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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Totally Transparent Handicapping - do we want it?

Totally Transparent Handicapping - do we want it?

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ProTrack A Grader
ProTrack A Grader
I come from a mis-spent youth where I sat in smokey rooms and played chess for money.

In the chess world, there is a ratings system which is totally transparent - all the formulae are published, all the results are published, anyone can check the arithmetic that determines their rating from their results ...

The chess equivalent of a handicapper (a ratings officer) has an easy job in this world of cheap fast computers - put in the results, run off the new ratings list.

I reckon it is time for pro running to get into the 21st century on this.

Why not the SAAL first?

What do people think about the idea of making handicapping totally transparent?

I reckon there will need to be a system for qualifying results (so that results classified as dodgy do not affect the ratings used to derive handicaps) - this is very messy now as evidenced by recent exchanges between athletes, coaches, officials and the public.

Maybe people could appeal if they are stuck with a dodgy run charge?

There are details to work out, but the sport needs this change, I reckon.


ProTrack A Grader
ProTrack A Grader
March Hare said:
"Interesting subject stokesy. In the VAL we have an attempt at a transparent system. I think the problem with having a transparent system is that the method of manipulating the system is also clear. what do others think? Should this subject be in the general section?"

Yes, now it is in the General Section.

I wonder what are the workings of the VAL system?

While we are waiting for March Hare to tell us more...

I ask myself...

I imagine a defined process, with rules (or algorithms or formulae or whatever you want to call them) that are published (and are subject to review and change for continuous improvement purposes).

A computer program gets made and working somehow ... then the handicapper has a new calculating tool which can be fed a long list of performances for a long list of people (for a bunch of categories and race distances) ...

Somehow the handicapper makes decisions as to "dodgy runs" and as to "adjustment factors" - it would be good to develop and publish rules for this, but the handicapper has the discretion to make the call when needed.

The "adjustment factors" might be for comparing a tail wind situation with a head wind situation, all that sort of stuff that affects every athlete in a race.

The "dodgy run declaration" affects an individual runner in an individual event, meaning that the one particular performance (that "dodgy run") will not be used for handicapping purposes.

Maybe you can pay a fee and make an appeal to get a "dodgy run declaration" reviewed somehow.

All the handicappers' decisions as to "dodgy runs" and as to "adjustment factors" are published.

All the decisions as to appeals are published.

That's the general outline, as I see it.

Hopefully the handicappers would get to do a better job faster with less arguments (or lobbying or whatever you want to call it).

runon SA

lets face it Stokesy, the handicap system is in place so that if you around long enough and run often enough you will have a win ,and those are the facts.

Mr T

How long is long enough though?

March hare

The VAL has their system published on the web page for everyone to see. Totally transparent, discretionary adjustments not included.
Sorry MOB, I don't want to take cheap shots at handicappers. what I am saying is that when the system is spelled out, the way to fiddle the system is also spelled out. E.g if you are pegged back to recent PBs, don't run on fast tracks. The system doesn't achieve it's stated aim, if you run often and run hard you will be pegged back at the start of each season. It's still pro running, and you still have to beat the handicapper. I was just as happy when I had no idea how the hell they came up with the marks they did. now you just feel aggrieved when discretionary adjustments are made outside of the system, 2/3 of the runners are considered OGA as well as runners from interstate.


ProTrack A Grader
ProTrack A Grader

Thanks March Hare ... what a lot of acronyms and a bunch of complicated stuff with a lot of loopholes ... not exactly transparent, but there are some easy clues and maybe a few weeks of analysis would give a few more clues ...

I see the VAL system as a try, but not a very good try ... transparency requires understandability which requires simplicity ... and a minimum number of loopholes (the discretionary decisions) ... basically I want to see a minimum amount of mysterious personal decisions by the handicapper.

In terms of the VAL model, "dodgy run declarations" are UPs (Unacceptable Performances where the handicapper judges that you have run with the handbrake on or you were running injured).

Also there are "a little bit dodgy run declarations" called NAPs (Non Acceptable Performances) which are different from UPs ...
I do not understand this yet ...
it seems complicated ... and all this alphabet soup makes me feel bad ...

It seems to be that your mark is notionally set based on your best time (or the average of your two best times) for any particular event. Results from 5 years or longer back are not counted.

There is something called a Start Time which is the "target best time" for each event - there is a 13.2 seconds "target best time" for the 120m for veterans (over35s) so when I ran quicker than this at Hectorville the commentator got excited (and I know that I will get to run further this season).

So your mark is set so that if you run at your recent historical personal best, you will run exactly the "target best time" (on a standard track in standard conditions).

Then a bunch of adjustments get made ... many of these seem complicated and mysterious, but some are simple and clear (like adjusting from synthetic tracks to grass tracks).

Maybe I am being unrealistic, but the chess ratings system just works really well and has done for years ... there are differences between competitive chess and handicap running, but the basic ideas seem likely to transfer okay.

I will think about it, maybe I will try to understand the VAL system better ... Whatever, I have already learned a bit and have a clearer idea what the challenges are ...

Thanks March Hare for the pointer to the VAL handicapping guidelines.

And thanks to the handicappers who do what seems to be a very challenging job.


ProTrack Star
ProTrack Star
At least Stokesy you are trying to unravel the process that involves arriving at your mark.
Bit different to the Stokesy that spat the chewy out when he began pro running and didnt understand the process of handicapping.
Full marks for staying in the game and trying to understand what no one else does except the REAL PROs.At least you are asking questions to find out.
Keep running fast because you add that bit of flair that everyone likes to see.


ProTrack Star
ProTrack Star
Stokesy, great that you've taken the time to read and try to understand the VAL system. Whilst far from perfect the VAL system provides a pretty solid framework to handicap from and for the most part provides transparency. Whilst it still allows for the use of handicapper discretion, the handicapper must generally apply to the Handicap Review Panel to justify the use of that discretion. Any system still needs to have an avenue for the handicapper to use a small level of discretion as there are certainly times when it is warranted.
The biggest issue of any handicapping system is the role played by Stewards in assessing how 'genuine' a performance is. Under total discretionary handicapping the Stewards have a tough job but when you have a tick system like the VAL their job is crucial. Unfortunately the greatest failure in the VAL system over the past 10 years has been the lack of a quality chief steward, although it looks like they might have it right this season.
The biggest problem with the VAL system is that too many runners are considered OGA and therefore sit outside the system.

9 Go faster and faster on Fri Nov 18, 2011 9:42 am


ProTrack A Grader
ProTrack A Grader
hey Whispers, a bit off topic but thanks for the feedback. I have sorted out a lot of things. And I still have plenty more things to sort out. Thanks to a lot of training and good advice, I am running faster and faster with improved fitness and improved technique. And as I do more races, I get used to the tension and maybe the tension is a bit less.

And the key is running faster and faster - the young people do it as they come up through the ranks, older people like me do it by taking personal control of their health and fitness.

Over the last 20 years I have invested heaps of time and money to get healthy and get fit, after spending twenty years doing lots of wrong things like smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol and not eating well and not exercising much ... so I had a low base to work from.

In my early SAAL times, I was well behind the field, constantly dealing with back pain and poor technique and fitness issues.

A year ago, I was competitive when I came back to SAAL after a couple of years of continuous training. By the end of last summer, the hot weather loosened my muscles enough so that I ran big personal bests at Hectorville and Loxton.

Now I have to race against those best times ...

If I can improve my times again this year, then maybe I will get on a podium again and maybe even win another sash - but regardless, I am a big winner with health and fitness.

My thanks to all the SAAL mob.


ProTrack A Grader
ProTrack A Grader
Good to see an interesting and reasonable discussion on the merits of a structured handicapping system. I'm happy to contribute on the understanding it stays that way.

As a statistical nut I would love nothing better than a "fixed" system such as the chess rating system referred to above, but after 5 years in the hot seat I can assure you in the game of Pro running it is not possible.

For races such as the Stawell select 1600, which is predominantly ammos with national level PBs, a fixed ratings system works well - and the result is great races. For your normal Pro races, any system has to be very flexible to cater for the many varied streams that athletes come from.

Lets compare a few scenarios. Athlete A is a quality dual registered runner with a solid PB on tartan, achieved with a legal tail wind in top competition. Athlete B is a "Pro only" athlete with an astute Pro coach that normally manages to find a couple of metres for the big meets. Athlete C has a strong Pro history, but has moved into his 30s and is battling to hold previous ratings. Athlete D is an 18 year old "footballer" with no real form to his name, but looks the goods. Athlete E is a beach sprinter from QLD with a PB from his school days and not much form since.

The only way you are going to be able to line these athletes up is by having a system that provides some flexibility.

The VAL system is not perfect and I firmly believe it is impossible to "legislate" and lock in a fixed system. But it is a decent set of guidelines that is being reviewed and improved each year.

It promotes & rewards participation but also allows interstate and dual registered athletes to be competitive.

Finally just to respond to the point made re OGA athletes being outside the system, that is in fact incorrect. They are within the system, just assessed differently as they have a limited history. Statistically the best way to enjoy success in the VAL is to be established in that event. As an example at the start of the season, established atheltes are mostly on or very close to the start time. OGA athletes (havent establised a recent and solid history over the distance) tend not to be. Whilst the aim is to gradually move them to a competitive position, the more they compete the quicker that will happen.

Hope this helps, guys. Cheers.


ProTrack A Grader
ProTrack A Grader
hey MOB thanks for the insights.

As you say, the handicapper position is a "hot seat". I reckon you need all the help you can get.

One point stands out for me - you say flexibility will always be needed, to handle a wide range of different athlete situations.

I think flexibility is not quite the right word.

I am inclined to say that detailed data analysis and processing would allow a "fixed" system that handles a wide range of different athlete situations automatically.

The handicapper's "manual over ride" would be available, but would be used far less frequently than now (and totally in the open).

It seems to be that at the moment the main data stored is a couple of best times (per person per event) ... there is a mine of information waiting in the discarded events ... the UPs and NAPs and so forth seem part of the way towards using more of this information.

So I suggest that there is room to expand the data collection and processing to cover a full range of athlete scenarios - the VAL current guidelines seem to address only some of the scenarios that you give as examples.

I accept that sometimes you must make a guess based on limited information, but I reckon that that guess can still be the result of a "fixed" system which is transparent and repeats the same result every time (until when and if the rules get tweaked again).

Best wishes.

12 Everything is stored on Fri Nov 18, 2011 8:36 pm

March hare

Check the search results link on the Val home page stokesy, everything is stored. Goes back as far as 04/05 season. MOB has a lot of info at his fingertips. Gets it right most of the time. Still seems some are favored at times.

Sandwich Hand

Less rules less problems. A more trusting handciapper is what is needed.
SA - Leon
Vic - Mark
Tas - ?
NSW - ?

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