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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Superfan Rankings Explained, plus links

Over the alst week or so I've been updating my Superfan Rankings. What are they and where do they come from?

A few years back the IAAF started up some computer rankings that ranked athletes in each event as well as an overall ranking of all athletes in all events combined. The idea was to come up with something like the rankings in pro golf and pro tennis. Their setup had its problems, and it wasn't terribly descriptive of what really took place in any given season. This was highlighted when one season's final leader in the women's 400 hurdles hadn't won a single race all year. It didn't take long for the IAAF to abandon the project.

Other IAAF projects have attempted to rank athletes and chase prize money using some sort of points standings. This began with the Grand Prix series and final in the 80s and 90s, which morphed into the Golden League in the last decade and now into the Diamond League. The main problem with all of those is what they rewarded: lots of winning. This is by itself not a bad thing, but it tended to reward not the "best" athletes but the ones whose event had the least competition.

What really drives interest is two (or even three) athletes facing off regularly, trading wins, and putting up great marks while doing so. The classic example would be Gunder Hagg and Arne Andersson. A system that rewards winning alone would not put these two at the top. Yet a system that rewards marks alone doesn't make winning important, and doesn't deal well with issues like bad conditions that can negatively affect marks.

So my system rewards both placing high, with an emphasis on actually winning, in the biggest competitions, as well as putting up a series of good marks. Does this sound familiar? It should, as it's most of the basis for Track and Field News' World Rankings.

Those annual World Rankings are the gold standard, but they are a subjective ranking (using objective criteria) and as such are remarkably difficult to reproduce with numbers. So my little project doesn't intend to supplant it, but to be similar with certain key differences.

What my system does not reward is ducking the competition or staying on the sidelines. These things are bad for track. If you want to be at the top, you've got to compete often and against the best.  So if my rankings ever do get accepted as some sort of "real" world rankings, with either money paid out for the results or used as a bargaining chip for appearance fees, it would make the athletes' interests the same as the interests of the sport as a whole.

What's on today
The Diamond League comes to Monte Carlo.  Late dropouts are Walter Dix, Asbel Kiprop and Anna Alminova, but a Carmelita Jeter / Veronica Campbell-Brown matchup is still on.
Live webcasts begin at 2 PM at for US viewers, for Canadian viewers
TV coverage is at 9 PM on Universal Sports, and at noon Saturday on CBC
Previews from the IAAF, Universal Sports, Conway Hill
Flotrack will have coverage of the meet

Today is World Junior Championships day #4.  Finals on tap are the men's pole vault, 400 meters and 1500 meters, and the women's steeplechase, discus, 800 meters, 400 meters and100 hurdles, and the first day of the heptathlon.
The best homepages are from the IAAF and the CBC.
CBC has a live blog and a live stream.
TV coverage will be on CBC from midnight to 1 AM.
Flotrack's World Juniors coverage page.

Other track on TV:
Great Manchester 10k rerun, 7 PM, Universal Sports
Great City Games rerun, 1 AM, Universal Sports

Other links...
Chasing Bolt 2010 trailer:

Runner's World Racing News has all the headlines
David Oliver is the USATF Athlete of the Week
USATF is running an "Ultimate Distance Fan" prediction contest for this Saturday's Bix 7-miler
Conway Hill thinks money is killing track, but I think the problem is the difference between a big payday and a small one
Q and A with Mike Powell and Bruny Surin
Shot putter Milan Haborak failed a dope test and may get a lifetime ban
TrackFocus catches up on odds n' ends from American athletes in Europe
New track blog: The Bell Lap

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