Is the U.S. the world’s no. 1 track team? Yes, no and maybe . . .

LOS ANGELES, July 30, 2012/updated with corrections/ – There’s no doubt that the U.S. Olympic Trials is the most compelling track meet in America every four years, but on a year-in, year-out basis, there is nothing that beats the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

In addition to the mix of schools, rivalries and colors, there is the team scoring chase that motivates fans across the nation. What if they did the same with nations at the Olympics?

Craig Silver, the widely-respected producer of CBS’s annual coverage of the NCAA outdoor meet through 2011 (the meet is now shown by ESPN), and a team-scoring fanatic, asked me that question, and there is happily a good answer: the meet is scored, by the IAAF no less!

The scoring tabulation is called the “Placing Table” and is compiled by the IAAF for nearly all of its international championships. Each event is scored to eight places – the same number of places for which the International Olympic Committee awards diplomas – with eight points awarded for first place, seven for second and so on down to one point for eighth.

At the 2008 Beijing Games, the U.S. won the men’s competition fairly easily, but was well behind Russia on the women’s side and “won” the meet by an uncomfortably close 207-200 margin (see the placing table here). At the 2011 World Championships, the U.S. was better, piling up a 251-202 win over Russia, with Kenya (174) third (click here).

So what about London? Thanks to the IAAF’s masterful Olympic statistics book (details here) and the Track & Field Olympic previews, we can project what might happen in London, and then track the results throughout the meet.

The U.S. has long been the world’s dominant power in men’s track and field. In fact, excepting the boycotted 1980 Games – the only Olympics in which the U.S. has not competed – the American track & field team has led the medal parade and topped the placing table every time: 25 for 25.

Expect it to be no different in 2012: based on the Track & Field News previews, the U.S. will again lead the medal and points parades:

Projected men’s team scoring leaders:
(1) United States, 154;
(2) Kenya, 81;
(3) Russia, 76;
(4) Ethiopia, 52;
(5) Great Britain, 50.

Projected men’s team medal leaders:
(1) United States, 17;
(2) Kenya, 10;
(3) Great Britain, Jamaica and Russia, 5.

On the men’s side, there is just no doubt that the U.S. is no. 1.

On the women’s side, the U.S. hasn’t been no. 1 for a while. Since women began Olympic competition in 1928 (19 Games), the U.S. has led, or tied for the lead in track & field medals in 1928 (tied), 1932, 1984 and 1996 (tied). That’s it.

As for the team points title, the American women won in 1928, 1932, 1968 and 1984, again four times only. The U.S. women have been second to Russia in both 2004 and 2008 and look to finish that way again this year:

Projected women’s team scoring leaders:
(1) Russia, 168;
(2) United States, 142;
(3) Kenya, 73;
(4) Jamaica. 62;
(5) Ethiopia, 52.

Projected women’s team medal leaders:
(1) Russia, 15;
(2) United States, 13;
(3) Kenya, 8;
(4) Jamaica, 6;
(5) Ethiopia, 5.

It is certainly not impossible for the U.S. women to catch the Russians and it will be a struggle between these two powerhouses until the final day on the track. It could come down to the 4×400 m relay!

Overall scoring:
The U.S., based on the Track & Field News previews, is again favored to take overall honors at the Games and once again make the claim as the world’s top track & field power:

Projected overall team scoring leaders:
(1) United States, 296;
(2) Russia, 244;
(3) Kenya, 154;
(4) Jamaica, 111;
(5) Ethiopia, 109.

Projected overall team medal leaders:
(1) United States, 30;
(2) Russia, 20;
(3) Kenya, 18;
(4) Jamaica, 11;
(3) Ethiopia, 8.

While the T&FN projections have the U.S. actually reaching USA Track & Field’s “Project 30″ goal of 30 medals in London, it is also true that any shortfall could open the door for Russia to win the overall points title, if not the overall medals lead.

Here are individual spreadsheets (pdf format) detailing:

Recent Olympic Track & Field team scoring history (and 2012 projections);
2012 Olympic day-by-day team scoring projections;
2012 Olympic day-by-day team medal projections.

We’ll update these daily during the Games, so you can follow the meet . . . NCAA style!

(You can stay current with Rich’s technology, sports and Olympic commentaries by following him at

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