What is “World Class”?

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 8, 2011 – Now that we are stuck in the silly no-man’s land of nearly three weeks of non-competition prior to the 2011 World Championships, the open question is – of course – who will win what medals?

The contenders can be divided into “medal favorites” and then those who are “world class” and possible finalists and the rest, considered of lesser quality. But what are the dividing lines?

Is it by time? By place on the world list?

As the issue of time is most dramatically presented, in the smallest increments, in the men’s 100 meters, let’s take a look at this event:

• If we’re to define “world class,” here’s what the ATFS Annual tells us about the 100 over the past few years:

2004:
> 9.85 = no. 1 performer world-wide
> 9.88 = no. 5 performer world-wide
> 10.01 = no. 10 performer world-wide
> 10.06 = no. 15 performer world-wide
> 10.08 = no. 20 performer world-wide
> 10.11 = no. 30 performer world-wide
> 10.12 = no. 40 performer world-wide
> 10.15 = no. 50 performer world-wide
> 10.26 = no. 100 performer world-wide

2008:
> 9.69 = no. 1 performer world-wide
> 9.89 = no. 5 performer world-wide
> 9.95 = no. 10 performer world-wide
> 10.00 = no. 15 performer world-wide
> 10.02 = no. 20 performer world-wide
> 10.06 = no. 30 performer world-wide
> 10.10 = no. 40 performer world-wide
> 10.13 = no. 50 performer world-wide
> 10.23 = no. 100 performer world-wide

2009:
> 9.58 = no. 1 performer world-wide
> 9.91 = no. 5 performer world-wide
> 9.97 = no. 10 performer world-wide
> 10.00 = no. 15 performer world-wide
> 10.02 = no. 20 performer world-wide
> 10.05 = no. 30 performer world-wide
> 10.09 = no. 40 performer world-wide
> 10.11 = no. 50 performer world-wide
> 10.22 = no. 100 performer world-wide

2010:
> 9.78 = no. 1 performer world-wide
> 9.88 = no. 5 performer world-wide
> 9.95 = no. 10 performer world-wide
> 10.00 = no. 15 performer world-wide
> 10.03 = no. 20 performer world-wide
> 10.10 = no. 30 performer world-wide
> 10.14 = no. 40 performer world-wide
> 10.17 = no. 50 performer world-wide
> 10.26 = no. 100 performer world-wide

2011, from IAAF.org:
> 9.78 = no. 1 performer world-wide
> 9.88 = no. 5 performer world-wide
> 9.93 = no. 10 performer world-wide
> 9.96 = no. 15 performer world-wide
> 10.00 = no. 20 performer world-wide
> 10.07 = no. 30 performer world-wide
> 10.13 = no. 40 performer world-wide
> 10.16 = no. 50 performer world-wide
> 10.23 = no. 100 performer world-wide

So while 2008 and 2009 enjoyed the patina of Usain Bolt’s world records in the Olympic Games and World Championships, in fact the best year for worldwide sprinting among the last four is 2011, with faster marks for the no. 10, 15 and 20 performer already set before the Worlds in Daegu. But can the no. 20 performer be considered “world class” because he is at the threshold of the time-honored 10-second mark?

Certainly, we would say that performers in the top 10 on the world list are “world class”; they would almost all make the final on a nine-lane track. How many more? In the 100, let’s add 1/10th of a second to the top 10 and see where it leads us:

> 2004: 10.11 – 33 performers
> 2008: 10.05 – 27 performers
> 2009: 10.07 – 35 performers
> 2010: 10.05 – 22 performers
> 2011: 10.03 – 23 performers

That gives us an average of 28 performers per year, certainly a large-enough group to be considered “world class.” So for the sake of convenience, our cut-off for “world class” is around the top 30 performers on the year list. But the list is much shorter for “medal class.”

• Who can be considered medal class?

For this, the performers list is irrelevant. To be a contender for medals, you’ve got to be running at or near the top of the performances list. The top performance lists look like this:

2004:
> 9.85 = no. 1 performance world-wide
> 9.91 = no. 10 performance world-wide (by 5 performers)
> 9.93 = no. 15 performance world-wide (by 5 performers)
> 9.95 = no. 20 performance world-wide (by 6 performers)

2008:
> 9.69 = no. 1 performance world-wide
> 9.83 = no. 10 performance world-wide (by 3 performers)
> 9.87 = no. 15 performance world-wide (by 3 performers)
> 9.89 = no. 20 performance world-wide (by 6 performers)

2009:
> 9.58 = no. 1 performance world-wide
> 9.86 = no. 10 performance world-wide (by 3 performers)
> 9.89 = no. 15 performance world-wide (by 4 performers)
> 9.91 = no. 20 performance world-wide (by 6 performers)

2010:
> 9.78 = no. 1 performance world-wide
> 9.86 = no. 10 performance world-wide (by 4 performers)
> 9.89 = no. 15 performance world-wide (by 7 performers)
> 9.95 = no. 20 performance world-wide (by 10 performers)

2011:
> 9.78 = no. 1 performance world-wide
> 9.90 = no. 10 performance world-wide (by 7 performers)
> 9.91 = no. 15 performance world-wide (by 8 performers)
> 9.93 = no. 20 performance world-wide (by 10 performers)

I’m not satisfied with the top 10, with so few performers in some years, but when expanded to 15, the number of “medal-class” performers was either confirmed (as in 2008 and 2009) or demonstrates a more wide-open field, as we had in 2004, 2010 and now in 2011. Based on what we have seen so far this year, the Daegu 100 may be the most wide-open competition for medals in many years, with seven men – Powell, Gay, Mullings, Rodgers, Frater, Bolt and Makusha – already under 9.90.

So does having a performance among the top 15 make you a medal contender? It seems to me the answer is yes, but American champ Walter Dix would not agree . . . he stands only =11th on the yearly performer list going into Daegu. But Dix would be the first to say that it’s where you stand on the list after the season that counts.

(You can stay current with Rich’s technology, sports and Olympic commentaries by following him at www.twitter.com/RichPerelman.)

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