Will May’s top performers make the podium in August?

3 Jun 2016

There have been some stunning performances so far this year—and we’re only just breaking into June. Ruth Jebet became only the second woman to break nine minutes in what was arguably the greatest steeplechase race ever, while Tori Bowie’s 10.80 in Doha is the fastest time ever run by a woman in the first week of May. Omar McLeod treated us to his imperious form clocking both sub-13 seconds in the hurdles and sub-10 in the 100m. And then there was Kendra Harrison’s poetry-in-motion 12.24 in the 100m hurdles—the second fastest in history.

But Rio is some months away. Is there anything we can read into May’s performances or are we just getting ahead of ourselves?

To find out, we have compared medalists in the last four Olympics (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012) to the athletes ranked in the top three on May 31st in the corresponding year.

Here’s the headline: 22.59% of those athletes top in May ended up on the podium and in the following Olympics. Sure, that’s not too high but there’s more. If you break this down by type, there are some more significant trends. For the sprints (100m, 200m and 400m) this leaps up to 30.99%, while in the middle distances (800m, 1500m), it drops to 10.42%. Having barriers in your race helps too, with the steeple and hurdles both on around 27%. As we explored in a previous article, steeplechase championship winners tend to have a healthy ranking entering the competition. Those barriers could be the great equalisers ironing out tactical races. Equally, the dataset is smaller with the women’s steeplechase only introduced in 2008.

Number of Top threes in May that went on to medal at the Olympics, by discipline

*Excludes Marion Jones in 2000. **Women’s steeple only introduced in 2008

Break this down by gender and the advantage goes to May’s men: 30% in the top three will go on to medal at the Olympics. For women it drops to 15.13%. So take note of the male sprinters. In fact, it’s 100m men that have the heathiest chance of making the Olympic podium (58.33%). This statistic is helped by 2012, where the top three in May were: 1.Bolt, 2.Blake, 3.Gatlin. And the medals went to… 1.Bolt, 2.Blake, 3.Gatlin. This is the only time this happened in our sample. For the women, the best chance is in the sprint hurdles (where they also match the men) with 33.33%

And finally, a special mention for those athletes who were top in May and went on to get gold. Here’s the roll call:

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