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Page last updated at 07:14 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

When is a record not a record?

Mo Farah and Kate Dennison
Britain's record breakers Mo Farah (left) and Kate Dennison in action

Mark Butler
By Mark Butler
BBC Sport's athletics statistician takes a look at the numbers behind the big races

New British records are rare events in athletics at the best of times.

So it is encouraging that we have had two already this year with Mo Farah's 3,000m at the Glasgow International and Kate Dennison's pole vault at the European Trials in Sheffield.

Carl Myerscough's Stateside indoor shot put mark did eventually get ratified, though only after four years

Farah did statisticians a great favour with his splendid seven minutes, 40.99 seconds, roughly the equivalent of back-to-back miles of 4:08 mins. By running that fast, he not only beat John Mayock's official British record of 7:43.31 from 1997, but also Mayock's unratified mark of 7:41.09 set in 2002.

Now we can refer to a single time as Britain's best. Had Farah been slower than 7:41.09 but quicker than 7:43.31, we would have had yet more confusion over what exactly was the British record, with the situation needing explanation every time the record was under threat.

So what was the problem with Mayock's 7:41.09?

It has not been approved by UK Athletics because, in spite of requests, no supporting documentation was supplied by the meeting at the GE Galan in Stockholm.

Though there is no reason to doubt the legitimacy of Mayock's performance, UKA rightly require written confirmation of the standard of officiating, facilities, doping control, as well as result sheets or cards and a copy of the photo finish print if relevant.

Anything less would be unfair to the person whose record was broken or indeed those who would hope to break the record in the future.


The men's indoor 3,000m has not been the only event where the best mark on record is unofficial.

Outdoors, the time of 19.87 seconds set by John Regis over 200m at Sestriere in 1994, Paula Radcliffe's 8:22.20 in the 3,000m at Monaco in 2002, and Carl Myerscough's 21.92m shot put at Sacramento 2003 are all on hold because the national athletics federation of the countries in which these performances took place have not answered requests to send the necessary paperwork to Britain.

Carl Myerscough
Myerscough had a small wait for his shot put record to be made official

So if Christian Malcolm was to clock a 19.90s 200m or Jo Pavey an 8:24 3,000m, these theoretically would become "new" British records as they would be faster than the official marks in those events of 19.94s and 8:26.97.

A further consequence is that the oldest official British record in a standard event is the 21.68m shot put by Geoff Capes set way back in 1980. Hopefully, the relevant overseas authorities will one day get their act together, as was the case with Myerscough's Stateside indoor shot put mark of 21.49m in 2003.

That did eventually get ratified after four years.


Dennison added a centimetre to the seven-year-old pole vault record of Janine Whitlock with 4.45m. That might not sound much of an improvement, but proportionately it is far greater than the one-tenth reduction by Mo Farah.

Kate and her training partner Steven Lewis are threatening to create a further anomaly in the record books by vaulting higher indoors than the corresponding outdoor British records by Whitlock (4.47m) and Nick Buckfield (5.80m).

Steve Hooker
Steve Hooker - breaking pole vault records for the Aussies

The reason for this is that since 2000, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has ruled that world records can be set in a facility "with or without a roof".

So it is possible to set an "absolute" world record indoors which will stand as a world indoor record as well as supplanting the existing world (outdoor) record.

Some federations have followed this principle for their own national records; others, including Britain, have not.

The recent superb indoor 6.06m pole vault by Olympic champion Steve Hooker will be accepted as an overall Australian record.

However, Sweden maintains separate lists, so its triple jump record is 17.79m by Christian Olsson at the Athens Olympics, even though earlier that year he leapt a world indoor record of 17.83m.

Currently UKA also keeps two sets of records so, even if Dennison clears 4.48m or Lewis 5.81m indoors, Whitlock and Buckfield will remain the British record holders (as opposed to British indoor record holders), with heights inferior to their indoor counterparts.

Actually, Lewis is more likely to go for 5.82m as the British indoor record by Buckfield of 5.81m is already superior to his outdoor record.

There is further potential for confusion because the IAAF ruling applies only from 2000, meaning that the highest ever pole vault of 6.15m by Sergey Bubka indoors in 1993 counts just as a world indoor record. The official world record is the outdoor 6.14m by Bubka in 1994.

So if Hooker vaulted 6.14m indoors, he would receive a world record plaque for equalling Bubka's 1994 mark.


It would be a world record set indoors, but not a world indoor record.

Or if Lewis was to achieve that height undercover, it would be an "absolute" world record, a British indoor record, but not the British record which would remain 34cm lower.

Don't blame the statisticians; we don't make the rules, we can't guarantee they are enforced and we don't enjoy having to point out such incongruities. Which is why we're grateful when super athletes like Mo Farah come to the rescue.

Watch the Aviva Grand Prix from the NIA, Birmingham on Saturday, 21 February from 1300 GMT on BBC One and the BBC Sport website.


* = Not officially ratified

50m - 5.61s* Jason Gardener (2000)
60m - 6.46s Jason Gardener (2004)
3,000m - 7:41.09* John Mayock (2002)
3,000m - 7:40.99 Mo Farah (2009)

Pole Vault - 5.62m Nick Buckfield (2002)
Pole vault - 5.81m Nick Buckfield (2002)

Long Jump - 8.17m Chris Tomlinson (2004)
Long jump - 8.18m Chris Tomlinson (2008)

Triple Jump - 17.75m Phillips Idowu (2008)

Shot Put - 21.08m* Carl Myerscough (2002)
Shot put - 21.26m* Carl Myerscough (2002)
Shot put - 21.49m Carl Myerscough (2003)

60m -7.13s Jeanette Kwakye (2008)
60m 7.08s Jeanette Kwakye (2008)

400m - 50.53s Katharine Merry (2001)
400m - 50.02s Nicola Sanders (2007)

800m - 1:59.21 Kelly Holmes (2003)

1000m - 2:38.45 Jo Fenn (2003)
1000m - 2:32.96 Kelly Holmes (2004)

1500m - 4:06.75 Hayley Tullett (2001)
1500m - 4:02.66 Kelly Holmes (2003)

3,000m - 8:34.55 Joanne Pavey (2004)
3,000m - 8:31.50 Joanne Pavey (2007)

50m hurdles - 6.94s* Diane Allahgreen (2000)

60m hurdles 7.99s Diane Allahgreen (2000)
60m hurdles - 7.98s Sarah Claxton (2005)
60m hurdles - 7.96s Sarah Claxton (2005)

Pole Vault - 4.30m Janine Whitlock (2000)
Pole vault - 4.31m Janine Whitlock (2000)
Pole vault - 4.33m Janine Whitlock (2002)
Pole vault - 4.44m Janine Whitlock (2002)
Pole vault - 4.45m Kate Dennison (2009)

Pentathlon - 4392 points Julie Hollman (2001)
Pentathlon - 4733 Kelly Sotherton (2005)
Pentathlon - 4927 Kelly Sotherton (2007)

3000m walk - 13:08.64* Niobe MenÚndez (2002)

4x400m relay - 3:32.18 GB & NI (2003)
4x400m relay - 3:29.81 GB & NI (2005)
4x400m relay - 3:29.59 GB & NI (2006)
4x400m relay - 3:28.69 GB & NI (2007)

see also
Isinbayeva sets new indoor record
15 Feb 09 |  Athletics
Farah breaks 3000m indoor record
31 Jan 09 |  Athletics
Staffs vaulters claim UK titles
17 Feb 09 |  Athletics
Athletics on the BBC
28 Oct 08 |  Athletics
Contact TV team
08 Apr 08 |  Athletics

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