The Best Track & Field Team in the World
Team USA’s strong performance at the 2011 IAAF World Championships cements America’s claim that we have the best overall track & field team in the world. There were some disappointments, like the fall in the men’s 4X100, getting no one on the medal stand in the men’s shot put for the first time in twenty years, and despite high expectations, having a best finish of only sixth place in the men’s 400 hurdles.
In terms of the medal count, Team USA won 25 medals, twelve of them gold. That bettered the 2009 performance in Berlin that saw the USA win 22 medals, ten of them gold and was just a tad behind the 2007 performance in Osaka that saw the USA win 26 medals, fourteen of them gold.
However, as any coach will tell you, the strength of an overall team is based on not just your athletes who win medals, but also those who make the final. Using a scoring system like the NCAA Championships, with 10 points for first, 8 points for second, 6 for third, 5 for fourth, 4 for fifth, 3 for sixth, 2 for seventh, and 1 for eight, I scored the 2011 World Championships. The top eight countries were:
2. Russia, 223
3. Kenya, 194
4. Jamaica, 113
5. Germany, 89
7. Ethiopia, 69
8. China, 65.5
Again, Team USA lives up to the billing as the best team in the world. See scoring table for all the statistics (2011 World Champs Results Table_country scoring).
Some countries are strong in certain subsections of the sport but are not strong in others. Jamaica, for example scored 111 out of their 113 points in the sprints events (100, 200, 400, 110/100 hurdles, 400 hurdles, 4X100, and 4X400). Germany scored all of their 89 points in the field events (high jump, pole vault, long jump, triple jump, shot put, discus, hammer, javelin, decathlon/heptathlon). Kenya was actually the best team in the distance events (800, 1500, 5000, 10,000, 3000 steeplechase, and marathon) by a wide margin. But those were almost the only events they scored in (191 out of their 194 points came in the distance events). Ethiopia’s 69 points were good to make them the second best distance nation in the world. But again, those were the only events Ethiopia scored in. I am a little biased against race walking because it’s not a particularly high profile sport in the US. Despite scoring no points in race walking, Team USA won the scoring competition. Russia and China, meanwhile, improved their point totals with big points in the race walking. Russia scored 56 points (25% of their points) in race walking and China got 23 points (35%). Russia is the country closest to the USA in terms of being good in many different events. However, it’s worth noting that the Russian women outscore the Russian men almost two-to-one and eleven of their thirteen non-race walking medals came from the women.
Team USA had strong numbers of medal winners and point scorers in all event subsections except race walking. The point balance between USA men and USA women was virtually fifty-fifty. Team USA was particularly strong in the sprint, outscoring all other countries in these events, including the Jamaicans. There is a lot of talk that the Jamaicans are a better sprint country than the USA, but at the 2011 World Championships the USA sprinters won 14 medals (six gold) compared to Jamaica’s 9 medals (four gold). Team USA even outscored the German men in the men’s field events. USA men’s distance held their own behind Kenya and Ethiopia. And the USA women’s distance and women’s field, although not scoring a lot of points, did not get shut out either.
One reason for this is that the USA has strong athletes in almost all of the events. Team USA had 129 athletes (66 men and 63 women) entered in the meet, by far the largest team. Russia was second with 83. Even Great Britain, the only other country besides the USA and Russia to have athletes score in all the event subsections (not counting race walking), had 67 athletes, 62 less than Team USA. Some countries are only able to get one or two athletes to achieve the necessary standards to qualify for the meet. It certainly speaks to the strength and depth in USA track & field that our country can qualify so many quality athletes for the World Championships. Before a team can be the best in the world, you first have to get athletes in all the events qualified for the World Championships.