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Thursday, February 25, 2010

VISA Championship Series Issues

There’s been a bit of barking over the VISA Championships Series standings and the venue of the upcoming USATF Championships. The series awards bonus money to the top three Americans, as measured by their best performance in the series according to the IAAF scoring tables.

The nationals are being held in Albuquerque, at an altitude of 5300 feet. That has a significant effect on the sprints, hurdles, horizontal jumps and distance events. In a recent release, USATF CEO Doug Logan said the following:
International standards set by the IAAF do not take into account altitude adjustments for scoring tables, records or rankings. That will hold true for the USA Indoor Championships as well, given that the scoring for the Visa Championship Series uses official IAAF tables. Rather than arbitrarily make an adjustment based on nothing more than a guess, which would result in vast inequities in the tables, it is far more fair to have athletes compete and have their performances compared as they always are.

I can assure you that well before our sport committee chairs approved awarding the Indoor Championships to Albuquerque, the relatively moderate altitude of the site was discussed extensively by USATF staff, with input from coaches and members of the sports science and sports medicine communities as well.
I don’t for a second believe the stuff about "discussed extensively by USATF staff, with input from coaches and members of the sports science and sports medicine communities". They simply never thought about it when considering the bid put forth by Albuquerque, or if they did it was deemed unimportant.

The whole system does lend itself to certain unfairnesses anyway, even aside from altitude issues. Professionally rabbitted distance races are the norm, and are reflected as such in the scoring tables, but championship meets lack paid pacemakers and never produce exceptional times. So by the time the nationals come around, distance runners cannot move up in the standings, only down. Outdoors, no allowances are made for wind, so a wind-aided sprint/hurdle/jump can win the big money.

But in this particular instance, I don’t think the altitude in Albuquerque is going to affect who is going to win. Christian Cantwell’s leading mark, a 72’ (21.95m) effort in the shot put, is beyond the reach of all but a few athletes in the meet. This year money is being paid out for second and third, and even catching one of those won’t be easy.

What does it take? Here you go.
Event1st place2nd place3rd place

In the 60 meters, the altitude is estimated to give an advantage of 0.04 seconds. The US leader is Ivory Williams at 6.51, and I don’t think he can get that 6.44. Maybe he can; it would take a "real" improvement of 0.03.

The 400 is hard to read. The estimated advantage due to altitude is 0.37, and only Kerron Clement has the wheels to run the equivalent of an indoor 45.42. Considering that this is his season opener, I don’t think he’ll get it.

The altitude will be of a smaller aid to the hurdlers, maybe 0.02 seconds. Terrence Trammell has run 7.43 and is more than capable of running the 7.40 needed to catch Cantwell, as it would take a "real" improvement of 0.01.

As for the rest of the events, forget it. Not happening.

On the women’s side of things, Shannon Rowbury leads the standings. But neither Carmelita Jeter nor Lolo Jones competed in either of the first two meets, and pretty much every time they’ve run this year they put up marks that would be ahead of Rowbury’s. With Allyson Felix entered in the 400, I think those will be your top three who win the money.

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