January 2006
WORLD RECORDS. Is there anything more important to track & field than the ultimate level of performance in each event? As the year wound down, I attended the annual meeting of the IAAF Press Commission, where a couple of dozen track-oriented journalists from around the world discussed a variety of topics. When the issue of “Should there be a new set of World Records?” was raised, the reaction was potent—potent, but almost unanimously against, and it all boils down to the sport’s nemesis, drugs.

Given how important World Records are to the health of the sport—I’m one who despite openly embracing the competition-is-so-important ethic remains convinced that WRs are the true lifeblood—I would have expected there to be stronger support for the position that yes, indeed, new WRs are needed. But, drug concerns loom.

The first argument against change is that if you start over, you are unfairly damning all those replaced WR holders as drug users. Otherwise, people will ask, why are you taking the marks away? The other position is that we still haven’t reached a position—as the BALCO scandal shows—where we know we’re catching everybody, so there would be people on the “new WR” list who were also dirty.

Both arguments have merit. My rebuttal is contingent upon two things, even though the boat has probably sailed on the first, which is that the IAAF simply should have taken the simple step of adopting “new-millennium records” when the century changed (see sidebar for best individual marks in the major events since ’00). That concept could have been sold to the public relatively easily. My other contingency is that the old records not be simply thrown away, simply retained as a different set.

While there are certainly some “bad” WRs in place, there are also good ones that will last a long time. I fear that by not starting a new set, when we get another dozen years down the road and basically all the WRs are still in place, the innocent will begin to be condemned anyway, and that does the sport no good.

As to the cheaters still being ahead of the testers, that may be true, but the one thing that’s in place now that wasn’t in place when many/most of the WRs were set is true out-of-competition testing. That was the big step needed to bring performances back in line, and it’s working.

So color me as one of those who would vote not just for a new set, but for a “modern” set to run side by side with the existing ones. Did you realize that other than in newly created events the women haven’t set one since the ’90s started? Or that in 2000—an Olympic year no less—men didn’t set any WRs for the first time since 1907? We don’t need more years like that.