By Matt Barbini//National Team High Performance Consultant
Here at the National Team one of the methods we are starting to use to evaluate past performances and compare them with our current developmental athletes is to look at times as a percentage of the world record.
This method, borrowed in part from the renowned Australian coach and performance director Bill Sweetenham, is an objective way to compare performances across eras and events and can be a valuable tool for coaches to chart the progress of their athletes with an eye towards their long term goals.
Check out the charts below to see how our Olympic medalists from 2004, 2008, and 2012 (combined) have compared to the current world records in their medal events at each age during their progression.
Men – Medalists* Percentage of World Record by Age:
Women – Medalists* Percentage of World Record by Age:
As you can see, on average, after a big jump from age 13 to 14, our medalists’ progress towards the world record gradually year by year peaking at age 23 (98.95%) for the men and 24 (97.97%) for the women. Unsurprisingly, at younger ages our female medalists are ahead of the men when compared to the world record. They are about even through the late teens and early twenties, and the men hold higher percentages through the late twenties and early thirties.
That being said, one of the things that I’ve learned in studying this evaluative measure is that it is best used as a part of larger system of developmental tracking and research. As with most methods there are outliers and substantial individual variance. Thus, any hard and fast rule based on these percentages would be exclusionary and likely lead to diminished effectiveness. However, when used as a general guideline this method can be applied to any standard (local record, NAG records, etc.) and used as an objective measure to track athlete progression. To see this information broken down by each Olympic Games please click HERE.
*Medalists = Individual and finals relay medalists