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PROTRACK » International Results & News » A Powell - Statistically, the most dominant athlete in history

A Powell - Statistically, the most dominant athlete in history

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Asafa Powell and statistical dominance

By Jesse Squire
Track & Field
Posted on July 13, 2011

The other day it was noted that Asafa Powell ran his 71st sub-10.00 at the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix on Sunday. It’s the largest career total by quite a bit, with Maurice Greene second at 50.

In response to this, SI’s Tim Layden tweeted that he wondered who has the most sub-4:00 miles, or its 1500 meter equivalent of 3:42.2. I responded that it’s not a good comparison because sub-10.00 is much harder than sub-4:00, with which Layden agreed. (It’s also really hard to calculate, because 3:42.2 isn’t particularly notable.)

It turns out that (as of right now) there have been 516 sub-10.00 runs ever (excluding wind-aided times, of course). A similar total of the best-ever 500 mile/1500 marks gives you the unappealing cutoff time of 3:32.20 (and even less-appealing mile equivalent of 3:49.18).

So I thought, screw it. Don’t find nice, even, round numbers. Let’s just look at the best 500 marks of all time in each event and see who has the most. That way we could really see if Powell’s statistical dominance of the 100 meters sticks out.

As a matter of fact, Powell does stick out. Of all the men’s running events, only the 110 meter hurdles has an athlete monopolize that event’s best 500 marks of all time to the same degree that Powell does in the 100 meters. The great Allen Johnson ran 77 of them, followed closely by Colin Jackson’s 74.

Field events, however, are another beast. Most of them have one individual responsible for 20% or more of the event’s top 500 marks. Most dominant of all is Jan Zelezný. He has 162 of the javelin’s all-time best 500 throws, a staggering 32.4%.

As you look down the list I’ve put together, Powell sticks out in another way. Most event leaders make up the short list of the greatest of all time, or at least the greatest of the last few decades. Not so with Powell. While he has the great misfortune of being roughly the same age as Usain Bolt, his competitive record isn’t like that of Frankie Fredericks, who pretty much never lost in the 200 to anyone not named Michael Johnson.

As former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson once said about statistics, it isn’t how much or how often you do something so much as when you do it.

A few notes on the numbers below…
Data source is
Indoor marks are included, as are ancillary marks in field events
Marathoners and decathletes are ignored due to infrequency of competition
Since long distance track runners similarly compete less frequently, and tend not to specialize, races of 3,000 to 10,000 meters have been combined into one category using the IAAF scoring tables

Career frequency leaders, best 500 marks of all time.

100 meters (cutoff time for inclusion: 9.99 or better)
Asafa Powell (Jamaica), 71
Maurice Greene (USA), 50
Ato Boldon (Trinidad), 28

200 meters (cutoff time: 20.14 or better)
Frank Fredericks (Namibia), 51
Michael Johnson (USA), 51
Usain Bolt (Jamaica), 37
Wallace Spearmon (USA), 37

400 meters (44.64 or better)
Michael Johnson (USA), 58
Jeremy Wariner (USA), 44
Butch Reynolds (USA), 32

800 meters (1:44.06)
Wilson Kipketer (Denmark), 48
Johnny Gray (USA), 33
Mbulaeni Mulaudzi (South Africa), 18

1500 meters & Mile (3:32.20/3:49.18)
Hicham El Guerrouj (Morocco), 64
Noureddine Morceli (Algeria), 36
Bernard Lagat (Kenya/USA), 35
U.S. leader: Lagat, 9

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