‘That’s the fastest time in the world this year.’

By Jim McDannald

With the start of the collegiate and professional indoor racing season, you’re about to hear one of the most fun, inflated and overused turns of phrase in our sport.

“That’s the fastest time in the world this year.” (My field event friends can substitute in best performance, height or distance if they like.)

I’m not saying this phrase is a bad thing. This is a notable accomplishment, but there is a big gap between “fastest time in the world this year” and “best athlete in the world”. If an athlete can achieve a world best performance, Olympic gold must be next, right? For the first couple of decades I heard this sentence uttered, whether it be on TV or in-person at the track, I felt like I had witnessed something truly special.

As I’ve gotten older, I realize that the world lead in an event will change hands many times throughout the year and create another chance for our phrase to be used.  Every January 1, the race for the best performance of year begins anew.  With a few exceptions, the world leaders in January are seldom the ones wearing medals in September.

Races get faster and athletes more fit over the year.  Much like an athlete’s training plan and race schedule, this phrase will be be nuanced & transformed.  By the time we get to June, we’ll hear a lot more “That’s the fastest junior high school girl’s mile time in the state this year.” and a lot less “That’s the fastest time in the world this year.”

So the next time you’re watching a meet and someone grabs a world lead, feel happy for that college weight thrower or sprinter with no shoe contract.  But realize hearing the national anthem of your country, capturing an NCAA or state title are a lot tougher to come by than “the fastest time in the world this year” during indoors.

Previous post:

Next post: