Give them this, the IAAF, heretofore one of the premier La Cosa Nostras of international sporting organizations, has at least begun to honestly wrestle with the scourges of performance-enhancing drug abuse and bribe-fueled corruption that have brought their sport into such worldwide disrepute and public disregard.
And so we see where an open letter to IAAF head Sebastian Coe from Gianni Merlo, president of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) suggesting that the sports’ record book be scrapped and a new one be opened, received a thoughtful public response from the home office in Monaco.
A clean break from the old records isn’t a bad idea, given who knows how many of those marks were achieved on the level. But rather than just erasing the current books, here’s another way of achieving the same goal by turning the record book pages back a bit.
Currently the only non-metric track distance for which official records are kept is the mile run. But in in December 2015 at the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) convention in San Antonio, Texas NCAA coaches voted 221-169 in favor of replacing the 1500m with the mile at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. There’s your solution. Don’t erase the current records, instead rejigger distances, weights and rules of competition. It’s not like this hasn’t happened before.
When the International Amateur Athletic Association (now the International Association of Athletics Federations) started to ratify world records in 1912, only records set on a straight track were eligible for consideration. In 1951, the IAAF started to recognize records set on a curved track. Then in 1976, the straight records were all discarded. Times change, why can’t distances?
It could be as simple as going back to the old imperial units of measurement: 100 yards, 220, 440, 880, one mile, 3-mile, and 6-mile. For the marathon go back to the exact distance between Marathon and Athens or 25 or 26 miles even. The imperial distances haven’t been officially contested since the 1960s and early `70s, an era before the industrial use of performance-enhancing drugs came into world-wide practice.
By today’s standards, the old imperial marks are very soft. The official FAT (fully automatic timing) World Best for 100 yards is 9.21 by the USA’s Charlie Greene back in 1967. A hand-time of 9.0 was run by Ivory Crockett in 1974 and tied by Houston McTear in 1975. That means we would see a slew of new world bests that would have a much higher public acceptance given the trend toward cleaning out the drug-infused swamp (to borrow a Trumpian goal).
The sport has already seen significant changes to the pole vault event, as poles went from bamboo to aluminum to composites. The weight of the men’s javelin was altered in 1986 to keep the flying spear in the field of play (the women’s javelin was changed in 2000). You could tweak the weights of the shot put, discus and hammer throw just as easily. You could remove the takeoff board in the long jump, allow double-foot takeoffs in the high jump. There you go. Same skill-sets, same training, just slightly altered outcomes to bring a disinfecting breath of fresh air to the rancid old game. Or, we could all just wear funny hats.
Thanks to Mr. Merlo for opening the discussion and to the IAAF for its considered response. Hopefully, the conversation can be expanded and options reviewed and, eventually, changes made.