Ok, this is something I wanted to do for a long time – to rank all the world records in track & field according to their breakability, from the record most susceptible to breaking, which would be ranked lowest, to the most durable record, the most unlikely to be broken, which would be ranked, er… first? I guess so… Anyway, now, before the Olympic Games in Rio seems like a good timing to finally do it.
The ranking obviously represents an absolute and undeniable truth. It represents the record’s breakability – how much the record is breakable. It does not necessarily represents the record’s quality, although I assume there will be a nice correlation between these two traits. Making this ranking was not easy, and it underwent several changes. There’s a good chance that if now I were to start it from scratch – I would have gotten slightly different results.
I decided to make separate rankings for the women’s and men’s world records, because there are too many damn events in T&F. I’ll start with the women’s ranking and the next post will deal with the men’s. And speaking of events – I included only those 22 events that will be featured in the Olympics Games, so for instance you won’t find here the mile record. I also did not include all the walking events, because I don’t watch them and don’t really know anything about them.
I feel that the whole concept of the world record is truly amazing – that feeling that you know you’re doing something better than anyone has ever done it in history. Just WOW.
Without Freddy Adu, let’s go!
22) 100m Hurdles – 12.20 seconds (Kendra Harrison, 22.7.16) – The newest WR of them all really caused me some problems, because when I started making the rankings, Yordanka Donkova’s 1988 record (12.21 seconds) was still intact, and so I ranked it in 15th place, because I thought Kendra has the potential to break it, after she already ran 12.24 earlier this year. So here, she made it, broke this long-standing record, and might just break it again sometime in the future. Although it won’t happen in Rio because she’s not going to the Olympic Games. On the other hand, Brianna Rollins IS going, and after running a fantastic 12.26 in 2013, on a great day she can threaten the new record (this year she already ran 12.34).
21) Hammer Throw – 81.08m (Anita Wlodarczyk, 1.8.15) – The second most breakable record, in my opinion. The 30-year-old Wlodarczyk is dominating the hammer throw like a BDSM queen, and this is her 5th (!) world record in the event. This is a new record, less than a year old, and in 2016 she already had a throw of 80.26. Expect a new WR anytime now. Perhaps even in Rio.
20) 5,000m – 14:11.15 minutes (Tirunesh Dibaba, 6.6.08) – Although there are newer WR’s than this one, this record appears very low on the list because in the past two years we’ve seen several instances when runners came very close to this result. For instance, Genzebe Dibaba, who ran 14:15.41. But Almaz Ayana, who dared to “ruin” Genzebe’s beautiful story at the World Championships last year and won the 5,000 – came even closer. This year in Rome she ran 14:12.59. I’m sure we’ll see this record gets broken soon by Ayana, who is undoubtedly the best and the most consistent 5,000m runner in the past two years (although I also like Genzebe very much).
19) 3,000m Steeplechase – 8:58.81 minutes (Gulnara Galkina, 17.8.08) – A relatively new event for the women, which in fact for some reason entered the Olympic program only in Beijing. Galkina’s record is from that Beijing final, and actually I would have ranked it much higher if it weren’t for that über-surprising result in Eugene’s Diamond League, where we saw Ruth Jebet having the second ever run under 9 minutes. Jebet looks very promising, she’s only 19 years old, and there’s a decent chance that thanks to her and the competition with Hyvin Jepkemoi (who in that run set a PB of 9:00.01) we will get to see a new WR here in the near future.
18) Pole Vault – 5.06m (Yelena Isinbayeva, 28.8.09) – Isinbayeva is no longer the only woman to vault over 5m – Jenn Suhr vaulted 5.03m indoors this year alone. The thing with Suhr is that in contrast with the homophobic Isinbayeva – she is really not that consistent. But although she is already 34 years old she is still at the peak of her ability and can definitely break the WR on a very very good day.
17) 1,500m – 3:50.07 minutes (Genzebe Dibaba, 17.7.15) – This record is actually very fresh, but since Genzebe attained the goal she had in breaking the previous WR (which stood for almost 22 years) – I don’t see her pushing herself to her limits once again to break it anytime soon. There is no other runner that comes really close to this result, and still – if she wants to, Genzebe is definitely able to set a new WR.
16) 4x100m – 40.82 seconds (USA, 10.8.12) – A mind-fucking WR, which at the time felt like the women’s equivalent of Bob Beamon’s 8.90m long jump. In London, The USA relay team broke East Germany’s WR (which stood since 1985) by no less than 55 hundredths of a second – an unimaginable improvement, which was achieved thanks to superb baton exchanges and an otherworldly last leg run by Carmelita Jeter – 9.70 seconds, the fastest leg ever recorded. Since then the Jamaican relay team took over, and last year in Beijing they ran the 2nd fastest time evar – 41.07 seconds. With Elaine Thompson’s recent great improvement – perhaps they might threaten the WR soon.
15) 400m Hurdles – 52.34 seconds (Yuliya Pechonkina, 8.8.03) – This WR is weird. Melaine Walker kept getting closer and closer to this result and ran a PB of 52.42 at the Berlin World Championships (2009), but couldn’t improve more. And yet, the potential for breaking it still exists. I believe Zuzana Hejnova can do it, given that she returns to her peak form such as the one she showed in Moscow 2013, where she set a PB of 52.83. Zuzana – please return to THAT form! Another runner who can perhaps threaten the WR is USA’s Dalilah Muhammad, who this year ran 52.88 at the Olympic trials.
14) Triple Jump – 15.50m (Inessa Kravets, 10.8.95) – I feel that here there is a bit of a difficulty in predicting, because although Kravets’s WR stands for more than two decades, we HAVE seen jumpers who came close. Caterine Ibarguen, who dominates this event in the past 3 years, is the last of such jumpers, and aside from having tons of charisma and a simply beautiful jumping style she also owns a superb PB of 15.31m. With the right conditions (good wind, good competition) I feel that Caterine has a real chance of at least threatening the WR.
13) 200m – 21.34 seconds (Florence Griffith Joyner, 29.9.88) – One of Flo-Jo’s two mythical records, that still stand even after almost 30 years. We haven’t seen any results that really came close – Allyson Felix’s 21.69 was THE highlight in recent years, until last year at the World Championships two sprinters ran faster than Felix’s PB – Elaine Thompson (21.66) and Dafne Schippers (21.63). Considering Dafne and Elaine are both still only 24, there is a real chance they can come closer to Flo-Jo’s time.
12) Javelin Throw – 72.28m (Barbora Špotáková, 13.9.08) – The women’s Javelin Throw is having a real crisis. This record is relatively new and Spotakova still competes, but she is already 35 years old and she doesn’t reach these distances anymore. There are no throwers who get really close to this WR, and the second best thrower of all-time, Russian Mariya Abakumova, is suspended like her entire T&F team.
11) 800m – 1:53.28 minutes (Jarmila Kratochvilova, 26.7.83) – Track and Field’s oldest (!) WR (men or women) is 33 years old! And still, had I done this ranking in the Summer of 2008 it would have been ranked somewhere at the bottom, because Pamela Jelimo – the policewoman who shone so brightly in that year when she was merely 18 years old, crept closer and closer to the WR until she set a fantastic PB of 1:54.01 – the 3rd fastest time evar! But since then she succumbed to injuries and never looked the same. Caster Semenya, after all the mess that surrounded her, returned this year to her previous superb form, and improved her PB to 1:55.33, the 22nd fastest time evar. I don’t see anyone today capable of coming close to Kratochvilova’s time, but Semenya can perhaps close some of the gap.
10) 4x400m – 3:15.17 minutes (USSR, 1.10.88) – A very old record, but also one that I believe could have been broken by the USA quartet. Talent-wise they had it, but they fucked up the last two World Championships, where they won the silver medal. On the other hand, in London they won, and with the 5th fastest time ever – 3:16.87. At their peak, a quartet that includes Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross should have definitely threatened the WR, and indeed they were close. But now an injury at the American Olympic trials ended Sanya’s career and in my opinion shut the door on a potential breaking of the record, at least in Rio. But there’s always the chance that one of the newest faces – Phyliss Francis for instance, will step up her game and in the near future we could talk (albeit in a whisper, when we are alone in a room late at night) about a potential threat to the WR.
9) 100m – 10.49 seconds (Florence Griffith Joyner, 16.7.88) – A record that until recent times was considered totally unbreakable. It still kinda is, due to the fact that Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price, the greatest sprinter of the past decade, managed to run a PB of “merely” 10.70 seconds, but all of a sudden came Elaine Thompson and ran a 10.70 herself at the Jamaican Olympic trials. So the weight of expectations might be thrown upon her and Dafne Schippers’ shoulders, who might own a PB of “only” 10.81 seconds but one must remember that she is still only 24 (like Thompson).
8) High Jump – 2.09m (Stefka Kostadinova, 30.8.87) – Another WR that would have been ranked much lower, had I done this ranking in 2008. Blanka Vlasic hypnotized the track & field fans when she jumped 2.08m back then and burst into tears right afterwards. She had several attempts at 2.10m, and Anna Chicherova (a PB of 2.07m) had some too, but alas – they weren’t successful. Now those years are a distant memory and the women’s high jump is in a deep decline in recent years. This year it’s at its lowest, with many times jumps of less than 2m are enough to win serious contests. Unfortunately there is no jumper today that I can point to as having the potential to break the WR. Vlasic is very far from her past form and Chicherova – as it turns out – was caught for a doping offense.
7) Long Jump – 7.52m (Galina Chistyakova, 11.6.88) – No woman today is nearing Chistyakova’s mark. The most consistent jumper today – Spanovic, is regularly jumping around the 7m mark. Of course there is Brittney Reese, 3 time World Champion and the Olympic Champion, who is not as consistent but in the American Olympic trials jumped a new awesome PB of 7.31m. And yet I don’t see this WR getting broken by any present-day long jumper.
6) 10,000m – 29:31.78 minutes (Wang Junxia, 8.9.93) – The last one of the dubious Chinese records that were set in 93, when Chinese runners broke all the existing WR’s in the middle and long distances, and set new marks that took many years for the rest of the world to catch up. Most of the records were bettered since then, but this one still stands and so far no one is really nearing it. Tirunesh Dibaba and Meselech Melkamu set marks that were 20+ seconds from it, but still – every result that is faster than 30 minutes in this event is a colossal achievement nowadays. Perhaps Almaz Ayana will set a goal of breaking this WR, after getting that 5,000 WR (her PB: 30:07.00).
5) Marathon – 2:15:25 hours (Paula Radcliffe, 13.4.03) – This record by Radcliffe (whom I always didn’t like) was set in a mixed race, a.k.a. when she ran with male runners, and was a huge leap from the regular pace at which the marathon WR’s were set until then. Since that day the other runners try to close the gap, and it is closing slowly, albeit the emphasis is on “slowly” and not on “closing”. The fastest result by anyone not named Radcliffe is 2:18:37, by the Kenyan Mary Keitany from 2012. I see this gap shrinking in the years to come, but it will take a lot of time until it shrinks completely and a new WR is set – maybe even 20 years or so. Or perhaps someone as unique as Radcliffe will show up. I was hoping that this someone will be Tirunesh Dibaba, but so far she ran only one marathon, although it was a pretty good run (2:20:35).
4) Heptathlon – 7,291 points (Jackie Joyner-Kersee, 23-24.9.88) – There is no chance of anyone getting even close to this record anytime soon. Even the great Carolina Kluft was nowhere near it and had no real chance of threatening it (her PB – 7,032 points), and among the current heptathletes only Jessica Ennis-Hill came close to the 7,000 points barrier with that extraordinary performance in London (finished with 6,955 points). Jackie Joyner-Kersee was not only good+ in all 7 disciplines, she was world-class in the 100m hurdles and the 200m, with PB’s that would easily grant her an Olympic final today, and of course she was one of the two greatest long jumpers ever, with a PB that is only 3cm short of the WR. Perhaps if Schippers would have continued to develop her skillz in the heptathlon instead of switching to sprints…
3) 400m – 47.60 seconds (Marita Koch, 6.10.85) – A totally unbreakable WR. It gets only the 3rd place just because there is a theoretical chance that someone might get close to it: in 1996 the great Marie-Jose Perec ran 48.25 at the Olympic final in Atlanta, the 6th fastest time evar. But after Sanya Richards-Ross’s forced retirement there is no active runner with a PB below 49 seconds, and the closest ones are the Russian Antonina Krivoshapka (49.16) and Allyson Felix (49.26). I believe Felix can dip below 49 seconds, but not really get close to Koch’s time.
2) Shot Put – 22.63m (Natalya Lisovskaya, 7.6.87) – If the wondrous specimen that is Valery Adams couldn’t even get close to this WR, and her PB of 21.24m is only the 185th best result ever (and still the best mark of the 21st century) – there is absolutely no chance that we will get to see this WR get broken anytime in the near future, or perhaps even evar. Damn, the PEDs they had in the 80’s…
1) Discus Throw – 76.80m (Gabriele Reinsch, 9.7.88) – This truly mind-fucking WR is the greatest and the best WR there is in all of track & field, according to the scorebook of the IAAF. This is the mother of all outliers. Malcolm Gladwell should write a book dedicated to this WR alone. A record that is better than the 2nd best throw of all-time by 2.24m!
Just for the comparison – in the IAAF’s scorebook, how many points worth the 4 best records? Well, 4th place is 1351 points (Usain’s 200m WR), 3rd place is 1355 points (Jelezny’s Javelin WR), and 2nd place is 1356 points (Usain’s 100m WR). 1st place, which is Reinsch’s WR? 1382.5 points!!! I mean – come on, It’s not even close.
I have no problem to say that this WR will never be broken. The best discus thrower in recent years – the Crotatian Sandra Perkovic (who herself was suspended for doping violations in the past), owns a PB of 71.08m. It’s as far from Reinsch’s record as I am from writing for Bill Simmons’s website. But hey, it is what it is – you just can’t compete with the PED’s they had back then. Take a look at the all-time results’ list for this event – until you get to Perkovic’s mark at the 85th place, which was set in 2014, the earliest result you see is from 1992. Yup…
*Hey, come check out the men’s WRs rankings!
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