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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.

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