With that in mind, and with the 2015 Championships set to open in Beijing this week, I take a look back at previous Championships to glimpse at how well Worlds medalists are able to finish on the podium at the following Olympics.
According to my research (see notes below), history shows that over 1/3 of the medallists at a Worlds held in the year before a fully-participatory Games will also reach the Olympic podium. Let's take a look:
In 1984, only 19.5% of the 1983 Worlds medalists reached the Olympic podium. This is the lowest percentage of all the cycles, and can be directly attributed to the Soviet-led boycott of the Games, preventing many athletic stars from competing. In fact, in the following cycle of 1987 - 88, the percentage of repeat medalists jumps from that 19.5% to a whopping 46.8%. That is certainly reflective of the power of the track & field giants of the time, the Soviets and East Germans, focusing resources and training (and, ahem, other things?) on star athletes to keep them primed.
With the dissolution of the track cold war in the early 90's and the spread of coaching and training, the figures cooled down, but have never dipped below 33%:
1991 Worlds to 1992 Games - 33.3% of Worlds medalists reached the Olympic podium
1995 Worlds to 1996 Games - 38.6%
1999 Worlds to 2000 Games - 33.3%
2003 Worlds to 2004 Games - 35.5%
2007 Worlds to 2008 Games - 36.9%
And then, there's a huge increase in the next and latest cycle:
2011 Worlds to 2012 Games - 47.5%
Almost half of the athletes who medalled at the 2011 Worlds also medalled in that event at the 2012 Games. That includes an impressive 41 of 47 events that featured at least one duplicate medalist. The only six events to have a complete podium turnover were the men's and women's 1500m's, men's 20km walk, men's high jump, women's 400m, and the men's javelin. Further, six events had the exact same medalists between 2011 and 2012, although not necessarily in same order: men's discus, men's hammer, decathlon, both women's relays, and women's triple jump.
With the hard work involved over a single year in maintaining fitness, preventing injury, keeping focus, and avoiding the consistent new arrivals on the scene, that's a pretty good figure. Perhaps the increased ability to forge a longer career today out of athletics has enabled this jump. We'll wait to see how this cycle holds up, and how the repeat factor maintains. Assumedly, many of Beijing 2015's stars will be shining again at Rio 2016.
Detail on the individual Championships can be found in earlier posts:
Notes on my figures:
- For comparison to Olympic podiums, I only calculated results from the Worlds editions in the immediate year prior. So, the Worlds editions of '93, '97, '01, '05, '09, and '13 do not figure in these results.
- If a Worlds carried 47 events (as it does now), then that meant 141 podium placements (3 x 47). So, there are 141 opportunities for a match between a podium at the Worlds and the next Olympics
- I counted any podium finish as equal. So, winning a gold in the 100m at Worlds in 2011 (Yohan Blake (JAM) and then silver at the Olympics in 2012 counts as a match. I was more interested in medalling at all rather than specific color.
- If a Worlds edition held an event that was not held in the following Olympics (e.g. women's 10km walk in 1987/88), then those World podium spots were removed from calculation
- I did not count athletes who medalled in the Worlds and the next Olympics, but in different events. Special recognition, though, goes to Said Aouita (MAR), who World-medalled in the 1500m ('83) and 5000m ('87) and Olympic-medalled in the 5000m ('84) and the 800m (!) ('88).
- I tried to account for any current doping issues and subsequent reallocations. With the recent women's 1500m issue from 2012 Olympics, it is still to be determined if Tatyana Tomashova (RUS) will be upgraded from fourth to bronze; if so, that result would affect the totals.