FALSE START #G - JULY 2005 by David E. Ortman

AGE GRADED WHAT?

Sometime, perhaps even soon, we may be able to order a complete set of the new revised age-graded factor/tables. Most master track and fielders are aware of the age-graded factor/tables but chances are they have no first hand experience. But then, why should they when Masters Track & Field itself makes virtually no use of them during competition. (It has been pointed out that age-graded results are used by the Masters Award Committee to select the outstanding master athletes of the year because it does allow for comparisons of results between events.)

In other words, for all the blood, sweat and tears that go into devising and refining the age-graded factor/tables, they might as well not exist. (The age-graded tables provide age factors which are used to calculate a percentage of an open world record mark.)

First of all, they play no role in masters track and field individual events. It is true that results posted at the Masters National Meets often show the age-factor percentage (National Masters News prints National Indoor Championship results with age-graded percentages but not for the Outdoor Championship). If age-grading meant something then in the W40 200m at the 2004 National Indoor Meet the 41 year old runner who ran 27.53 (83.1%) had the superior performance over the 40 year old runner who won in 27.37 (82.6%).

One could argue that the age-graded tables are used in the multi-events such as the Pentathlon, Heptathlon, and Decathlon. The age-factors convert the actual marks to a comparable percentage of the open marks which are then multiplied by the points per mark for each event. But you don't need the age-graded tables for multi-events. The real marks could be used, it would just reflect a much lower total actual score, but you would certainly know who came in first, second and third.

The only real use of the age-graded tables is when you have an age-graded race. This can take the form of either a same-distance race like the age-graded mile at the Hayward Classic each year. The winner is the runner with the best age-graded time. Or you can use the age-graded tables to run a distance handicapped race in the 100, 200 and 400 and/or time handicaps in races from 800 meters up.

Perhaps one reason distance handicapped races (where each runner starts at a different spot on the track depending on their age) are not seen more often is that such times are useless for ranking purposes. Still it would make a stirring open exhibition event if you had eight runners in the 400m from 40-70 years with each runner starting according to their age. Theoretically, all the runners should be coming across the finish line at approximately the same time, a real crowd pleaser.

Time handicaps, however, require runners to run the entire distance, with older runners going first and younger faster runners going later. While electronic timing is not possible with this system, handtiming is acceptable for races 800m and beyond.

There remains a number of fundamental problems with the age-graded concept. The first one stems from the fact that masters are run in five-year age groups. It doesn't take a master long to figure out how unfair this system is. You don't make a 40 year old run against a 36 year old, but you do make a 44 year old run against a 40 year old. Same four year difference, but the fact is at 40 you don't have to run against anyone younger, while at 44 you do. That's not fair. In high school and college freshman didn't stand much of a chance completing against seniors and that's what we have in reverse. Every five years, say at 55, you are a senior and the "youngest", strongest and most clever in your age group. Four years later, at 59, you're down to being a whimpy freshman watching all the "young folks" move into your age group. So ideally, each year class should have its own competition, but we obviously can't afford that.

We could use the age-graded tables to award first place based on the best age-graded performance in an age-group. For example, a 54 year old might have a slower time, but better performance than a winning 51 year old. That at least would award the best age-graded performance if you are going to run five year age groups. But it still wouldn't correct the problem of when a 54 year old can win the M50 division even if a 55 year old has a better mark in the M55. Or where a 55 year old can win the M55 division with a much slower time than a 54 year old, but could not do so as a 56 year old with a slower time than a 55 year old.

Page four of the 1994 age-graded tables give a solution and a purpose for the tables, namely, "Using age-grading, 'full fields' are virtually assured in every event, because everyone can mathematically compete in the same 'division.' In a track meet, three quality medals can be awarded per event, just as in open competition, rather than three mediocre medals for each five-year age group per event."

All right, we are not likely to give up the five-year age groups, nor are we likely to give up age-group event medals. Here is an alternative:

Age grade all marks by year. Give a monetary award to the top three age-graded marks in each event. At $50 for 1st, $30 for 2nd, and $20 for 3rd ($100 per event), nineteen events (100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, 5K, 10K, SH, LH, SC, LJ, TJ, HJ, PV, DIS, SP, JAV, HT, PENT) would require $1,900. But it would dramatically increase interest in the age-graded tables and increase respect for both women's marks and older age year marks.

Using the 2004 Indoor Championships results (May 2004 NMN, because NMN doesn't print the age-graded percentages for the Outdoor Championships) here are some examples:

400m
M75   Earl Fee  	1:06.28    98.0%
M85   Roderick Parker  	1:25.14    96.3%
M40   Sunder Nix	   50.42   93.5%

3000m
W50   Kathryn Martin	10:23.84   93.7%
M40   Chris Chisholm	8:48.27    89.4%
M65   Thom Weddle	 10:51.13  88.9%

Long Jump
M70   James Stookey    	      4.55m    92.6%
M80   Ralph Maxwell	      2.54m    88.2%
M40   Aaron Sampson           6.79m    86.3%

Now, doesn't that make the age-graded tables a bit more interesting?

(c) Copyright 2005, David E. Ortman


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