More on seed times (Sherbrooke meet)

My post about seed times from before Christmas got a few people upset. My interpretation of their response is this:

1. Everyone does it.
2. I have to do it so athletes don’t get screwed.

At the risk of sounding like someone’s grandmother, if the other coaches jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too? Or, in a more sinister follow-up to that logic: if other coaches gave athletes performance enhancing drugs, would you do it, too?

Cue the protests! He’s gone too far! Fudging seed times is not like taking drugs!

Of course it isn’t. But some coaches’ logic in defending WHY they fudge seed times (at least they admit it) is consistent with the reason most caught dopers give for why they did it: “I had to, everyone else was doing it.” Think about that.

A related misunderstanding was that I was against a rule forcing coaches to give accurate seed times. I am not against this rule. I just think that coaches are adults and if enough of us decide to drop the bullshit and enter athletes in times that they’ve actually run (or that are at least realistic expectations of what they might run), we can overcome those who are lying not because everyone else is doing it, but because they are willing to cheat to gain any advantage possible. These people MUST exist: if they don’t, we’re all just a bunch of idiots, upping seed times for no reason. So in response to people who don’t want to publically embarrass another coach: if they are doing it for the wrong reasons they DESERVE to be embarrassed. If they are only doing it to “keep up with the Jones'” then there is an easy option: just stop.

In a follow-up experiment, I’ve looked at the entries for the meet this weekend in Sherbrooke. Again, I’ve stuck to the women’s 1000m because that’s the event that started the discussion. I’m sure that sprint coaches have no desire for me to look into the 300m. I’ve been told it is far worse.

Below is a table of the entries. I’ve taken the time to look up what these athletes have run recently, if anything. I’ve given the athletes who have not raced yet indoors the benefit of the doubt, but I will look at the results and if they are way off, believe me, I will call them out, too. Here is the chart:

Screen Shot 2013-01-06 at 6.11.05 PM

6 athletes have run races this year. One of them, Hebert from UQAC is seeded at the same time she ran in December. Wow. According to some, this coach is a bad person because he or she is screwing over the athlete. According to me, this coach is just doing what he or she is supposed to do. He/she gets a pass. Special mention to the Chicoutimi club coach (same person?) and the Jonquiere coach who had the balls to but NT. Well done. Honesty. I like it. ***Update, Lauzon from St.Jean Olympique is seeded in the same time she ran in December. Sorry, I missed it and it is not in the chart, but kudos to another truth-telling coach. Oh, you brave men and women!

***Update 2: The Jonquiere and Chicoutimi coaches are Richard Dessurault and Gino Roberge. Credit where credit is due.

There are 5 others, three of whom ran 1ks at McGill in December. I suppose that in the case of St-Pierre from Lavironde and Cyr from Sherbrooke, a 4-5 second improvement is plausible. But my question is, why is it necessary to boost the times when a) the race was run so recently and b) it doesn’t even matter with respect to seeding? Doheney from Dawson is seeded almost 10 seconds faster than in December. Perhaps for an athlete who is new, this is a realistic improvement. But what is the harm in seeding the athlete at a time that she has actually run? I still have not heard a satisfactory answer to this question. This isn’t really a fail, but it’s a D-.

Two athletes from Laval U raced at other distances in December. I love Felix. I want to be like him, in many ways. He’s the best distance coach in Quebec right now, and he’s also a pretty good coach at the other disciplines, too. He’s a good guy. But he’s made mistakes here. A 4:43 1500 translates to a 3:00 1k, according to McMillan, which is a pretty reliable source. That said, I’m sure Laurence Cote can run 2:50. She ran 2:49.09 last February, so she has done it before. But why not use the 2:49.09 as a seed time? At least it is from an actual race that the athlete has run. B Deschenes’s 10:45 3k translates to a 3:12.7 1000m time. She ran a 10:43 last year and her best 1500 last year was 4:55. So presumably she’s in about the same shape, that’s worth a little better on McMillan: 3:08. Not 3:03. Maybe she will run 3:03 in the future, but the seed time is meant to represent an actual time the athlete has run in order to classify athletes in the right heat.

Again, I ask the question: would a 3:08 push her down into the wrong section? No, not with a gap of about 15 seconds. These women would both be in the first section, even if their seed times were accurate.

Now, I anticipate angry emails/comments from people saying it’s not fair of me to call out athletes. I am not calling out athletes. If the athletes are embarrassed, they should tell their coaches to use real seed times. Maybe there is a bit of athlete ego involved though. If I had run a 1:52 800m in my day, I would not be too happy with a 2:00 seed time. That is understandable. But there is a solution: run fast. Funny, running fast times will solve all of your problems.

The point of this post is two-fold: 1) to see if any coaches cared about/read what I wrote last time (apparently I have an audience in Saguenay–or they were just honest all along. That’s probably more likely) and 2) to show that fudging the seed times doesn’t make a difference. If I can make a further comment it is to say that when it comes to championship meets (CIS or AC, and international meets) you CAN NOT LIE. It’s not possible. You are seeded according to your last recorded performance. So what is to be gained by “helping” athletes throughout the season? It’s not helpful. It creates a false sense of fitness: if an athlete is seeded at 3:05 but has only run 3:10, and then she runs 3:07, guess what? She’s improved! But she thinks she’s not good enough because her coach seeded her at 3:05. Do this enough and you mess with an athlete’s sense of value. I am all for being aspirational: sometimes, a coach knows something about the athlete that the athlete doesn’t know yet, and a coach saying: “you can run 3:05” is enough to make the athlete believe it, and in fact, do it. But the cost of getting it wrong (and we saw in the last post that coaches mostly got it wrong) is not worth the potential gains.

NHL hockey is back which means people will have yet another pro sport to watch instead of caring about track and field. I’ve spoken to people in the media and one of the reasons they don’t cover track is because they don’t know what they are going to get. Seed times don’t reflect the event to come. So how can they promote it? There are other reasons, too, but that’s a good one to think about. We want exposure, but if anyone says anything remotely critical, it gets shouted down. Unfortunately, some self-criticism is the only way we’ll be able to make the changes needed to get people other than track people to care. But that is a whole other post…

Final word: stop making up seed times. There is no defence for it. It hurts athletes more than it helps them.