19 May, 2017

The tabula rasa of records

The European Records Credibility Project Team have made public their recommendation. When I first heard about the project I was afraid that it would degenerate into a witch hunt where old records would be scrutinised for credibility resulting in an unfair treatment based on influence and hearsay. Fortunately my fears did not pan out.

The report of the team starts by reminding that among the objects of the 1913 IAAF Constitution was “To pass upon and register World’s amateur records in field and track athletics”. By the way, while the credibility project is a european initiative it is clear that whatever measure will be adopted it will carry over to the world records.

Four options have been identified from the outset.

1) The Status Quo. Do nothing and keep the record list as it is.
2) The Witch Hunt. Examine the records one by one and remove the suspicious ones. I cannot think of anything worse than this. Had this proposal been adopted we might have seen East German records erased but Flo-Jo’s windy 10.49 would have survived. 
3) The “javelin” option (as dubbed by the Team). It refers to the changes in javelin specifications which made new records mandatory. That would have been great. I may one day write a post on what the ideal “javelin” option would be. However it remains that such an option is totally unrealistic.
4) The “1913” option (again in the Team’s terminology). It consists in amending the criteria for record recognition which unavoidably requires establishing new records.

Fortunately the Team favoured this last option, which means that the existing record list will be erased and will be replaced by a new one satisfying specific criteria. The Team’s recommendations concerning the later are rather lengthy and cast in a slightly bureaucratic parlance but the gist of them is the following.

1) Records would have to have been achieved at international events where the highest standards of officiating and technical equipment could be guaranteed.
2) The athlete must be subject to an agreed number of doping control tests in the months leading up to the record.
3) Doping control samples taken after world-record performances would need to be stored and available for retesting for 10 years. Given that IAAF has stored blood and urine samples only since 2005 no record prior to 2005 can be remain in the official list. 
4) All record holders have an obligation to maintain their sporting integrity after a record is recognised. If sanctioned for a serious breach of the rules (for example a subsequent doping offense) recognition of their records will be withdrawn even if there is no proof the breach affected the record setting performance.
5) Current records which do not meet the above criteria would remain on the "all-time list" but would not be officially recognised as records. Also, if a record recognition is withdrawn no immediate successor should be ratified but rather a limit should be set for a new record to be established at a future date.

Kratoshvílová's 1:53.28 will be replaced by Jelimo's 1:54.01. 
Two remarks: Middle-aged Kratoshvílová looks better than the young one.
Kratoshvílová will look better than Semenya when the later will be WR holder.

The long and short of this is that no records anterior to 2005 will figure in  the list and doping offenders cannot be record holders. Having said this what would be the world record list complying with the Team’s recommendations? Here it is:

Event Men Women
100 m U. Bolt 9.58 C. Jeter 10.64
200 m U. Bolt 19.19 D. Schippers 21.63
400 m W. van Niekerk 43.03 S. Richards-Ross 48.70
800 m D. Rudisha 1:40.91 P. Jelimo 1:54.01
1500 m A. Kiprop 3:27.69 G. Dibaba 3:50.07
5000 m K. Bekele 12:40.18 T. Dibaba 14:11.15
10000 m K. Bekele 26:17.53 A. Ayana 29:17.45
Half Marathon Z. Tadese 58:23 J. Jepkoskei 1:04:52
Marathon D. Kimetto 2:02:57 M. Keitany 2:17:01
3000 m st B. Kipruto 7:53.64 R. Jebet 8:52.78
110 m hd A. Merritt 12.80 K. Harrison 12.20
400 m hd K. Clement 47.24 M. Walker 52.42
4x100 m Jamaica 37.58 USA 40.82
4x400 m Bahamas 2:56.72 USA 3:16.87
High Jump M. Barshim 2.43 B. Vlasic 2.08
Pole Vault R. Lavillenie 6.05 Y. Isinbayeva 5.06
Long Jump D. Phillips 8.74 B. Reese 7.31
Triple Jump C. Taylor 18.21 F. Mbango 15.39
Shot Put J. Kovacs 22.56 V. Adams 21.24
Discus Throw G. Kanter 73.38 D. Caballero 70.65
Hammer Throw P. Fajdek 83.93 A. Wlodarczyk 83.98
Javelin Throw T. Röhler 93.90 B. Spotáková 72.28
Decathlon A. Eaton 9045 K. Clüft 7032

I do not know how recommendation No 4 of the Team will be implemented but I decided in a lapidary way to leave out of the list all athletes that have been sanctioned for a doping offence. Thus, for instance, S. Perkovic does not figure as world record holder in women’s discus. Also I have had great trouble with the relays in particular men’s ones. The current 4x100 m record is number 16 in the all-time list while the 4x400 m is number 11.

20 years later only 8 centimetres separate Edwards and Taylor

All in all, looking at the record list above I feel that we are not losing much by readjusting the list. On the other hand I am not sure that we are having a 100 % clean list.  It would, perhaps, be better to drop all existing records and start afresh from next year. But, even so, I am afraid that the doping Hydra will raise her heads again and again. 

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