Trying To Make Sense of World Athletics’ New Scoring Tables; Which World Records Are Worth the Most?
By Jonathan Gault
April 25, 2022
In January, for the first time in five years, World Athletics updated its scoring tables. The tables, which are used to determine performance scores for World Athletics’ World Rankings and more generally to compare performances across events, were created in 1982 by Bulgarian statistician Bojidar Spiriev and have been periodically updated over the last 40 years as results accumulate.
Notably, the last time before the tables were updated before this year was in January 2017, the very early stages of the supershoe revolution. While a few athletes, such as Eliud Kipchoge and Galen Rupp, had been able to compete in a prototype model of Nike’s Vaporfly road racing shoes in the 2016 Olympic marathon, the use of supershoes was not yet widespread in January 2017 and had not affected the performance data on which the scoring tables are based. In the ensuing five years, however, advances in road and track footwear technology have pushed times in those events down dramatically around the globe.
The big question, then: how would the supershoe revolution affect the scoring tables?
In some events, the updates to the 2022 tables were drastic. In the women’s half marathon, Letesenbet Gidey‘s world record of 62:52 is worth 1281 points under the new scoring tables, a whopping 44 points less than in 2017. What does that mean? Think of it this way: a 62:52 in 2022 is worth the same number of points as a 64:35 was in 2017 — that’s 103 seconds slower than Gidey’s actual world record time.
The adjustments to the women’s half marathon performances scores were the most drastic in the 2022 update, but what’s strange is a significant number of performance scores didn’t change at all.
Most shockingly, the performance scores for the women’s marathon remained the same, despite Brigid Kosgei lopping 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 2:15:25 world record in 2019 and despite 28 of the 31 fastest women’s marathons in history coming since the last scoring tables were released. Though the world records in the men’s and women’s 5000m and 10,000m have all been broken within the last two years, performance scores in every track & field event stayed the same except for six: the men’s 600m, 1000m, 4x400m relay, and hammer, and the women’s 600m and 2000m steeplechase.
Statistician Kevin Saylors, who has provided statistics for NBC during multiple Olympic track & field broadcasts, admitted he did not know the methodology used in producing the scoring tables but said it struck him as odd that the women’s marathon points would not be adjusted while the men’s marathon and women’s half points were.
“I do not know why that happened,” Saylors said. “To my mind, it does seem strange because it’s the same shoes.”
Mirko Jalava, who operates the famed Tilastopaja statistical database, also was not sure why the women’s marathon points were not adjusted. He suggested that the fact that Radcliffe ran 2:15:25 in 2003 and 2:17:18 in 2002 — which remain the #2 and #7 performances in history, well before the dawn of supershoes — may have been a factor. For comparison, the half marathon world record when Radcliffe ran her 2:15 was just 66:40.
“Radcliffe ran that time so many years ago that somehow I feel that has an effect on what they did, but who knows?” said Jalava.
There were significant adjustments in a number of other road events, but not necessarily how one would expect. A 2:03:00 men’s marathon is now worth 1279 points — equivalent to 2:03:36 in the 2017 tables. But a 2:12:00 marathon is bizarrely worth more in 2022 (1128 points) than it was 2017 (when 1128 points was equal to 2:11:55), seemingly implying it’s harder to run a 2:12:00 now with super shoes than before.
LetsRun.com reached out to Bojidar Spiriev’s son Attila, who now maintains the tables (Bojidar died in 2010). Attila Spiriev did not respond to an interview request, instead forwarding our inquiry to World Athletics, who in response to questions from LetsRun.com responded with a few broad points about the tables and their methodology. Among the key points:
-World record performances are regarded as outliers and are not factored into the methodology when updating the tables.
-The statisticians who create the tables may take into account the event’s history and special circumstances, but the performance tables are largely based on data, which involves tracking the 10th, 20th, 50th, 100th, 200th, 400th, 600th, 800th, and 1000th best performances each year in each event since 2017. From there, the statisticians take into account the number of competitive athletes in each event (the 20th-best 800m performance will be better than the 20th-best 600m performance because the 800m is more popular) and determine whether performance levels in an event have improved, decreased, or stayed the same, at which point they adjust the performance scores accordingly.
Because it is impossible to definitively compare performances across events, World Athletics’ scoring tables will never be perfect. Still, they offer a starting point for comparisons. With that in mind, here are some of the most interesting data to come from the recent adjustments to the scoring tables.
How have the world records changed?
Since the scoring tables were last published in 2017, the world records in the men’s and women’s road 10k, half marathon, and marathon have all been broken, some multiple times. Here is how many points the current world records were worth in 2017, how many points they’re worth now, and what the records’ 2022 point score would be worth in the 2017 tables:
|Event||WR||2017 score||2022 score||Difference||Equivalent 2017 performance|
|Men’s 10k (road)||26:24||1295||1285||-10||26:30|
|Men’s half marathon||57:31||1299||1288||-11||57:46|
|Women’s 10k (road)||29:38||1290||1268||-22||30:02|
|Women’s half marathon||62:52||1325||1281||-44||64:35|
The women’s half marathon WR has undergone the biggest adjustment by far, which does make sense considering Gidey’s 62:52 is a 3.5% improvement on the world record at the start of 2017 (65:09). According to World Athletics, however, it was not Gidey’s world record that led to the dramatic adjustment to the performance scores in that event, but instead all of the fast times behind her (the 24 fastest half marathons of all time have all come since the start of 2017). But if that is the case, it is hard to understand why the women’s marathon scores were not adjusted at all considering a similar density of the top performances in that event have come since 2017.
What was a 2:05 marathon worth in 2017 vs. 2022?
Clearly, it was harder to run a 2:05 marathon in April 2017 than it is in April 2022, with supershoes now ubiquitous. So how much did the scoring tables adjust for the men’s marathon? Well, it depends on how fast you ran. A 2:05:00 marathon in 2022 is worth 1245 points; 1245 points in 2017 was worth a 2:05:26 marathon, meaning a 26-second adjustment.
But the slower the time, the less severe the adjustment. A 2:10:00 marathon in 2022 is worth 1160 points, which was worth 2:10:06 in the 2017 tables — just a 6-second adjustment. A 2:11:00 marathon is worth exactly the same in both tables: 1144 points. And somehow, as mentioned above, a 2:12:00 marathon is actually worth more in 2022 (1128) than it was in 2017 (1126).
How to explain this? Are the scoring tables suggesting that it is harder to run 2:12:00 in 2022 than it was in 2017? LetsRun.com did not receive a response to this question from World Athletics.
|Men’s marathon time||Points in 2022||Equivalent performance in 2017||Difference|
Here are the same tables for the men’s and women’s half marathon. There is no comparison table for the women’s marathon, because the women’s marathon scores did not change from 2017 to 2022.
|Men’s half marathon time||Points in 2022||Equivalent performance in 2017||Difference|
|Women’s half marathon time||Points in 2022||Equivalent performance in 2017||Difference|
What world records are worth the most points?
What do you think is the greatest men’s track & field performance of all time? According to World Athletics’ scoring tables, it’s Jan Zelezny‘s 98.48m javelin world record from 1996 — only one man (Johannes Vetter, 97.76m in 2020) has come within four meters of it in the 25+ years since it was set. According to the scoring tables, Zelezny’s 98.48 is worth 9.56 in the 100m, 42.43 in the 400m, 3:21.77 in the 1500, and 1:58:10 in the marathon.
Here’s the rest of the men’s top 10 (limit one performance per event):
|4||Long jump||8.95m||Mike Powell||1346|
|5||400m hurdles||45.94||Karsten Warholm||1341|
|6||Shot put||23.37m||Ryan Crouser||1323|
|7||Pole vault||6.20m||Mondo Duplantis||1322|
|8||400m||43.03||Wayde van Niekerk||1321|
On the women’s side, Gabriele Reinsch‘s discus world record of 76.80m, which has stood since 1988, is #1 (the men’s and women’s tables are not meant to be compared, so it would be inaccurate to say Reinsch’s performance is comparatively superior to Zelezny’s). It’s worth noting that five of the top 10 performances (Reinsch, Lisovskaya, Christyakova, Kostadinova, Koch) were set by Eastern Bloc athletes when doping was rampant in the 1980s, while two more were set by Florence Griffifth-Joyner, who improved remarkably at age 28 and promptly retired just before mandatory random drug testing was implemented in 1989.
|2||Shot put||22.63m||Natalya Lisovskaya||1372|
|3||Long jump||7.52m||Galina Christyakova||1333|
|6||High jump||2.09m||Stefka Kostadinova||1309|
Looking at the two tables, it’s hard not to conclude that certain events are overvalued. Six events are represented in the top 10 of both lists (100, 200, javelin, long jump, shot put, discus), including three of the four throwing events. Meanwhile, neither top-10 list features a single distance performance — though perhaps that is to be expected considering the top distance athletes don’t compete in their specialty as many times as the top throwers and usually require more things to go right (good weather & pacing) to log a historic performance.
Saylors hypothesized that the more limited competition opportunities for distance runners could be a contributing factor for why they are not in the top 10 lists above.
“If you’re a marathoner, you’re gonna run two marathons a year that are quality,” Saylors said. “Whereas if you’re a 100-meter guy or a long jumper, you might have 15 quality meets. Or at least 10. And if you’re in a field event, you get multiple attempts. So the performances that would make an all-time list is different depending on what event you’re looking at.”
Saylors also acknowledged that any sort of scoring tables that compare performances is “a challenge no matter how you do it.”
“I can admire the folks trying to provide some statistical rigor for that, but it’s a problem that is just hard and sort of doesn’t have a solution,” Saylors said. “I mean, how do you say, is a 98-meter javelin throw better or worse than a 9.58 100 meters? How do you answer that?”
Is Letesenbet Gidey now underrated?
Back in 2019, when Letesenbet Gidey ran 44:20 to break the 15k world record, we wondered whether it was the greatest distance performance of all time. Going by the 2017 scoring tables, Gidey’s run was worth 1319 points, easily the most of any distance world record. Then, two years later, Gidey produced an even greater performance, running 62:52 to break the half marathon world record in Valencia and garnering 1325 points under the 2017 scoring tables. According to the 2017 tables, it was worth 1:51.22 for 800m, 3:45.54 for 1500m, 13:39.43 for 1500m, and 2:11:17 in the marathon.
As great as Gidey’s runs were, it did seem as if an adjustment to the scoring tables was needed to account for the effect of the supershoes (and the fact that the best women are racing the half marathon more than ever). But the 2022 tables may have overcorrected. Gidey’s 62:52 is now worth 1281 points, making it the second-worst of the major distance records, better only than Gidey’s 5000m WR.
Women’s distance world records, ranked by World Athletics scoring tables points
|3000 steeple||8:44.32||Beatrice Chepkoech||1285|
|Half marathon||62:52||Letesenbet Gidey||1281|
The ranking above seems strange given the #2 10,000m performance of all time, Sifan Hassan‘s 29:06.82, is relatively much closer to Gidey’s 29:01.03 world record than the #2 performance in the half marathon, Yalemzerf Yehualaw‘s 63:51, is to her 62:52 WR in the half. Perhaps, as women continue to race half marathons in the supershoes, Gidey’s 62:52 will look like less of an outlier over the coming years (remember, that 62:52 came in Gidey’s half marathon debut, so she could well lower the record herself). But it certainly feels as if Gidey’s half marathon world record is now undervalued.
Talk about the tables on our messageboard. MB: World Athletics’ scoring tables have been updated for 2022 – anyone know what the changes entail? .