*We* are the champions…

Sport is a truly global phenomenon.

The many tentacled reach of football and athletics – in particular – to every island, forest, desert, mountain range and urban sprawl on the planet is both proof of their enduring appeal and a fantastic jumping off point for an article so long and excruciating that even the most hardened Nerdius fan will be rather happy when it’s all over. I know I was when I finished writing it.

Take the Premier League.

At the time of writing 109 of the 207 FIFA recognised countries have been represented. Some have sent a huge cohort over to England for differing, but obvious reasons: Belgium (proximity), Brazil (wealth of talent), Australia (grandparents from Salford and Colchester). Some nations have only ever had one player in the Premier League, but they still make the list.

Obviously you’d like to see that list, so here it is:

  • Albania 🇦🇱
  • Angola 🇦🇴
  • Armenia 🇦🇲
  • Burkina Faso 🇧🇫
  • Central African Republic 🇨🇫
  • Faroe Islands 🇫🇴
  • Gambia 🇬🇲
  • Gibraltar 🇬🇮
  • Guinea-Bissau 🇬🇼
  • Kenya 🇰🇪
  • Kosovo 🇽🇰
  • Malta 🇲🇹
  • Oman 🇴🇲
  • Pakistan 🇵🇰
  • Phillipines 🇵🇭
  • Seychelles 🇸🇨

Trailblazers one and all (though you’ll have to find out *who* those players are under your own steam, and there’s no points for getting Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Victor Wanyama without Googling of course, not around here).

Some sports however are dominated by just a handful of nations. This usually emerges where history meets slightly complicated rules or requirements. It’s harder after all to gather the various accoutrements needed for a good game of snooker (“What do you mean you haven’t got a spider Derek?!”) than it is to find a field to run around in.

Below is an exploration of those sports with limited range to see if we can find a comprehensive answer to the following questions: “If I only have space for ONE scarf  supporting one nation team and designed clearly for use while cheering on one sport, then what will give me the most value in terms of consistently being on the winning side”

Or, to put it another way: is there any country that completely and utterly dominates one sport?

  • Rugby? Cricket? Obviously neither, but I’ve gone hardcore on the workings anyway.
  • American sports? Not really, I mean three of them have been Olympic Sports, but I’ve added some colour.
  • British sports? You know, ones that don’t involve breaking a sweat. Bit closer, but not that close.
  • Other sports that actually answer the question? Yes. These indeed answer the question (so you may as well just scroll through to the end, unless you want to see A LOT of flag emoji).

Ready? *Whistle sound effect*

*****

The Empire Games

Let’s start with two high-profile sports for those of us born into a world reported by the BBC and characterised by a physical inability to jump a queue. With their first internationals taking place in 1871 and 1844 respectively Rugby Union (we’ll get to Rugby League in the detail) and Cricket are sports steeped in history. History that relies on what we’ll call the ‘ups and downs’ of the British Empire as it swept across the world doing unspeakable things, growing tea and finding countries to be much better at sports than the people who invented them, but history nonetheless.

Rugby 🏉

We’ll kick off (pun very much intended) with Rugby Union because it’s where rugby started (on that note the story about William Webb-Ellis picking the ball in a game of football at Rugby school and inventing the game is hardly cast iron – it always struck me as a weird origin story anyway), but that hasn’t stopped the World Cup in the sport being named after him. But before we get to the World Cup breakdown, let’s explore the dual axes of power in the world of scrums and gum shields…

The Six Nations: England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿, Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿, Wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿, Ireland 🇮🇪(technical flag inaccuracy, but, emoji), France 🇫🇷and, the upgrade from the long standing Five Nations, Italy 🇮🇹.

The Rugby Championship (formerly the Tri Nations who, of course, spent many years as the most pun worthy major sporting event on the planet): Australia 🇦🇺, New Zealand 🇳🇿, South Africa 🇿🇦, Argentina 🇦🇷.

There are in this elite group a total of 10 teams, nine of whom – sorry Italy – are (a few caveats aside) the teams perennially in the mix. They are joined, to some extent, by the Pacific Island nations of Fiji 🇫🇯, Samoa 🇼🇸 and Tonga 🇹🇴, and indeed between these 12 teams (i.e. The Six Nations minus Italy plus The Rugby Championship plus The Pacific Islands) they have filled all but one of the 64 berths that have been available in the QFs of the Rugby World Cup since it’s inception (the other place went to Canada way back in 1991).

At the sharp end however, not even all of these nations have every really had a serious chance of winning the Webb Ellis Trophy with eight of these teams making up all semi-final appearances and just five of them – New Zealand 🇳🇿, Australia 🇦🇺, England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿, South Africa 🇿🇦 and France 🇫🇷 – taking up 27 out of 32 of those berths and contesting all finals. Even a casual fan is aware that few teams have a realistic opportunity to take on 15 New Zealanders with egg-shaped ball in hand.

That all said, there is one area of Rugby that isn’t Kiwi heaven (well, not exclusively, they’re still incredibly successful) and that’s Rugby Sevens. In the short form, sped up version many of the games experts hail from the Pacific Islands . Fiji 🇫🇯won their first ever Olympic medal as a nation when Rugby Sevens was admitted to the 2016 event in Rio roundly beating all opposition. Historically Fiji and New Zealand battle it out at the top of the Sevens tree, but England, South Africa, Samoa and, in a positive blip to be fair, Wales have taken top honours in major tournaments. There is also the notable addition of Kenya 🇰🇪in the Sevens game scrapping around making life difficult for the bigger teams. But that’s it, aside from the usual suspects.

A final word then on all things Rugby Union can be reserved for Georgia 🇬🇪and Japan 🇯🇵, two teams on the up. This year’s World Cup is in Japan, who are if not knocking on the door of the ‘big 9’, certainly making good strides across the front garden. The same can be said about Georgia. Indeed, their world ranking is well above Italy’s at the time of writing and has been for a while. To some that would make a fair shout for their inclusion in the Six Nations ahead of the Italians and maybe, just maybe, things will continue to the point where the Six Nations needs to offer a relegation/promotion system for last place (Spain, Russia and Romania would be other contenders seeking that spot over the long haul). Meanwhile Japan have had their own team, the Sunwolves, in the Super Rugby competition (featuring teams from the Rugby Championship countries) since 2016, a sure step forward for a country that defeated South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World cup and will hope to show the world they can compete at the top end consistently as they host the good and great to knock-on simple balls and get covered in mud.

BUT HOLD ON… WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN?!

An excellent point and one we shouldn’t overlook, not least because we’re not sexist dinosaurs, but also because the likelihood of finding intense domination by one country in a sport is statistically more likely in women’s tournaments given their relative youth. Woke and wily. Check it.

The Women’s Rugby World Cup has been dominated over the years by two teams, New Zealand 🇳🇿 (who have won five of the eight editions), and England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 who have made all but one final, though only won twice. The first winner, back in 1991 was the USA 🇺🇸 – a newbie on the scene for this article – with Canada 🇨🇦and France 🇫🇷(who have come 3rd six times!) also showing well.

Proving however that what the men do, doesn’t always follow when it comes to the women, we must give a nod to the Kazakhstan 🇰🇿 team who have attended the World Cup on 6 occasions, just missing making the QFs each time.

AND YOU SAID WE’D TALK ABOUT RUGBY LEAGUE WHAT ABOUT RUGBY LEAGUE?

Yes. We’re doing that now. Chill.

Rugby League originated in 1895 as the ‘professional’ code of rugby meaning, quite simply, that players could be paid. It took until August 1995 for Rugby Union to follow suit. League is particularly popular in the North of England (where it was founded), parts of Australia 🇦🇺, New Zealand 🇳🇿and France 🇫🇷and also in Lebanon 🇱🇧. Rugby League is the national sport, nonetheless, of Papua New Guinea 🇵🇬. It’s also played in pockets of all the usual countries mentioned above.

At World Cup level three teams have won the championship since it started in 1954 and on all but four occasions the winner has been Australia 🇦🇺. In 2008 New Zealand 🇳🇿took the title and on three occasions prior to 1972 Great Britain 🇬🇧took the honours (since 2005 the home nations – England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland – have competed separately with Great Britain as a team retired in 2008 with the hope if improving the results of the individual nations. GB will return for a tour of the Southern Hemisphere in 2019 however after several years of reform rumours. Think of them like a 90s boyband).

So with the exception of PNG 🇵🇬and the brilliantly exotic Lebanon 🇱🇧we’re looking at the same simple, but still a little bloated for my liking, list of countries. There’s domination, but it’s not all conquering.

In the Women’s tournament, which has been held since 2000, we again see dominance from New Zealand 🇳🇿, so much so that they’ve featured in every final winning three and losing three. Which is weird, since there’s only been five. In 2005 two teams from New Zealand were entered; ‘New Zealand’, and ‘New Zealand Maori’, with the former trotting out 58-0 winners. Added extras who’ve not made the word count yet keep us in the deep Pacific: The Cook Islands 🇨🇰, Niue 🇳🇺and Tokelau 🇹🇰.

But really now, with 1200 words on Rugby alone, we must move on…

Cricket 🏏

There are twelve test playing cricket nations. Which means, essentially, that there are twelve ‘proper’ places were they play cricket. Twelve isn’t many. They are, in order of their gaining test status: England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿(1877), Australia 🇦🇺(1877), South Africa 🇿🇦 (1889), West Indies 🏝(1928), New Zealand 🇳🇿(1930), India 🇮🇳(1932), Pakistan 🇵🇰(1952), Sri Lanka 🇱🇰(1982), Zimbabwe 🇿🇼 (1992), Bangladesh 🇧🇩(2000), Ireland 🇮🇪(2018) and Afghanistan 🇦🇫(2018). Which is also to say that until the 21st Century only nine countries were allowed to play ‘proper’ cricket.

Test cricket however is not the only cricket. It’s simply hardcore cricket, and there is of course a version for people who just want to have fun (i.e. ‘lightweights’). The ICC Cricket World Cup is therefore instead based on the One Day International format of the sport. 20 teams have competed since it was first held in 1975. The extras are…

  • Bermuda 🇧🇲
  • Canada 🇨🇦
  • East Africa 🏳
  • Kenya 🇰🇪
  • Namibia 🇳🇦
  • Netherlands 🇳🇱
  • Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿
  • UAE 🇦🇪

These 20 however are not the only 20. There are a total of 105 countries where cricket is well established enough to have a membership body of some sort (12 test nations plus 93 associate members). Of these countries five have managed to win the World Cup (25% of those who’ve competed, just under 5% of the total). For comparison 8 out of 79 teams have won the FIFA World Cup from a total pool of 211 eligible teams (10% and around 4%). Which is interesting in as much as the figures aren’t *that* different.

So is cricket the over-localised sport we’re here to salivate over? Kinda. But we can do better.

But before we move on, a final bit of cricket/country based knowledge for you. Above we mentioned that the first international in the sport took place in 1844. Who was it between? Canada 🇨🇦and the USA 🇺🇸. The first mentions of one of those nations in this section. Oh the irony (and thus, so deliciously English).

The women’s World Cup, in a notable parallel with what we saw in Rugby above features similar teams with a bit more dominance. Of the 11 tournaments so far, 10/11 have been won by either England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿or Australia 🇦🇺. In 2000 New Zealand took home the trophy. Until then they’d been 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd. More recently things have been shaken up a little by India, South Africa and the West Indies, but it’s hardly a confusing slate of cricketing nations.

Dominance indeed, but it’s not quite perfect so we must move on…

* * * *

American Athletes

The great/weird (depending on your outlook) thing about American sports is that while they are insanely popular across the 50 states, they are, to a greater and lesser extent, often ignored elsewhere. This is less true of Ice Hockey which is hugely popular in Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and Central Europe, while Basketball can claim popularity on a casual and less casual basis in many countries, if not powerhouse leagues worth all the 💰💰💰. And while baseball has its World Series (we’ll get to that) it’s played in even fewer places than its long distant cousin cricket. As for American Football? The clue’s in the name.

Baseball ⚾️

Baseball’s premier competition is, of course, The World Series a competition played between Major League Baseball teams from the USA (plus the Blue Jays, from Toronto). In fact, it’s all about the USA (apart from the Blue Jays and the Montreal Expos who upped and moved to Washington in 2005 to be closer to everyone else). So why’s it called the World Series? Well, in 1903 the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates – winners of National League – wrote to the owner of the Boston Red Sox – winners of the American League – to suggest a ‘World’s Championship Series’. And the name stuck. And why are there two leagues in Major League Baseball? Let’s worry about that another time.

But despite being played almost exclusively in just 18 US States plus  Ontario, Canada (great stat for you there) 27% of Major League Baseball players are foreign born. So is there an appetite out in the rest of the world?

Sort of.

Since its founding in 2006 20x teams have taken part in the World Baseball Classic, the real ‘world championships’ of the game. In addition, baseball featured at the 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics and will return in 2020 in Tokyo. The Olympics featured eight teams on each occasion. In terms of success it’s the Cubans 🇨🇺(3 Olympic golds and two silvers) who were dominant on the world stage, while Japan 🇯🇵 (2 World Classics for the men, 6 for the women), Puerto Rico 🇵🇷, Dominican Republic 🇩🇴, Australia 🇦🇺and South Korea 🇰🇷 are a bit handy too. Surprisingly, or not really, the USA 🇺🇸have only featured intermittently on this world stage, but of course that’s because the best players are paid far too much to drag themselves off to represent their country against Venezuela 🇻🇪or the Netherlands 🇳🇱for a mere metal necklace.

So while it’s basically all American, this is not the dominance we’re after.

Basketball 🏀

Basketball is the most globally popular of the American sports. It has been an Olympic sport since 1936 (and was a demonstration sport in 1904) and 16 different countries have medalled at the FIBA World Cup in the men’s event, with 17 medalling in the women’s. Although, to rewind a moment, the USA have medalled at every Olympics except 1980, when the whole US team boycotted, and have won Gold in all but three of the men’s tournaments and all but two of the women’s. So that’s pretty dominant. But given the existence of professional basketball leagues and teams in Spain 🇪🇸, Germany 🇩🇪, Italy 🇮🇹, Russia 🇷🇺, Turkey 🇹🇷, France🇫🇷, Lithuania 🇱🇹, Greece 🇬🇷, Australia🇦🇺 and China 🇨🇳 it’s fair to say it’s not a one nation sport. And while you might get pretty excellent value from your Team USA scarf, we’re going to keep going.

Ice Hockey 🏒

Ice Hockey isn’t played everywhere because it needs ice and the equator laughs in the face of ice. But we’re back in Rugby and Cricket territory here really with a handful of usual suspects (Canada 🇨🇦, USA 🇺🇸, Russia 🇷🇺, Sweden 🇸🇪, Finland 🇫🇮, Czech Republic 🇨🇿 – in that order) taking the vast majority of place on the Olympic podium and World Championships medal table for both men and women (with notable additions for Switzerland 🇨🇭, Slovakia 🇸🇰 and the German 🇩🇪 men’s team’s Olympic Odyssey in 2018).

So no (d)ice here.

American Football 🏈

The Americans LOVE  their version of football.

Most of the biggest stadiums on the planet were built with a gridiron on the pitch (and the very biggest are not for professional teams but for College teams, eight in total with a capacity of over 100,000 – when I was at University there was one football pitch and that was often used to store random outdoor furniture). But does anyone else? Well, kinda yeah, kinda no.

Japan 🇯🇵have won 2x IFAF World Cups (1999 and 2003 when the US didn’t take part) and picked up a podium place in every tournament since. Not many countries can muster a national team, but the 2015 version did attract European frontrunners Germany 🇩🇪, Austria 🇦🇹, Sweden 🇸🇪 and France 🇫🇷 as well as the US 🇺🇸, Canada 🇨🇦, Mexico 🇲🇽 (who are a bit handy), Brazil 🇧🇷, South Korea 🇰🇷, Japan 🇯🇵, Australia 🇦🇺 and Morocco 🇲🇦 (qualification happened by region as you can probably tell).

Nobody comes close to the USA for strength or, indeed, popularity. The overwhelming majority of players at the top of the game are American and the top teams are all fighting it out in the NFL. But like baseball and basketball the dominance kind of works against them as they don’t always bother to properly turn up to beat the rest of the world as it’s not really the point.

So don’t go knitting that USA scarf quite yet…

Other Footballs

But hold on, what about other footballs? It goes to follow that if you name a brand of football after yourself and make sure it doesn’t get too popular, then nobody else is going to play it.

  • Gaelic football is very Irish 🇮🇪(and one of the world’s few staunchly amateur sports). Australian Rules football is very Australian 🇦🇺(and only played professionally in Australia). BUT, the two can be combined under a code known as International or Compromise Rules when the top Gaelic teams play the top Australian teams. And so, by definition, the purity of the game in one nation is sullied. But oh so close. This dual-axis is further cemented by the Papua New Guinea, Irish, New Zealand dominance of the Australian Football International Cup
  • Canadian football is very Canadian 🇨🇦, though the top competition, the Grey Cup, was once won by the Baltimore Stallions who were involved during a brief American expansion during the 90s. So we’re very very close again, but not quite. And there isn’t an international competition anyway.

Onward…

The Best of British

Snooker 

The World Snooker Championship has been held 84 times. In that time it has been won on 4 occasions by non-Brits: an Irishman 🇮🇪, a Canadian 🇨🇦 and two Australians 🇦🇺. New Zealand 🇳🇿, South Africa 🇿🇦 and, in a buck from British Colonialism, China 🇨🇳 have also been represented in the final. The women’s game can add a champion for Hong Kong 🇭🇰 and an Indian 🇮🇳 finalist.

It’s as close as a ball hanging over the pocket, but it’s not quite going to drop.

Darts 

Since 1978, across both the BDO and PDC World Championships, the men’s title has been a good clutch of Dutch 🇳🇱, an Australian 🇦🇺, a couple of Canadians 🇨🇦 and A LOT of Brits. The women’s game has reached the powers of Russia 🇷🇺 and the USA 🇺🇸as well. But it’s mainly the St George’s cross flying.

No bull.

Bowls 

The World Indoor Bowls Championship has returned a Scottish 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿or English 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿winner in 69% of all championships (men’s, women’s, team) competed for since 1979. Of the rest, the majority have been won by the Welsh 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿, Northern Irish (emoji says 🙅‍♀️) or a few plucky souls from Guernsey, Australia 🇦🇺and New Zealand 🇳🇿sent the balance.

Close, but jack all here.

Onward. (and, at last, a straight answer).

The All-Conquering Heroes

There’s a good list of every single World Championships (and similar) in sport on Wikipedia and I’ve looked through it so you don’t have to.

Floorball is a perennial toss up between Sweden 🇸🇪and Finland 🇫🇮(though the Swiss women play their part), Ringette between Canada 🇨🇦and Finland 🇫🇮(what is it about the Finns, they LOVE an odd sport), Lacrosse by the USA 🇺🇸and Canada 🇨🇦, Padel between Argentina 🇦🇷and Spain 🇪🇸, Bandy between Sweden 🇸🇪and Russia 🇷🇺. And while Brazil 🇧🇷dominate at Beach Soccer, Australia 🇦🇺netball, the Dutch 🇳🇱the long track and the South Koreans 🇰🇷the short track in speed skating, Polo is the domain of the South American trio of Brazil 🇧🇷, Chile 🇨🇱and Argentina 🇦🇷and plenty more besides… in each of these others always get a look in.

Below are the sports in which the world champions have only ever come from one nation and so are vying for that single scarf berth.

  • Kabaddi, India 🇮🇳have won every single World Cup in both the Standard and Circle style. That’s 13x victories across men’s and women’s competitions. CLEAN SWEEP.
  • Indoor Lacrosse can go one better though with the same winner, runner-up and bronze medallist in each of the four global competitions held so far: Canada 🇨🇦🥇, Iriquois 🥈, USA 🥉.
  • Tchoukball, For the women, a victory: every single world tournament has been won by the Chinese women 🇨🇳, and all bar two by the Chinese men. (the 1970 and 2004 World Tchoukball championships were won by the French 🇫🇷and the Swiss 🇨🇭respectively).

And that’s it.

So take your pick. But as well as your one and only scarf, you’re probably going to need a rule book (although, fun fact, we used to do Kabaddi in PE lessons at my school in Glasgow which is very much not in India, so you never know where there could be potential future shoots of growth).

/end.

Merlene, Merlene, Merlene, Merleeeene (Ottey)

Merlene Ottey was an international sprinter.

Merlene Ottey excelled at 60m, 100m, 200m and as a key part of the 4x100m relay.

Merlene Ottey represented Jamaica and, latterly, Slovenia.

Merlene Ottey was INCREDIBLE

Merlene Ottey

* * * * *

🥉She won her first global medal  in 1980, winning Bronze in the 200m at the Moscow Olympics.
(She was 20.)

🥉She won her last global medal in 2003, winning Bronze in the 60m at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham.
(She was 43.)

👟She concluded her career anchoring Slovenia’s 4x100m to 6th in their heat (of 8)  at the 2012 European Championships.
(She was 52.)

🎽She competed in seven Olympic Games (Moscow, LA, Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens), more than any other track and field athlete.

🏆She’s the oldest female athletics individual medallist in the history of both the Olympics and the World Championships. She won Olympic Bronze in 2000 at the age of 40.

🇯🇲She’s been around long enough that she was the FIRST FEMALE CARIBBEAN ATHLETE TO WIN AN OLYMPIC MEDAL. She was still winning medals in 2000, an age of island dominance in the sprints. Quite remarkable.

But she didn’t just have insane longevity. She had real class too…

Ottey won medals at six of the seven Olympics she competed at. She came 4th in the 200m in Seoul, her only blot. She was a gnat’s eyelid from appearing in Beijing in 2008, but just missed out. For comparison, you have to be over 30 year olds to realistically remember seven Olympic Games. Plenty of athletes have retired around that age. 😲

  • She’s 4th on the all time 200m list
  • She’s 7th on the all time 100m list
  • She still holds the 200m indoor WR.
  • She ran under 11 seconds for 100m 67 times
  • She won over 20 medals at WCs and Olympics, a record shared only by Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt and Allyson Felix
  • She won 3o medals, in total, at Worlds, Olympics and World Indoors including 6 golds 🏅🏅🏅🏅🏅🏅

Merlene, Merlene, Merlene, Merleeeene… winning medals just because she can.

 

 

Jumping, jumping

You know when you’re watching a long jump competition and you think to yourself ‘geez, I wonder who has jumped furthest CUMULATIVELY in this competition’? If you don’t know that feeling I recommend you move on now. This is about to go downhill fast for you.

Looooong jumping
In a standard long jump competition, as in any athletic throw or jump, the only thing that matters is the highest/furthest/bestest performance of all of your attempts. You can nail it in one and sit out the rest of the competition playing Super Mario Kart if you like, or you can keep committing yourself to improving round by round and respect the work put in by your coach and the fact your mum’s missing bingo to come and watch you perform. It’s something your sprint hurdler or marathon runner just can’t opt for. Their performances reward consistency over the course of the race, not just a magic moment. What if long jumping were the same?

What follows is a table put together through pain-staking research (well, slightly-uncomfortable research, I hit the big competitions and some other stuff that stood out, not everything. I’m committed, but not insane). The table outlines performances by the world’s leading long jumpers ranked as if all six of their series jumps counted to their final mark.

When you look at it in detail you’ll notice three things:

  1. It’s fairly rare for a jumper to average 8m+ during a single event (essentially because one foul is going to scupper that chance)
  2. Carl Lewis was even more ridiculous than you already thought he was
  3. At the 2017 World Championships two men jumped an 8+ average for the first time (in my data set), with Jarrion Lawson becoming the first man to clear 50m cumulative at any championships. He only left with silver.
  4. There is very little real value to this information

 


The Table

EventAthlete123456TotalAverage
Sestriere 1994Carl Lewis8.688.438.668.608.518.7251.68.600
Walnut, CA 1987Carl Lewis8.648.668.638.778.668.0651.428.570
Indianapolis 1987Carl Lewis6.898.758.538.758.688.6850.288.380
2017 WCJarrion Lawson8.378.438.408.118.318.4450.068.343
1997 WCErick Walder8.298.158.298.368.308.3849.778.295
2006 World IndoorsIrving Saladino8.188.198.278.158.208.2949.288.213
Rio 2016Greg Rutherford8.188.118.228.268.098.2949.158.192
2004 World IndoorsBogdan Taurs8.038.188.238.258.268.1949.148.190
Athens 2004John Moffitt8.108.287.858.198.478.2449.138.188
Rio 2016Jeff Henderson8.207.948.107.968.228.3848.88.133
1987 World IndoorsLarry Myricks8.008.188.158.068.108.2348.728.120
2007 WCGodfrey Khotso Mokoena7.987.868.198.188.158.1948.558.092
Athens 2004Chris Tomlinson8.258.048.118.098.057.9248.468.077
2011 WCSebastian Bayer8.178.068.138.047.918.0248.338.055
2005 WCIrving Saladino8.007.918.068.008.208.1248.298.048
Beijing 2008Ibrahim Camejo7.948.098.087.887.938.2048.128.020
1995 World IndoorsErick Walder7.958.057.958.028.008.1448.118.018
2001 WCKareem Streete-Thompson7.748.098.088.038.108.0448.088.013
2017 WCJianan Wang8.148.237.958.007.857.8948.068.005
Sydney 2000Peter Burge7.808.067.937.968.158.1148.018.002
2003 WCIgnisious Gaisah8.038.137.908.117.957.88488.000
Tokyo 1991Carl Lewis8.68-8.838.918.878.8444.137.355
1987 WCCarl Lewis8.678.658.678.43-8.6043.027.170
Seoul 1988Carl Lewis8.418.568.528.728.52-42.737.122

Carl Lewis takes the top three and bottom three places in this table.

The top three are for epic performances that saw him clear 50m cumulative for his series of jumps. The only person (I can find at least, and I’m the only person whose likely looked) to have ever done this.

The bottom three places I’ve included simply to show how incredible Lewis was as a long jumper. These performances don’t hit the magic 8m average that everyone else was required to hit for inclusion in this table, but then Carl Lewis doesn’t fit neatly into any set of rules.

Those three bottom series aside from one, lonely foul, were impeccable. And these competitions were big ones: one Olympics, two World Championships, including the one where all this happened…

In Tokyo, in 1991, Carl Lewis would only win silver that day. But his jumping, with four marks over 8.80m is unrivalled. His shortest leap of 8.68 in Tokyo would have won EVERY SINGLE OTHER WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP BAR ONE (1995, when Ivan Pedroso jumped 2cm further). It would have won at every Olympic Games bar two: Beamon’s astonishing leap in 1968, and Lewis’ own winning jump in Seoul in 1988.

Those five jumps in 1991, when added together, fall a mere 65cm short of the entire six jump series of Ignisious Gaisah at the 2003 World Championships that averaged 8.00m dead. That’s essenitally the depth of the plasticine on the board (it’s not, even remotely, but you’ll forgive the hyperbole here I’m sure).

One final point on the lord of leaping: the top two lines in the table, where Lewis jumps on average 8.60m in Sestriere and 8.57 in California happen seven years apart. That’s not just consistency, that’s ridiculous.

Of course, you might argue that it isn’t entirely relevant to pore over the relatively few instances of consistently lengthy long jumping in competition when it isn’t what athletes are marked on (my wife certainly does, especially when there’s washing up to do).

But it must surely be true that a long jumper’s aim every time they take to the runway is to i) run down it, really fast and to ii) throw themselves, legally, really far into the sandpit.

If you do that with vigour six times, then you’re more likely to win than if you only manage it once.

If you can therefore perfect your run up and technique to ensure you hit the board every time and can push your distances without falling apart?

Well, then you’re Carl Lewis.

An addendum…

I reach out from time to time to a few people mentioned in these articles. Which is when this happened…

Note: this was originally published on Medium in July 2017 as in the tweet, but it’s not now. Now it’s here. 

You just missed it…

World Records broken moments too late

Tonja Buford-Bailey and Sandra Farmer-Patrick have various things in common.

  • They are both American women.
  • They both have double-barrelled surnames.
  • They both love the musical stylings of Barry Manilow (because, who doesn’t?).

Oh, at one point in their careers they both managed to break the world record for the 400m Hurdles a fraction of a second too late.

At the 1993 World Athletics Championships in Stuttgart Sandra Farmer-Patrick lined up alongside her long time rival – Britain’s Sally Gunnel. At the Barcelona Olympics the year before Gunnell had stolen Gold (not literally, she won it fair and square) and Farmer-Patrick was keen to reverse their fortunes…

As the girls crossed the line just under 53 seconds later they had both put in their all. In fact, they’d put in their all, and topped it up with everybody else’s all, as they ran the first and second fastest times ever recorded (at the time) for the race.

That, of course, meant one heartbreaking thing for the girl in second place: she’d run faster than anyone had ever run before that day, done everything she possibly could, but been beaten by someone who did all that and more.

You’d think this was a rare occurrence. And you’d certainly assume that the EXACT SAME THING wouldn’t happen the next time the race was run.

But it did. EXACTLY THE SAME THING.

Not the next time any 400m Hurdle race was run of course, but the next time a World Championship women’s 400m Hurdle final was run.

That race was in Gothenburg, Sweden two years later.

 

This time the battle was between Kim Batten vs Tonja Buford (pre-marriage to NFL wide receiver Victor Bailey) two American athletes who had in fact featured in the final of 1993.

Again they crossed the line comfortably under 53 seconds.
Again they ran the two fastest 400m Hurdles races of all time.
Again one of the them would give everything, but fall short.

 

* * * * *

 

Lausanne, 11th July 2006. Chinese wunderkid Liu Xiang runs the first ever 110m hurdles in under 12.90 seconds clocking 12.88 to steal the world record away from Britain’s Colin Jackson. Behind him is Dominique Arnold, the American athlete who ran 12.90 that day.

Oslo, 15th June 2007. Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar improves her own 5000m world record to 14m 16.63s while Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot canters in five seconds later, a whole two seconds under Defar’s old world record.

Gothenburg, August 10th 1995. The day before Kim Batten would win the 400m Hurdles in a world record time the triple jump served up an electrifying competition in which all three medallists cleared 15m. Anna Biryukova, the world record holder before the competition, jumped just 1cm short of her best. She finished third. Iva Prandzheva in second would improve that record 9cm, but Inessa Kravets leap of 15.50m (a record that still stands at the time of writing) would topple them both.

Berlin, September 28th 2014. Dennis Kimetto becomes the first man to run a ratified marathon in under 2hrs 03 minutes improving the world record by 26 seconds. 16 seconds behind him Emmanuel Mutai, a fellow Kenyan, runs the second fastest IAAF ratified marathon of all time and finds himself second on the podium too.

This isn’t a new phenomenon however.  The era of hand-timing threw up similar results.

In the 400m at the Pan Am games in March 1955 Louis Jones beat Jim Lea. Both broke the previous WR.

In Dublin in 1958 Merv Lincoln finished second to Herb Elliot in an all-time classic 880 yards. Both broke the previous record held by Derek Ibbotson.

And further back, but still running two laps of the track, Douglas Lowe finished second to Otto Peltzer at the AAA Championships in 1926 both ducking under the previous best mark.

 

* * * * *

 

Some highlights from the ‘nearly did this but didn’t quite do this’ pile that my research threw up.

I know you love the raw scraps…

  • Carl Lewis jumped a wind-assisted 8.91m breaking Bob Beamon’s previous WR during the 1991 World Championship duel with Mike Powell that led to Powell’s humungous leap of 8.95m
  • In the heady period of 2014 where it looked like the men’s high jump record would finally fall Mutaz Essa Barshim jumped 2.42 meters in New York. Nobody other than WR holder Javier Sotomayor had ever jumped higher (though he had done so three times). Yet despite Sotomayor retiring many years earlier Barshim would only finish second that night to Bogdan Bondorenko who also cleared 2.42m with better count-back. Ouch.
  • At the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 Michael Johnson astonished the world with a 200m time many thought would never be beaten. While Johnson took the event to new heights that Bolt and Blake would later hunt down, Namibian legend Frankie Fredericks cruised to an otherwise startling 19.68 to win silver. For 17 years previous the WR had been held by Pietro Mennea at 19.72. Sadly for Fredericks, Michael Johnson had already reduced the WR to 19.66 a month earlier. but still: So close.
  • In 1978 a US 4x200m team broke the world record for the event despite finishing second. The winning team was made up of athletes from four different countries and, as such, could not be ratified by the IAAF. Guyana athlete James Gilkes was one of the athletes to miss out.
  • Carl Lewis (him again) held the 100m WR from September 1989 (though it was officially recognised from 1st Jan 1990) when Ben Johnson’s times were rescinded by the IAAF. He ran his 9.92 best, the new WR, coming second in the 1988 Olympic Final. At the time he had legally equalled Calvin Smith’s 9.93 1983 record twice while the record books were busy faffing about with Johnson’s juiced-up times.

How long could you keep it up?

100m breakdowns for the major world records

It’s only natural: you watch the exploits of the most successful athletes on the planet bombing round the track and think to yourself: “I wonder how long I could keep up with those steeplechasers?

The answer, almost certainly, is ‘not very long’. Although in the case of the steeplechase specifically it’s ‘about 80m’ before you’re left in the dust clambering over a barrier with the elegance of an expired eel.

As for the other races, detailed below is a table that shows the average pace for an average 100m during the world record performance for the core athletics events (i.e. the record time divided by the number of hundreds of meters in the race). The pace most people jog round the local park means they’re covering 100m in around 30 seconds. If you run a 4 hour marathon time, you’re looking at 34 seconds per 100m. A 3 hour 26 miles is around 25.5 seconds per 100m. That should give you some idea of these paces without actually having to get off the sofa.

If of course you’re the kind of person that actually has form running round the track then crack out the spikes, fire up the stopwatch and see if you can match any of these…

 

EVENTMen's TimesWomen's Times
100m9.58010.490
200m9.59510.670
Sprint Hurdles11.63612.200
400m10.75811.900
400m H11.69513.085
800m12.61414.160
1500m13.73316.434
3,000m Steeplechase15.78817.759
5,000m15.14717.023
10,000m15.77517.575
Marathon17.48319.256

The most striking detail seems to be that the time to cover a generic 100m distance in both the 110m and 400m hurdles for men took a very similar amount of time, something not remotely matched in the women’s equivalent or the flat races (obviously). Hurdles are democratising apparently if you’re running fast at them and possess a willy.

Other than that, it’s simply a monument to the incredible feats of our most loved and most accomplished athletes. Except the questionable records from the 80s, obviously, but then the record books are the record books…

You can of course also compare yourself to any of your favourite athletes times using a) Google and b) a calculator. Enjoy!

That’s not on the schedule

The weird and wonderful of the athletics world

If your usual exposure to athletics comes through either a) the 1992 Sega Master System classic ‘Olympic Gold’ or b) the televised major championships, then you’re severely limiting yourself.

The current Olympic programme has 24 events for the men, 23 for the women (they don’t do the 50km walk). The World Championships cover the exact same events and adds the three legged race for men and the egg and spoon race for women.

 

Eggstastic. But not actually an IAAF World Championships official event.

Beyond these classics however lies a rich world of alternative events that even a battle hardened athletic fan may not be aware of. Here’s a run down of some of the most joyous athletic jostling you may hitherto have missed…

 

* * * * *

Multievent Madness

You’re familiar with the Decathlon and the Heptathlon of course, the events that collect the embarrassingly talented together and then punish them for being so darn good. But they’re not the only multi-faceted events on offer for the truly committed athlete/masochist.

For those who are sturdy enough the Throws Pentathlon challenges them to the discus, the shot put, the hammer and the javelin combined with the less well travelled ‘weight throw’. It’s not an event acknowledged by the IAAF sadly, but it IS a core component of the World Masters Athletics Championships for athletes over 35 and pre-death.

For those who find the Decathlon a bit lightweight, let me introduce the Tetradecathlon and the Icosathlon. The former is, sadly, nothing to do with milk packaging but a 14 event slog. The latter is a frankly barbaric 20 events undertaken over just two days. Except when it’s undertaken over just one day (seriously) because, presumably, you can’t locate a local dominatrix.

It might not have escaped your notice that a 14 and 20 event competition are double versions of the Heptathlon and Decathlon. This is no error because that’s exactly what they’re meant to be. They are competed for by women and men respectively as part of the International Association for Ultra Multievents and they’re scored in a similar method to the multievents you’re more used to. You can pore over the whole sweat-inducing outline of each event through the links above.

 

Relays

I love a relay. Always have done. There’s something about the team spirit and the propensity for slap-stick comedy that can’t be matched by any other sporting endeavour. While the most common baton slips are reserved for the 4x100m and 4x400m varieties the increasing popularity of the World Relays held since 2014 in Nassau, Bahamas has thrust various other tasty team treats (I love alliteration nearly as much as I love relays) into the limelight.

Among these are the fairly pedestrian (for the purposes of this article at least) 4x200m and 4x800m along with a 4x1500m race the World Relays latterly replaced with the wonderful Distance Medley RelayThis event invites runners to canter round the track in legs of 1200m, 400m, 800m and 1600m in turn providing a giddy spectacle of speed and endurance usually reserved for a Sonic the Hedgehog marathon. It was rather sadly immediately replaced for the third edition of the World Relays by a mixed-gender 4x400m event — itself none too shabby — but since the IAAF determined the Distance Medley Relay to now be worthy of official world record status hopefully we’ll see a few more run in the future.

Similar to the DMR but rather more spritely is the so-called Swedish Relay (so called because you must use flat-pack batons). This race elongates as it goes offering legs of 100m, 200m, 300m and then 400m and is normally run in youth events including the World Youth Championships (PS. See also Sprint Medley Relays).

For those that prefer tarmac to track, the beautifully named Ekiden may be of interest. Named for a one-time Japanese post-horse service that delivered mail in stages, the Ekiden is a long-distance relay race with a lovely history. The first ‘ekiden’ was run in 1917 to celebrate the moving of Japan’s capital from Kyoto to its anagrammatic cousin Tokyo. The run covered 508km and lasted three days. These days national championships challenge Japanese school teams to cover a half-marathon (for teams of 5 girls) or the full marathon distance (for teams of 7 boys), but broadly there is no official format for what constitutes the race.

 

Yawn and you’ll miss it

If you follow the indoor athletics season as closely as the outdoor (no wind, blue tracks, minimal throwing) then you’ll no doubt enjoy a short sprint. 60m is the general distance, sometimes just 50m if the schedule is running late. But these races are positively drawn out when compared to the 30m world best held by Churandy Martina at a stunning 3.81 seconds. He did it against the clock. While being chased by dominos. As per.

 

Another swift-but-interesting race is the 150m. Often it is laid down as a duel between two athletes coming from 100m and 200m specialisms and seeks to lay to rest some argument about who’s faster or who has the nicest shoes. It hit the headlines in 1997 when the 1996 Olympic champions and recently crowned World Record holders Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson did battle for a $1m prize. Unusually for MJ however, this was something of a let down as he pulled up halfway through the race. More recently the 150m (run on a specially built straight rather on a traditional 400m track)  has been a fixture of the Manchester City Games and it was here that some bloke called Usain Bolt laid down the world best time of 14.35 which, if you do some funky calculator tricks (AKA maths) actually works out as faster than either his 100m or 200m times on an average-time-to-cover-each-meter basis (0.0958s for the 100m, 0.959 for the 200m yet only 0.956 for the 150m). Fancy that.

One more quicky comes not in running but in fact, in not running at all. The Standing Long Jump is well known to Olympic nerds as it was won on three of it’s four outings at the Games by Ray Ewry, the legendary American athlete who has as many Olympic Gold medals as Usain Bolt (that’s 8, after Bolt lost one thanks to Nesta Carter’s wayward ways). Ewry’s other medals were in the Standing Triple Jump and, of course, the Standing High Jump.

The Standing Long Jump has more modern interest however as it is still used as part of the NFL Combine, a series of physical and mental tests undertaken by those wanting to be a Dolphin, Seahawk or Packer (etc). The current world record was set during this event and stands at 3.73m.

 

Good value races

If you prefer your races long and a bit random, then this final section is just for you. First up I offer you the One Hour Run. A run that lasts for exactly one hour. Or an entire episode of Morse. The record for this race has been held over time by Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek (who snuck it over 20km) and currently, by Haile Gerbrselassie. So it’s got some esteem. It’s also worth noting that the current women’s One Hour Record is held by Ethipian Dire Tune, world class marathon runner and owner of one of the most wonderful names in sport whose English translation is ‘Mull of Kintyre’.

If one hour isn’t enough for you, then you might want to turn your sights to the world of ultramarathons (that’s any race longer than a marathon but shorter than the known history of man). There are 100km races, 48 hour races, races across continents, races through deserts and even, among all of that, races that sound quite fun.

To wrap this up, and if you’re not tired out already just reading this stuff, here’s an inspired look at the world of ultramarathons and the power of the human body. It’s a documentary (i.e. fact) about running (i.e. not walking, crawling or using a skidoo) the 222km La Ultra that’s held high in the Himalayas (i.e. where people sometimes die).

*Applause*