Thursday, November 17, 2011

Should Distance Runners Be Given a “Pass” in Evaluations?

imageI know I said I was getting back to rankings, but there is still a lot of time left before the calendar year is done, and there’s an interesting debate on the floor. The debate revolves around the selection of the Female Athlete of the Year by the IAAF, as the Kenyans are upset that Vivian Cheruiyot lost to Australian Sally Pearson.

Now I have to say that I too have issues with the IAAF’s selection process which basically takes the “AOY” and turns it into a popularity contest. Take the men’s finalists for example: Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, and David Rudisha. While Blake and Bolt did indeed have nice seasons, with a couple of high points, their overall seasons were not extraordinary. Not on par with athletes like Mo Farah and Robert Harting. But Jamaican fans are rabid and they vote in huge numbers – over and over – resulting in the popular Bolt emerging as AOY on the men’s side. At the end of the day that’s the decision that should have us looking at the IAAF system of selecting the AOY.

The debate on the table, however, is regarding the women’s choice, because in this case the system actually got the finalists right with three women who truly had outstanding seasons (Valerie Adams, Sally Pearson & Vivian Cheruiyot) – making the choice an extremely tough one. I know because it was the same choice I found myself forced to make when making my own AOY selections.

The IAAF winner, as already stated, was Sally Pearson, causing much hew and cry among Kenyans. Their argument: while all three women had undefeated seasons, Cheruiyot won two World Championships in Daegu vs one each for Pearson and Adams. Now I would agree IF the AOY was a measure of how many championships an athlete won on the course of the season. Then the selection process would be a simple matter adding up titles at the end of the year – medals in the case of a tie!

For my money, however, I take AOY to mean the athlete that had the BEST overall season. Not the best mark, not the best single meet, but the best overall season. That’s why in my analysis Cheruiyot finished behind both Pearson and Adams, because while she did win a 5000/10000 double at the World Championships she competed sparingly the rest of the year – twice over 10,000 and four times over 5000, with her 10000 marks being good but not exceptional.

Meanwhile Pearson and Adams were season long work horses. Pearson competing in eleven meets in her specialty in addition to several meets in other events; Adams in thirteen meets. Competing with such regularity these women opened themselves up to potential loss against the world’s best far more often – and prevailed.

So now to my question of the day. When I published my own AOY rankings earlier, I was asked if I took into account that distance runners don’t compete as often as other athletes – and my response was that I had. After all, we’re talking a race of 3 to 6 miles, which seems to me can be done more than say once a month or every other month. High school athletes run the two mile (or equivalent) weekly. Collegiate cross country runners compete every couple of weeks over three to six miles depending on gender.

And when I look at the sport in terms of event difficulty, I don’t rank the 5000/10000 in the same vein as I do the half marathon, marathon or multi events – events that take a tremendous toll on the body and that take serious time to recover. Looking at those events for comparison I see the typical elite decathlete competing two or three times a year, and marathoners competing in two or three marathons a year, plus one or two half marathons. Given that rate of competition for those “strenuous” events, I consider five or six races for a 5/10K runner to be rather lite.

Even looking at the toll that sprinting takes on the very elite – where sprinters/hurdlers seem to get injured frequently due to the extreme stresses on their muscles – these athletes are still competing within a seven to fourteen day cycle on average.

So I’m asking if distance runners should get a pass? Should it take an inherently longer time for recovery from a 13:00 5000, or a 27:20 10000 than from a 9.80 100, 13.00 hurdle race, or 1:43 800 – just to toss out some random numbers and events? Let me know what you think. Should Cheruiyot competing a handful of times then winning a World Double (semi & final in the 5000, final only in the 10000) trump the grind it out seasons of a Pearson or Adams where there is not only more wear and tear, but more risk of loss?

I am finding it to be an intriguing question. You’ve heard my thoughts I’d love to hear yours.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think any athlete or class of athlete should be given a pass based on degree of stress, fatigue, calories burnt, or recovery time, etc.

    The AOY is not an award a track or field athlete sets out to win. They just compete in the particular event(s) they have a passion for, and are especially gifted at, hoping to eventually become the overall champion. The award, while certainly an honor to its recipient, is more for the fan.

    In keeping with what you've already said, it should go to the athlete who really grabbed the attention—through competition—of the interested fans in any given year.