SI Vault
Richard Rogin
November 02, 1981
Sebastian Coe's 3:47.33 world-record mile run in Brussels in late summer didn't surprise me one bit. After all, the Portuguese scoring tables predicted just that time.
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November 02, 1981

These Track And Field Tables Allow You To Compare Apples And Oranges

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Though track and field statisticians, who love to wallow in split-second detail, are fascinated by the scoring tables, there is considerable skepticism as to their value. Both Dave Johnson of Track & Field News and Rich Perelman, editor of American Athletics Annual and statistician extraordinaire, term the tables "out of whack" and outdated almost as soon as they are completed.

The impact of the fiber-glass pole in the pole vault has distorted the Portuguese tables for that event. An ordinary 5.50-meter vault (18'�") is listed as equivalent to a 3:46.6 mile! And the world-record vault of 5.81 meters (19'�") by Vladimir Polyakov of the Soviet Union translates to about a 3:38.4 mile! High altitude also bestows unfairly high values on world-record marks such as Pietro Mennea's 200-meter time of 19.72 and Lee Evans' 43.86 for 400 meters, both set in the 7,350-foot-high altitude of Mexico City.

Indeed, the Portuguese tables rank Mennea's 200-meter record as the most imposing men's running mark, though a leading track expert has criticized the tables' values in this event as inflated—at sea level or upon a mountain. According to the IAAF, Henry Rono's world-record 8:05.4 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase is deemed the best. Purdy appears to give first place to Coe's 800 record over Evans' 400 mark, though both are off the top of the tables. The consensus softest world record is Jim Hines's 9.95 for the 100-meter dash, set in the '68 Olympics.

On the field-event side, Bob Beamon's fabulous 29'2�" long jump in the rarefied Mexico City air has long been considered the best track and field performance in history. But while that mark gets 1,189 points on the IAAF tables, less impressive world records in the pole vault and discus go right through the 1,200-point maximum, and the hammer-throw mark exceeds Beamon's record by three points. Brian Oldfield's 75-foot shotput, an unofficial record because he set it while he was a professional, also cracks the 1,200-point barrier.

Overall, on the Portuguese tables, forgetting about the distorted pole vault, Beamon's jump ranks first, five points better than Mennea's dash. And on Purdy's tables, Beamon tops Coe's 800, though both go through the 1,750-point ceiling.

And what about the women? The best distaff world record, according to the IAAF, is Ilona Slupianek's 73' 8" shot-put, which is too long to be included on the scoring table. This is followed by Tatyana Kazankina's 3:52.47 for the 1,500, which is also clear off the table.

Do any of these comparisons between 400-meter dashes and long jumps really mean anything compared to the actuality of an exciting race? For example, the Landy-Bannister matchup in the mile at Vancouver or Billy Mills's glorious winning kick in the Tokyo Olympics 10,000? Well, of course not. But my son says he's going to run 1:55 in the 800 next spring, and if that happens, it means he should run the mile in.... And, given his time for the 800, Coe should run 3:29.7 for the 1,500 ( Ovett's world record is 3:31.36). At least, that's what the Portuguese tables predict.

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