Over on Grantland a couple years back, Jonah Keri attempted to rank the best pitchers and hitters he had the chance to see play during his lifetime. In an effort to avoid deriving rankings primarily on the basis of sorting a stat column, he sought to rank the BestCoolest players, where the emphasis was largely on "best." He estimated that ability accounted for 70% of a player's ranking, but that coolness would have a significant role in the rankings (say, 30%).
In what follows, I will attempt to do the same with the recently-concluded track and field world championships. If I were just ranking by best moments, I might just take all times/distances/point totals recorded at the meet and compare them to the standing world record in the event. Ashton Eaton's world record would be #1 in those rankings and Christian Taylor's mark in the triple jump would probably be second.
Those sorts of rankings are boring and too objective to be of any real interest. The BestCoolest Rankings, however, leave some interpretive wiggle-room and open space for fun occurrences that were not necessarily reflected in the official results of the meet.
You may not agree with some of these rankings, and the beauty of them is that you don't have to. There is room for difference baked into the methodology. Voice your disagreement in the comments.
Honorable Mention: Kenyans expand horizons
Kenya has long been a power in men's and women's distance running, but rarely have they made much noise in races shorter than 800m or non-running events. That changed in Beijing as Julius Yego won gold in the men's javelin after receiving his initial instruction in the event through video-hosting site Youtube.com. On the track, Nicholas Bett won the 400m hurdles in a world-leading time, announcing to the world that Kenya is capable of more than dominating distance races.
10. Finish of the Women's Marathon
After over 26 miles of racing, three women entered the Bird's Nest track within a second of each other with just over 100m to go. While the last 100m weren't as tightly contested as that previous sentence suggests, the anticipation that built up over the first 26.1 miles was enough to vault this into these rankings.
9. Ronnie Ash's Civil Disobedience
Ronnie Ash was called for a false start in the prelims of the men's 110m hurdles. In most cases, the athlete will leave the track without much fuss. Not Ronnie Ash. He did not believe that he false started and was willing to stand up for that belief. It took four Adidas-clad officials to convince him to get off the track already, he's holding up the entire meet. For temporarily standing up to the man, Ronnie Ash makes these rankings.
8. Emily Infeld outleans her teammate for bronze
Americans were not necessarily expected to medal in the women's 10,000m, but after a tactical 9000+ meters, Molly Huddle looked to be in position to nab a medal for the U.S. She was in third coming off the final turn and looked to have bronze on lockdown. It was so locked up, in fact, that Huddle began to celebrate it. Emily Infeld, not above stealing glory from a teammate (no one should be above this), leaned under Huddle's celebrating arms to cross the line in third.
Bronze medal opportunities don't come around every day, so fair play to Infeld for seizing it when she could. Huddle is rightfully beating her self up over giving away that opportunity, but that's what happens when you only race 9998 meters of a 10,000 meter race.
7. Mo Farah visits the lonely hydration table workers
Sure, it's hot and humid in Beijing, but there really is no need to put hydration tables out in lane 8 of the track for a championship 5000 or 10000m race. The cost-benefit calculation for the runners comes down well in favor of avoiding the hydration tables. The second or two you will lose is not worth the marginal benefit of a couple ounces of water in races typically run in under 30 minutes.
But that cost-benefit analysis is different when you are invincible like Mo Farah. After a week of solitude, the hydration table workers were surely happy to receive a visitor in the early laps of the men's 5000m final.
6. Kenyans' comical sprint in the men's steeplechase
Entering the final lap of the men's steeplechase, Evan Jager was in contention to live up to the lofty expectations placed on him to medal. With 200m to go, those dreams were crushed as the four Kenyans in the field just started sprinting as if the previous 2800m took no toll on their bodies at all. It was an incredible display of athletic dominance and will at least make me think twice before picking a non-Kenyan to win a medal in the steeple.
5. Wayde Van Niekerk runs to failure
With LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James as clear favorites to go 1-2 in some order in the men's 400m final, the 23 year-old Van Niekerk was a bit of an afterthought. But Van Niekerk was not going to let that stand. He almost literally gave everything he had to beat James and Merritt. He had to be taken off on a stretcher proving at once how tough a racer he is as well as how tough Merritt and James are to beat.
4. Allyson Felix splits 47.72 in the 4x400m
Fresh off a gold medal performance in the 400m earlier in the week, Allyson Felix got the baton well behind the Jamaican team in the women's 4x400m final. What did she do? Oh. Nothing much. Just ran the 3rd fastest relay split ever recorded to close the gap and hand off in the lead. Although the U.S. was not able to hold on to that lead, Felix's performance was certainly cool and good, which earns it a high ranking on this list of things that are both cool and good.
3. Usain Bolt hit by a segway
By now, you've all seen or heard about Bolt's post-race encounter with a segway following his victory in the 200m. It was neither good nor cool in and of itself, but there are two manifestly cool things about it. One: how comically fast it all occurred. At one moment, this camera guy is just minding his own business, riding along, capturing video of shit; the next, he is accelerating out of control into the legs of the most recognized athlete in the sport. Two: Usain just hopped up immediately after it and, aside from a slight limp, walked away as if nothing had happened. He just won his second gold medal; not even a segway careening into him can kill his vibe.
2. Ashton Eaton breaks his own World Record in the Decathlon
World Records are cool. There is no disputing that. But what is even cooler than being cool is
ice cold being the best and and getting even bester. That is what Ashton Eaton did in the final days of these World Championships: He broke his own world record. That is cool. It is even cooler that he had to kick really hard in the last 200m of the last event of the decathlon to do so. World Record performances always receive favorable ranks on lists of things that are good.
1. Almaz Ayana beats Genzebe Dibaba in the 5000m
What's better than setting a world record? Well, maybe nothing. But there's an argument to be made that beating a world record holder at her peak is more impressive. Sure, Genzebe Dibaba is not currently the world record holder in the 5000m, but is there really any doubt that she would be if she got a chance to try? There wasn't before Day 9 of the world championships, but there might be today.
Almaz Ayana beat Genzebe Dibaba, the most dominant woman in track and field, by about 100m in the final of the 5000m at the world championships. I mean, look at this video! Where is Dibaba? She should be winning or at least in contention to win over the last 100m. Instead, where is she? She's absent, broken by a great performance from Almaz Ayana. It is extremely cool when you not only beat someone who was not supposed to be beaten, but when you also destroy that person. Ayana did that and achieved the best coolest moment of the 2015 World Championships.