of the Year and Performance of the Year rankings (respectively ranked ten-deep and five-deep). After all, someone has to be #1 every year, but some seasons are obviously stronger than others—Bob Beamon in 1968 or Yuriy Syedikh in 1986 come to mind as examples.

Since World Rankings began in 1947 (men), 1955 (women) and 1970 (men’s walks), athletes from the pre-rankings era need only four Hall of Fame points to gain entry.

Olympic Games. Here is where the legends are made, which is why the fight about Jerome Young and Marion Jones have been so bitter. Multiple Olympic gold medals earn three points; one gold earns one point. Three medals of any type earn three points, while multiple medals earn one point. (Yes, I’m aware that two golds actually add up to four points, while three golds make six points—these are the Olympics!)

Relays don’t count, and neither do now-defunct events (except those which have been “replaced”—the men’s 10k walk and several women’s events). Results predating the first truly modern games of 1912 don’t count either.

World Championships. Being held more often and of a somewhat lesser importance, the Worlds require higher numbers. Three points require three or more golds, or four or more medals; one point is earned from two golds or three or more medals. Similarly, relays don’t count.

For athletes predating the Worlds era, other championships count. Points are earned for the same number of medals at pre-1980s European Championships in distance or field events (Commonwealth Games for non-European athletes). In traditionally strong US events—the sprints, hurdles, jumps, throws, and multis—six AAU/TAC championships from 1980 or earlier earns three points, while three championships earns one point. As the Euros began in 1934, points are earned for the same number of AAA championships (’31 and earlier).

World Records. Official IAAF records in Olympic/Worlds events only, no relays, and outdoor only. An athlete who set multiple records gets three points, and those who set just one get one point, but with certain exceptions.

The IAAF kept records for both imperial and metric distances up through 1976, giving running-event athletes many chances for world records. The pole vault has also produced a huge number of records as compared to other events. So to get three points, you need three world records if you’re a pole-vaulter or set them in running events prior to 1977.

Other things. Some athletes got screwed or unfairly helped by Olympic boycotts. Others had their chances nicked by world wars. Athletes from before 1912 mostly get shut out of this system altogether. I’ll deal with them on a case-by-case basis.

And then there’s the doping issue. Up until the implosion of East European totalitarianism in 1992, doping was only nominally against the rules—it was a free-for-all. I’ll just let it be. But any athlete who, after 1992, either served a major doping ban or admitted to use is barred from my Superfan Hall of Fame.

Once or twice a week I’ll post another athlete who has made it in. Who I get to next will be more or less random.

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