The 2021 T&FN World Rankings

Our eager-beaver first attempt at World Rankings many decades ago featured a 1-time experiment with a 20-deep format.

WELCOME TO edition No. 74 of the Track & Field News World Rankings. Our Rankings made their debut by chronicling the ’47 season in the magazine’s first-ever edition, February ’48. Why is the math off here? Circumstances being what they are, we felt forced to react to the severely compromised pandemic year of ’20 by not doing any Rankings. In retrospect, it’s not a decision we regret.

The whole purpose of our Top 10 ratings since their inception has been to establish relative merit for the entire calendar year in question. The Rankings are not reflective of how the compilers feel athletes would finish in any kind of idealized competition. Ergo, the “best” athlete isn’t always No. 1.

A frequently asked question we get is, “How did the voting go in the World Rankings this year?” Unlike the process for choosing the Athletes Of The Year, there is no “voting.” Our Rankers use an involved process of argu­mentation to arrive at their decisions, so it’s not possible to say that Lamont Marcell Jacobs beat Fred Kerley by some specific point total in the 100.

Our 3 Ranking Criteria

Under our system, athletes are judged on 3 weighted criteria. The all-encompassing factors, in order of importance:

1. Honors Won
This means scoring high placings (with emphasis on actually winning) in major international competitions. For ’21, the major emphasis was of course placed on the Olympic Games, then the 12 meets (down from a scheduled 14) of WA’s Wanda Diamond League (DL).

WA’s Continental Tour (CT) meets were generally on a lower scale. WA divides the CT meets into Gold, Silver & Bronze levels. We give a “CT” notation to only the Gold meets, citing the two lower levels by host-city name only.

In the non-DL events—hammer, walks and multis—the WA Challenge Series meets are given extra consideration.

In field-event disciplines where it is relevant, the indoor season packs some weight. For the marathons, the WMM series races are of prime import. The only road performances which are considered are those in the marathon and 20K & 50K walks.

It should also be noted that the importance of a meet is relative to who competes in it, not how much stock an athlete or their fans might place in it, so not every DL meet is given equal weighting. The DL Final competitions have higher value. And all events are not created equal within a given meet. As important as major meets are, we should also note that no competition, not even the Olympic Games, is the be-all, end-all. We’re looking for people who maintain high standards over a whole year.

2. Win-Loss Record
Simply put, this is an analysis of how athletes fared in head-to-head competition with their peers. But a win in a major competition might outweigh losses to the same person in a multiple number of minor ones. Overall win-loss sequence against all Ranking contenders is also factored in. (Note: in the DL meets we ignored the official system of using final-round marks to determine placings in the throws and horizontal jumps, instead relying on traditional protocol.)

3. Sequence Of Marks
More concisely, performances. How fast you ran or how high or far you jumped or how far you threw something. Typically, the compilers weigh athletes based on the average of their 5 best performances. It’s very easy for the casual observer—and most athletes and coaches—to place the most consideration on this last factor, when in fact our methodology says it should be the opposite. Thus, in our system marks are worth much less than either of the other two categories.

Honors alone can outweigh the other two criteria. We reward people who have proven them­selves against other athletes, not against themselves. Having said that, given the reduced number of significant head-to-head meetings in the ’21 season, marks took on added significance, much as we hated to do it.

Nothing But The Facts

A quickie guide to the actual Rankings material as it appears in the digital version, which is the fullest presentation of our material:

The Top 10 in the World are listed in each event, with their birthdate/height/weight. Now that we’re primarily in the electrons-are-free digital world you get complete seasons for everyone. Note that 2 more columns are available in the digital version, providing not only the dates of the marks but also data on to whom the athlete lost in non-winning efforts. These columns are linked in the PDF version, but are not available in the ink & paper option.

The Top 10 in the U.S. follow, with those who are also in the World Rankings indicated by an asterisk. It is important to note that the U.S. Rankings follow the order of the World where they overlap. There are now links with each event to the Top 50 yearly lists for both the World and U.S.

Who Done It?

Our World Rankings Panel—a wide-ranging bunch representing four different nationalities—likes to maintain a low profile, but credit (blame?) should be given where it is due. The current team is Garry Hill, Richard Hymans, Dave Johnson, Nejat Kök & Jonathan Berenbom. Shawn Price & Glen McMicken tackled the U.S. Rankings. Sieg Lindstrom chipped in with guidance on the road events.

Choices In Viewing The Rankings

And now, please enjoy the ’21 Rankings.

Clicking here will take you to a page listing all the World Men’s No. 1s, presented as links to each event’s full detail.

Clicking here will take you to a page listing all the World Women’s No. 1s. (coming soon) ◻︎