Want to promote your sport? Start with better statistics!

Did you know that Teddy Riner is undefeated since 2010 and riding a 144-match winning streak?

Do you know who Teddy Riner is and what sport he competes in?

You aren’t alone.

Riner, the French judoka who is the 2012 and 2016 Olympic heavyweight champion and a nine-time World Champion, now owns a 144-match winning streak after winning two world titles in 2017.

Although just 29, he’s taking it easy in 2018 and likely again in 2019 and so when he roars back to competition in 2020, who will remember him?

It will start with the sports statisticians, who will be the first to remind people of the historic achievements of the 6-8 giant from Guadeloupe. But as of today, you can’t find a salute to Riner on the International Judo Federation’s Web site; his biography doesn’t mention the win streak.

If you want to promote a sport, an athlete or an event, start with statistics. It’s utterly amazing to see how many federations, teams, agents and athletes miss this simple approach.

Those who have paid attention have often reaped remarkable dividends. For example, a sleepy event in track & field was transformed by one man who could not be beaten. Remember Edwin Moses? Yes, you certainly do.

Sure, he was the Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder in 1976 in the 400 m Hurdles in Montreal, but his unbeaten streak of 107 finals and 122 races in all from 1977-1987 made him a worldwide superstar. It’s not as well known or appreciated that he won 23 of his next 24 races, giving him 145 wins in 147 races between 1977-88.

But now you know.

The same situation happened in 2017-18 in the women’s high jump, as Russian Mariya Lasitskene won 45 meets in a row. No one paid too much attention until she started piling up the wins, but she’s a lot better known now.

Sports can use statistics to create new angles for appreciating a performance, an athlete or an event. The clear leader among the international federations for this is the IAAF for track & field, which devotes an enormous amount of time and resources to records, historical lists, lists of best marks by year, by continent and by age.

Let’s take just the men’s 100 m, about the most basic event there is. The IAAF site lists the top 4,941 performers in 2018, from American Ronnie Baker’s world-leading 9.87 to everyone who has run 11.00 this season! Wow! You can also filter the list to provide just the best mark for an athlete, or all of an athlete’s marks.

So for Baker, you can see that he has the best mark in the world for 2018, but also that he has run five of the top eight times this season.

This is especially important in the all-time lists, where, for example, in the women’s heptathlon, Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA) has the top six performances of all time. The IAAF has this for men and women, indoor and outdoor, plus numerous sets of records.

Moreover, in addition to the IAAF, there are independent groups which provide databases of track & field statistics, like the Finnish site Tilastopaja.eu, which has some free statistics and a much deeper subscription service with access to deep biographies and even stats on head-to-head competitions between two athletes!

One federation which would very much benefit from this kind of depth in statistics in FINA, which includes swimming. Just as in track & field, there are performers and performances, short course (25 m) pools and long course (50 m) statistics.

But FINA’s approach has been minimalist, to say the least. It has a well-maintained “world rankings” service which offers up the lists of best performers for any recent year, but it does not include an easy way to get an all-time list – you have to specify the years you want surveyed – or any way at all to get a list that includes more than one performance per athlete.

So, per the FINA site, there’s no way to tell how many of the top 10 or 20 times in history have been swum by Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) in the 100 m Freestyle or 100 m Fly, or how many of the top 20 times in history are owned by Adam Peaty (GBR) in the 100 m Breaststroke, or in any of the women’s Freestyle distance events by American Katie Ledecky?

With the 2019 World Championships and the 2020 Tokyo Games coming, wouldn’t this be good information to have to promote swimming’s superstars?

FINA can benefit by doing more, but at least it has some statistics online. Other federations miss the boat entirely, and more statistics – while not an end in itself – can create stories that can help promote their sport. You can count on that.

Rich Perelman
Editor

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