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March 29, 2018

How do the world’s track and field national teams stack up?

Jesse Squire’s Thursday Morning Trackstravaganza and Field Frenzy runs every Thursday morning at Citius Mag. You can follow him on Twitter at @tracksuperfan. (Editor’s note: Apologies for the late post today!)

What are the world’s best track and field nations? How should we look at various ways to evaluate national team performance? What is considered “success” at various competitive levels? These are the things I think about sometimes, and I’ve come up with a way of answering that question: by separating nations into various divisions, complete with annual promotion and relegation (in the style of world soccer).

The idea is fairly simple: total up results at the World Championships or Olympic Games, along with the other IAAF World Series events: the championships of indoor, cross country, half marathon, racewalking, and relays, plus the Diamond League. With the World Half Marathon Championships just completed, I thought it was time to roll this out.


These are the elite nations in track and field, and so it’s a very small group of four. At the end of each year one nation will be relegated to and promoted from the First Division. China looks like the team to be relegated, but they’ll likely rack up big points at the World Racewalking Championships in May and might put Great Britain on the hot seat.

The various World Championships that go into these standings are biennial affairs; the World Outdoor, Cross Country, and Relay points on the table are all from last year, and this year’s World Indoor, Half Marathon, and Racewalking points will carry over to next year as well.

Medals are all that matters at this level and that’s all that go into the standings: three points for a gold, two for a silver, one for a bronze. It’s one point per win in Diamond League competition (two points at the finals in Zurich and Brussels). The asterisk indicates that the Hammer Throw and Combined Event Challenges and World Marathon Majors are also included in this category, which is how Kenya already has a win (from February’s Tokyo Marathon).


There are eight nations in this division. At the end of this season, two teams will be relegated to and promoted from the Second Division. Scoring is different here because the expectations are different; getting a finalist in a major championship is a notable accomplishment for nations at this competitive level. The medal scoring above is added to the 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 “Points Standings” that the IAAF keeps. 4-2-1 scoring is used in Diamond League and other similar competition, as the DL used to use for several years.

Ethiopia has a lead right now for promotion to the Superpower Division, but Poland may be able to catch up. The Poles utterly dominated the hammer throw challenge last year and that event alone might put them over the top. It appears that the two the relegated nations will come from the Netherlands, South Africa, and the Czech Republic, but which of the three will save themselves is very much up in the air.


This consists of a dozen nations here. Canada and Bahrain are the leading candidates for promotion to the First Division at the end of 2018. It’s remarkable that nations as small as Trinidad and Tobago (population 1.35 million) and The Bahamas (population 391,000) are not only in this division but have a more than decent chance to stay in it.

Scoring in this division is a modified version of the IAAF points standings, one that awards points all the way down to 16th place. Scoring in Diamond League and similar competition is the 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 system that the DL currently uses.

The bottom four nations will be relegated to their respective continental divisions and replaced by the champions of the African Division, European Division, Americas Division, and Asia/Pacific Division.


In addition to the Second Division scoring systems, the eight-place points scoring is included for the upcoming African Athletics Championships and the recent African Cross Country Championships. Uganda picked up big points there, but the track championships this summer will likely determine the winner who gets to move up to the Second Division.


Like the African Division, scoring includes the upcoming European Athletics Championships and December’s European Cross Country Championships, but also includes last year’s European Indoor Championships. Sweden’s lead appears insurmountable and should join the Second Division next year.


This gets a bit more complicated. There just aren’t enough nations in this part of the world to have two different divisions for North America and South America, so I’ve combined them. That makes scoring a continental championships a bit difficult. While there was a Pan-American Cross Country Championships last month, there won’t be one for track and field until next year. What I’ve decided to do is to combine the South American Athletics Championships (held last June) and the inagural NACAC Championships (to be held this August) by comparing marks from the two championships.


As with the Americas Division above, I will combine results of last July’s Asian Athletics Championships with the results of Pacific nations in the upcoming Commonwealth Games. That doesn’t include every nation in the Oceanic Athletics Association, but all of the ones who are even remotely competitive.

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