The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Thursday, July 30, 2009

World Rankings Update -- Throws

25-deep rankings available here.

Shot Put
1. Reese Hoffa, USA, 189
2. Christian Cantwell, USA, 172
3. Tomasz Majewski, POL, 164
4. Dan Taylor, USA, 130
5. Adam Nelson, USA, 91
This event has been a real mixed bag. Cantwell dominated the indoor season and won the USA outdoor. Hoffa had won three big meets in a row until Cantwell beat him in London with the longest throw of the year. Then today in Stockholm, Majewski had his first major win of the year, but with the year's best mark. Nelson and Taylor have been up and down but usually better than anyone else.

Discus Throw
1. Gerd Kanter, EST, 222
2. Piotr Malachowski, POL, 110
3. Virgilijus Alekna, LTU, 101
4. Zoltán Kövágó, HUN, 94
5. Yennifer Frank Casañas, ESP, 85
Kanter continues to dominate. He has yet to lose.

Hammer Throw
1. Krisztián Pars, HUN, 170
2. Aleksey Zagornyi, RUS, 85
3. Dilshod Nazarov, TJK, 77
4. Primož Kozmus, SLO, 75
5. Igors Sokolovs, LAT, 63
Pars is undefeated, but after that it's a three-way fight.

Javelin Throw
1. Andreas Thorkildsen, NOR, 156
2. Tero Pitkämäki, FIN, 155
3. Vadims Vasilevskis, LAT, 109
4. Teemu Wikkala, FIN, 76
5. Mark Frank, GER, 64
Thorkildsen and Pitkämäki have split their four Golden League meetings. Vasilevskis has the year's best throw but has lost to others more often than not.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Great Duels the subject of a thread in the historical section of the T&FN message boards. Stuff like Kuts-Pirie, Bannister-Landy, and everyone's pick of Lewis-Powell.

And of course, some smart aleck: "Burr-Hamilton 1804".

Lots of good stuff in there.

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Media versus Old Media

There's a bit of this fight going on in the track world, although not nearly as much as in the news media. Daily Kos gets right to the heart of the matter: it's not professionals versus amateurs or even adults versus juveniles, but entrenched entitlement versus eager upstarts. The latter always wins, and the former is always bitter about it.

Progression of World Records

Over at Let's Run there's a thread titled Progression of World Records seems to be screeching to a holt [sic]. There's some pretty good discussion mixed in with the usual idiocy. As usual, the numbers on their face must be viewed with some perspective. (My wife knows a stats prof who doesn't plan some of his lectures, but rather opens up USA Today and says "what claptrap are they peddling this time?")

First off, there used to be more world records set because there were more events. Up through 1976 the IAAF had metric and imperial running events in everything, whereas now the only non-Frenchy distance we do is the mile. Even if you only consider the metric distances way back when, you have to realize that they were often "weak" records in relation to their imperial counterparts. The metric records weren't often "maxed-out" by an American because he might run that distance just a few times in a four-year period. There's also the issue of tieing records, which was common in the era of tenth-of-a-second timing.

Records were often thrown out and not ratified due to various insufficiencies: not enough timers, a venue that was downhill or a track that was an inch or two short, and so forth. These seem trivial now, but it wasn't so long ago that people had to put down lane lines and so forth by hand with chalk, and getting it just exactly right was no easy task.

Another thing that has changed is the population we're drawing from. Prior to WWII, the world of athletics was pretty much the USA, Europe, and the white portions of the British Empire. Neither China, the Soviet Union, or the vastness of Latin America and Africa were part of the scene.

All of these things changed at once in the 70s and 80s, along with an accelerated inclusion of women and an explosion in the use of drugs. Anti-doping efforts have really gotten somewhere in the last few years, and all these other changes--wider population, better equipment, standardization, longer careers through professionalization--have reached a point of stasis. No new things, fewer new records.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

World Rankings Not Gone Away

For a while I was consistently posting my own World Rankings, but I haven't for quite some time. I haven't stopped doing them, rather I've been doing a drastic overhaul.

Over the three years I've been experimenting with the system, I've messed with it a bit from time to time, and this season I made some rather big structural changes from the past. But as I looked at it and thought about it, I identified some weaknesses to address...and it's taken quite a bit of time.

The other thing about doing rankings for track is that the worldwide competition is so broad and diffuse, if you don't keep up with it on a more or less daily basis it's nearly impossible to go back and catch up.

So when I do, for the remainder of the year I'm going to only rank men. I cannot go back and catch up enough for both genders. There's no slight intended, I simply have to pick one, and I picked the one with a higher profile.

The system I'm looking at has to be able to 1) meaningfully rank the world's best in each event, 2) meaningfully rank the world's top 20 to 30 athletes in each event, and 3) meaningfully compare athletes across events to get a World Athlete of the Year. Doing both #1 and #2 at the same time appears simple but in reality isn't.

One of the big things plaguing track & field is a lack of a meaningful World Rankings system. In theory, it should be simple. The only things that matter are placing high in competition (with an emphasis on actually winning) and making good marks. Literally nothing else matters. Putting it together into some numerical system...not so easy. The IAAF tried a few years ago and what they came up with just didn't work.

One problem is that while the IAAF categorizes the meets in its World Tour, not all events within those meets are equally competitive. For example, yesterday's men's 5000 at the Super GP meet in London wasn't terribly competitive, but the men's shot put brought together seven of the world's top eight. Or consider the difference between the high hurdles and the steeplechase at the Kenyan championships--one literally not worth reporting, the other possibly more competitive than the World Championships. Such variances have to be taken into consideration.

Yet for it to make any sense, there has to be a predetermined group of meets that are known to be the big ones that count for the most. Fortunately, next year the IAAF will premier its new Diamond League format, where each event will be held a minimum of eight times, with the final counting double and big money given out to the series winners.

Another issue deals with who starts their seasons when. Early on, my rankings put Michael Rodgers as the world's top 100-meter man, as he'd put together the most impressive season, and it correctly predicted he'd win the USA championship. But any 100 meters "world ranking" that didn't have Usain Bolt at #1 at any time in the last twelve months lacks legitimacy. So for the first part of the season, there will be some carryover from the previous one, which will decrease to zero by mid-July or so.

And one more thing I think is necessary in world rankings is it to be transparent enough to know right before a competition begins what the effects of different outcomes will be. This is how they work for professional tennis and golf, and my system will do exactly that.

For a single-event ranking, I'm pretty well up to date on the men's shot put. The top 25:
1 Reese Hoffa USA
2 Christian Cantwell USA
3 Tomasz Majewski POL
4 Dan Taylor USA
5 Adam Nelson USA
6 Andrei Mikhnevich BLR
7 Dylan Armstrong CAN
8 Ralf Bartels GER
9 Dorian Scott JAM
10 Pavel Sofyin RUS
11 Ryan Whiting USA
12 Sultan Abdulmajeed Al-Hebshi KSA
13 Yves Niare FRA
13 Marco Fortes POR
15 Maksim Sidorov RUS
16 Anton Liuboslavski RUS
16 Scott Martin AUS
18 Russ Winger USA
19 Manuel Martínez ESP
20 Lajos Kürthy HUN
20 Garrett Johnson USA
22 Hamza Alic BIH
22 Zach Lloyd USA
22 Maris Urtans LAT
For Cantwell to overtake Hoffa for the lead at next week's DN Galan in Stockholm, Cantwell must win while Hoffa finishes third or below and throw less than 21.14 in doing so, or Cantwell must win with a mark greater than 21.26.

As far as comparing athletes across events goes, it's less clear right now since I'm still not totally up to date on everything. It appears clear that Usain Bolt is #1, and after that I've got Steve Hooker (PV) at #2, Dwight Phillips (LJ) is #3, Valeriy Borchin (walks) is #4, Deriba Merga (long distance) is #5, and Gerd Kanter (DT) is #6. Some reworking and catching up is still due in many events, so this will change. But I think it's looks close to right.

I'm taking this seriously enough, and have enough kinks worked out, that I think I could get the IAAF to accept it as their official world rankings. Fat chance, but a guy has to dream.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Things I Learned on Vacation

Things I learned on my trip with my wife's family to the Great Smoky Mountains…

10 family members ÷ 1 cabin X 4 days > our patience

Everything you need to know about Cincinnati can be learned from the highway: it is the home of the Big Butter Jesus, the Creation Museum, and the original Hustler Superstore.

Neither I nor my wife can pass signs for Big Bone Lick State Park without making Beavis and Butthead noises.

My charcoal chimney starter was the single most-useful item I brought.

I cannot drink two cases of beer in four days, nor should I try.

A diet of –tos food is not conducive to running. You know, Doritos, Cheetos, Fritos…

My brother (not that one, the other one) has an amazing ability to find the places in any city with a grad-student hipster vibe. He lives in Charlotte, so we met him, his wife & baby in Asheville on a Sunday morning. He's been there only once or twice yet knew exactly where the overeducated inked-up folk eat a locally-grown organic brunch: the Early Girl Eatery. It's very good (and actually not pretentious at all), probably one of the top five meals I've ever had on the road.
Two brothers, living hundreds of miles away, will both inadvertently dress like the same grandfather.

My brother is only sometimes more mature than his two-year-old.

Pigeon Forge is the world headquarters of crap. We passed through on our way to Asheville, and some of the less trashy things I saw were the four different As Seen On TV Outlet Stores.

Anyone who wears a "Hike Naked" t-shirt lacks a sense of irony. To be fair, though, the guy was not in the act of hiking while I saw him wearing it.

If there's anything cuter than a baby, it's a baby on a motorcycle.
Economic indicators are everywhere if you know what to look for. In Townsend, a bare-bones fifties-style motel had a "No Vacancy" sign lit up on Saturday. On Monday, I had never seen the park and surrounding area so empty in the middle of summer.

There are plenty of hidden gems in the Smokies, even outside the National Park. Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Cherokee are such god-awful places that the entire area earned an entry in Jan & Michael Stern's enchanting Encyclopedia of Bad Taste (a book my wife worried that I would use as a checklist). On Saturday morning, however, we went to play golf at the little-known Laurel Valley Golf Club. The view from the 10th tee:
Another hidden gem of the Smokies is the Foothills Parkway. A view from an overlook:

Berea, Kentucky is a much better place than Berea, Ohio. My wife and I knew about the place a long time ago, as we stayed at its historic Boone Tavern Inn one night on our honeymoon fifteen years ago. I'd forgotten what a beautiful little college town it is. Berea College, one of the nation's premier arts institutions, caters to low-income students and requires work-study from all students (thus its ability to keep the Inn, apparently little-used and a very high-class, going for 100 years). While it is very Christian, it is not of the more famously Southern absolutist fire-and-brimstone type; for example, it enrolls two Tibetan refugees every year and has hosted the Dalai Llama. It was the first southern college to become coed and the first to be integrated.

If for a moment you can ignore the crowds, your family driving you nuts, the overcommercialization, the Parks Service understaffing, and the pollution, and you'll see that it's one of the most beautiful places in America.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ohio HS XC Meet In Flux?

Two newspaper articles about Ohio governor Ted Strickland's new budget which calls for slot mahines at the state's horse tracks (via Let's Run):

Slotted for trouble? State high school officials ponder status of cross-country meet at Scioto Downs due to slot machines' arrival
The Ohio High School Athletic Association is exploring whether a proposal to install electronic slot machines at Scioto Downs would impact the state cross country meet held there each autumn, the group said Monday.
The meet has been held at Scioto Downs since 1985 and typically draws more than 10,000 spectators. It is not a money-maker for the OHSAA. Last year, it drew 10,051 fans and lost $5,934, according to OHSAA figures.

Some coaches said they are worried what would happen to the meet if it leaves Scioto Downs, because there are no obvious alternate sites that can handle the athletes, crowds and parking.

HS Athletic Association monitoring Ohio slots plan
In a story on the OHSAA's Web site, state cross country meet manager Terry Oehrtman says, "Scioto Downs has, in fact, become synonymous with the OHSAA state meet. When you talk to coaches, they don't refer to the state meet as the state meet. "They don't say, 'We hope to make it to state.' They say, 'Our goal is to make it to Scioto Downs."'

The state meet includes three boys and three girls championship races involving 96 teams and more than 950 runners.

The articles discuss a lack of an alternative site. Rubbish--there are always alternatives. Ken Jarvis of Galion HS has led a group trying to get the meet at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and Robert Gary (Ohio State head coach) has reportedly been thinking about the possibility of OSU building a site similar to Indiana State's permanent XC course that hosts the NCAA (admittedly without any action on the issue).

Nevertheless, the guv is playing with fire. High school sports are HUGE in rural Ohio, even minor sports like cross country. Rural areas are swing districts for Dems. Don't mess with farmers--they have long memories.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Track on Marketplace

A teaser on NPR's Marketplace: tomorrow they'll cover professional Kenyan runners and the seriousness with which you must run when it's your living. (Marketplace follows All Things Considered on most radio stations, round about 6 or 6:30 PM).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Things Yelled At Runners

My local road runner's club discussion board has brought up the topic of interesting things yelled at us while running.

My favorite comes from Bob Masters (one-time Olympic Trials participant
A group of us were running in Wildwood and our favorite elderly lady was feeling particularly surly that morning and yelled to us as we ran by, "You're all gonna die someday." Then I replied, "Not before you!"

My contribution:
I was running one morning in Key West a few years back. At 8 AM, you've got the entire island basically to yourself, but going down one side street there were three guys standing on the sidewalk and BSing. They saw me coming, gave me some room, and as I went past one of them watched me and said quietly to his buddies "Oh, yeah."

My initial gut reaction was finally understanding how women often feel, but my second one was "well, I guess someone finds me attractive" and took it as a compliment.

I'm not sure if I've got the details exactly right about this one: Keith Madaras was running his first marathon at Twin Cities in cold half rain/half snow conditions. Late in the race the course went by the Governor's mansion, then occupied by one Jesse "The Body" Ventura. He was standing out on the lawn in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt with a lit cigar and yelled at Keith "Go get 'em buddy, you're the first white guy I've seen!"

Let's Run Still Getting Better

It still makes me shake my head every time I think about it, but Let's Run is growing into one of the premier track news sites on the internet. They've got an Ethiopian correspondent now, and "[i]n his first piece, he catches up with Dibaba at practice and also sees Sihine, Defar and others."

All on a website so primitive it doesn't even have an RSS feed.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Let's Run, SportsCenter

The day after the Lausanne Super GP meet, Usain Bolt's 19.59 run in the rain made SportsCenter's top ten plays. The lead in was a snyde, but funny, remark: "What's the only thing more boring than track? Field."

Needless to say, this ticked off quite a few people. The Brojos did a little digging and found out the background and interests of the anchor who said it, John Anderson. You'd be surprised. Very surprised.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

SI's Thrill List has a "thrill list", the top ten most-thrilling athletes to watch in fifteen different sports. Tim Layden did a track list that was pretty good, but he dropped the baton by leaving out Bob Hayes.

My thrill list--some I've seen in person, some on TV, and some on film...

10. Wladislaw Kozakiewicz. You're probably saying who? At the 1980 Olympics, the Soviets in the stands whistled loudly whenever he got up on the pole vault runway, trying to ruin his concentration. Not only did he win, he broke the world record, gave the crowd the one-armed salute, climbed into the stands with the Polish contingent and sang "Poland Is Not Beaten" with them, surrounded by 100,000 hostile Russkies. Probably the ballsiest act of defiance in track history.

9. Abebe Bikila. Tom Derderian wrote that when runners imagine their stride is light and fluid and beautiful, they imagine they are Bikila.

8. Jonathan Edwards. He rewrote the book on triple-jumping.

7. Kip Keino. A man who ran balls-out.

6. Carl Lewis. Not for sprinting, for the long jump. He always found a way to win. When, after ten years, he finally lost, it took a world record by Mike Powell--and Lewis had gotten so far inside Powell's head, he thought he'd have to break it again to fight off King Carl.

5. Tommie Smith. Like Bolt, but a badass.

4. Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Greatest. Woman. Ever.

3. Al Oerter. The ultimate clutch competitor.

2. Edwin Moses. 'Nuff said.

1. "Bullet" Bob Hayes. SI's John Underwood, in 1964: "Hayes does not run a race so much as he appears to beat it to death, or it him."

More on T&FN and the Web

I hadn't planned to extend the thoughts on my previous post, but I will.

Yesterday's Fresh Air on NPR was pretty much completely taken up by one interview. The segment was called The New Price Point? 'Free' and was with Chris Anderson, former U.S. business editor at The Economist and now editor-in-chief at Wired magazine.

He notes that the main business model for the internet--free content paid for by advertising--is a very old one, at least as old as radio. And it works, but only if the audience is large enough or targeted enough, and even then it's not a viable model for small companies.

What has become increasingly common is a model called freemium. This is where most content is free, but a smaller number of users gain premium content for a fee. This combines ad revenue and subscriber revenue, neither of which would be enough on their own. The Wall Street Journal's website follows this model.

It's possible to keep too much content for premium-users only. A few years ago the New York Times found this out the hard way; the problem was that they had some of the most popular political columnists in the country. Demand for the columns was so high that people pirated the stuff and posted it all over the internet. So you don't want to keep too much content behind a firewall, because then no one will pay up.

Trackshark could not have done a freemium model. It was one guy, Tom Borish, doing all the work himself (along with the help of part-time volunteers). He just could not produce enough content, nor was he established enough, to have anything worth keeping behind a firewall.

There is, however, a well-established company that could exploit the freemium model, Track & Field News. In a way, they already do. Magazine subscribers get a weekly results newsletter. But it could be a lot better. For example, the issue that came today has the headline "All you need to know about the NCAA Champs" on the cover. I don't care about that, because it happened several weeks ago.

Here's how the e-mail system could work: all copy, no compiled results. Most of us already checked out the results before the .pdf newsletter ever got to us. What comes in the mail should not be looking back, because it will always be old news. The print mag should be features, interviews, previews, and so forth.

Besides the e-mail newsletter, T&FN has 61 years of amazing things available. Sitting on their servers are complete results of every US championship since 1878, every NCAA championship since 1921, and the impossible-to-find AIAW championships of 1969-1982. All free for the taking by anyone. Unfortunately, none of it has been updated in years, and neither have their voluminous World Rankings data. The staff's computers are overflowing with amazing data that really hasn't seen the light of day. All of this is stuff that many people who have no interest in the print mag would pay for.

T&FN, as well as most niche publications, should stop thinking about giving things away when you subscribe to the magazine. They should start thinking about giving the magazine away when you subscribe to the website.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Old Guard versus New Guard

A while back I wrote about how Track & Field News' staff is a bit set in their ways, generally not wishing to rock the boat by, you know, actually writing about important stuff. This was when The Final Sprint and its later founder Adam Jacobs went out and beat the bush for info about the people running for USATF president, which was necessary because little of it about the winner was complimentary.

Anyway, Garry Hill was particularly short when it came to discussing the issue, writing "If you don't like our style, don't read us. It's that simple."

Writing for the Center for American Progress, blogger Eric Alterman discussed the same issues in DC political reporting in an article titled Think Again: The Strange Politics of Collusion (and “Dickishness”). It's not really about politics, its about how the established media keeps its place by being established rather than necessarily good, and the nastiness that can occur when upstarts actually compete with them on a level playing field.

Recently, I've noticed that the home page for Let's Run -- the center of all that is obnoxious, uneducated, self-centered, and (little-a) amateur in the sport -- is more organized and more readable than that of Track & Field News, and is a better daily read due to decent self-produced previews and a more selective use of news links. It's so shocking, it's like discovering that Fox News Channel has surpassed CBS in professionalism. Or that The Daily Show asks tougher questions than the White House press corps. (Well, I guess the second one isn't so shocking.)

You could argue that the Johnson brothers can put together a daily page because they're not busy putting together a magazine. True, but Garry Hill finds time to average 21.35 posts per day at the T&FN message boards, while the Johnson might pop up two or three times a week on their own board.

That's beside the point. The web presence of T&FN is weak and hard to use and parts haven't been updated in eight years. Literally every other news source on the planet now understands that their web content is life or death. If T&FN can't spare one employee's morning to put together a good daily home page, then they'd better find out how to get in on that GM bailout money.

Statheads Rejoice!

At the bottom of the IAAF's World Championships home page are two seemingly innocuous links, labeled "Statistics Book, Berlin 2009 - Part One (pdf)" and "Statistics Book, Berlin 2009 - Part Two (pdf)". The data held in them is amazing. Here is the table of contents:

IAAF World Records & Best Performances

IAAF World Championship Records & Best Performances

IAAF World Championships Facts & Figures
Performance Trends
Multiple Medalists
Most Appearances
Youngest & Oldest
Placing Tables
Major Records Set
Doping Violations at IAAF World Championships

Results From Past Major Championships
IAAF World Championships in Athletics (complete results)
IAAF World Athletics Series
Olympic Games
World University Games
Winners of Area Championships & Games and Commonwealth Games

World and Continental Records
World Indoor
World Teenage Bests by Age

Men's Lists
All-Time World Lists
National Records
Best National Placings
Progression of Official World Records

Women's Lists
All-Time World Lists
National Records
Best National Placings
Progression of Official World Records

Biographical Summaries

The summaries of past World Championships include several paragraphs of written material for each event at each championship. There re biographical summaries on over 400 athletes. Like the Smithsonian, you can get lost in here for days and never want to come out.

Friday, July 03, 2009

More TV Tips for Track

As linked in a comment, Bryan Green at the Runner's Tribe wrote up a top-ten list of tips to improve TV track & field coverage. I agree with all points, and have a few to add myself.

Myself, I think a commercial-free broadcast of what goes on the stadium video board along with an audio feed of the PA announcers would be vastly superior to any US track coverage since the 1992 Olympics Triplecast (which, while a financial bust, was apparently great TV).

I'm writing this in between events of the Bislett Games, which Universal Sports is showing using the international feed and a pair of British announcers. They do this right. Part of it is that track is a bigger sport in Europe, but another part is that TV in Europe has no mandate to make a profit, and there's no fear in putting money into a production with the possibility of never getting it back (since they never will anyway).

For the most part, the real difference is that domestic TV coverage does not respect the sport. No one shows field events in complementary camera angles because they don't appreciate the field events. Larry Rawson doesn't need to explain that these guys are jumping over the equivalent of eighty-seven phone books if the camera work is good. Europeans invented the camera-on-a-rail and use other track-level shots (such as a lone cameraman on a segway) in distance races to transmit just how shockingly fast the athletes run for the same reason.

But all of this goes back to my original statement: domestic track is better experienced live than on TV. Sports are better in person because of the atmosphere, but most of them are now better on TV if you really want to pay attention to all the details of what's going on. Track is not. If every other sport has a constant score/time graphic, why don't we get told in visual form how many laps are left or who the current shot put leaders are?

Besides copying the European's tricks, there are a few other things that could be done. Track is often a three- or four- or five-ring circus, and there's no reason there couldn't be split-screen use to show more than one at a time. In team-heavy competitions like the NCAA, SportsCenter-style sidebars and crawls could keep us up-to-date on all the off-track action and how it affects the team scoring. In a perfect world I'd like to steal some NASCAR graphics to let us know who's leading the 400 and 400 hurdles over the first 300 meters.

The Final Nail in the Coffin

For the past several years, I've been of two minds when it came time to renewing my Runner's World subscription. On one hand, it's a 95% worthless rag. On the other hand, there's usually one article worth reading, and it's only a measly $1 per month, so why not. But I've finally decided not to re-up it.

And today I was sure I made the right choice. RW's back page is a feature called "I'm a Runner", which has minor celebrities such as astronauts, generals, entertainers and so forth. People like Ed Hochuli and Kai Ryssdal.

This month? Sara Palin. I took a Sharpie and wrote over "I'm a Runner" with "I'm an Idiot". RW has not only jumped the shark, it's entered the being eaten by a crocodile contest.

Late Update: This was apparently part of a day-long media presser. Every comedian in the country will be ecstatic.

Later update: Looks like she hadn't planned to resign until after the mag was in the mail...which is an example of the kind of erratic behavior that is making every comedian in the country ecstatic.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

More Entertainer Deaths

Molly Sugden, aka Mrs. Slocombe, has died. My pussy is distraught at the news.

Are you as surprised as I was to hear she was still alive?

The Week In Review

Weldon and Robert Johnson's Week That Was feature is usually pretty good, but this week's installment is an excellent analysis of all angles of last week's USATF championships. It may be their best one yet.