FINA Points: Illogical and Impractical

According to FINA’s event comparison system, Sun Yang’s Textile World Record and 2011 World Championship winning time in the 800 free is worth 958 points. Christian Sprenger’s 2014 World Leading time in the 100 breaststroke, which is neither the fastest in textile, or the fastest of Sprenger’s own career? 979 points.

The system is supposed to be an accurate measure of times across events. In this writer’s estimation, this isn’t always the case. In a fair system, there’s no way that the fastest time ever swum in textile should rank 20 points lower than a time that has been surpassed, in textile, no less, by Alexander Dale Oen, Cameron van der Burgh, and Sprenger himself.

The reason for this is the flaw in the methodology of how the points are calculated. The formula is so simple that I could easily expect any high school freshman with a calculator and no knowledge of swimming to be able to do it in fifteen seconds flat:

1000 x ( World Record / Time Swum ) ^ 3 = FINA Points

This metric takes one data point in each event, and compares every time swum to it. It’s flawed in a plethora of ways. Records, even world records, are not created evenly. It’s true in track, where Asafa Powell’s 2005 100m record was broken six time before Usain Bolt ran a currently unassailable and much more impressive 9.58 in 2009. It’s true in football, where Eric Dickerson’s rushing record from 1984 has been challenged only once, but indications are that Peyton Manning’s passing record from 2013 could be beaten next year, possibly by Manning himself. And it’s true in swimming, where Andrey Sernidov’s 2003 100 fly world record doesn’t really stack up against Mary T. Meagher’s 100 fly record from 1981.

Given the presence of records done in polyurethane swimsuits, the FINA system makes even less sense. In the women’s 200 breast, the 1000 point mark is 2:19.11. In the women’s 200 fly, the 1000 point threshold is 2:01.81. One of those times is a standard, that people can, actually do. Given Pedersen being the record holder, and Efimova being 2:19 mid, there’s a sizable chance the record will fall by 2016. However, world championship titles can literally be won in times well over two seconds slower than Zige’s 2009 record. Indications are that record won’t be broken until 2036, at the earliest. It’s ridiculous to pretend that a 2:19.00 and a 2:01.70 are equally impressive for their respective events.

Even putting aside times inflated beyond the reach of human capacity, judging the quality of a swim by one standard doesn’t really indicate the strength of a swim relative to era. Take for instance Ian Thorpe’s 3:40.08, which is essentially still the standard used today (technically it’s 3:40.07, but we’re not talking about super suits anymore). Going by the formula, a 3:45.00 would have been 935 or so points in 2003. The same time would be the same score in 2013, giving the impression that the level of competition in the event is the same. However, today a 3:45 is much less impressive. That 3:45 could have won silver at the 2003 Worlds, but would have been just ahead of Cochrane for 4th, and ranked 6th in the year. To say that the 400 free has not gotten any faster would be simply incorrect, yet owing to the longevity of Thorpe’s record, the “gold standard” remains the same. The FINA system does not take into account the overall improvement of the world beyond the very top time.

Because of those shortcomings, I propose a new system, which I call “Swimswam Points.” Swimswam points are designed to adjust more finely to the changing tides of training and technology and measure performances more accurately based on the swimming of the overall World Class Community, not one or two legendary outliers.

In the proposed system, the time in each event corresponding with 900 points is equal to the averages of the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th ranked times from the world ranking. For each of the past three years, the times from each Long Course season are added up and divided by five to get an average for each year. Then, the averages for each year from the past three years (for 2014, it would be 2011, 2012 and 2013) are averaged together to form the final, overall benchmark. The 800 point minimum is the same, except the times ranking 18th-22nd are used.

For example, the men’s 100 free, based on 2013 times:

900 points: (47.82 + 47.84 + 47.88 + 47.98 + 48.11 ) / 5 = 47.926 → 47.93
800 points: (48.51 + 48.53 + 48.53 + 48.54 + 48.58 ) / 5 = 48.538 → 48.54 (always round up unless zeroes)

Then the overall benchmarks are based on the averages of each year combined and divided by three.

Overall 900 Point Mark = ( Average of 2013 places 3-7 + average of 2012 places 3-7 + average of 2011 places 3-7 ) / 3

In order to calculate the other point requirements, the difference between the 900 and 800 point mark is taken. Using 2013 times alone, it becomes 48.54 – 47.93 = 0.61. The 1,000 point mark is the 900 point mark with the difference subtracted. The 700 point standard is the 800 time with the difference added. Successive point values are calculated by continuing the subtraction. If a time falls in between the set values, it’s rating is calculated by finding what percent of the way it is to the next one. For instance 48.21 is 0.31 faster than 48.54. Because 0.31 / 0.61 is 0.508, we round to the lower score and assign a value of 850 points, because it is halfway in between the boundaries.

(Times based on 2013 rankings alone. If instituted, times from three years would be averaged to create a long-term standard.)

1,000 points: 47.32 [47.93 – 0.61]
900 points: 47.93
800: 48.54
700: 49.15 [48.54 + 0.61]
600: 49.76
500: 50.37
400: 50.98
300: 51.59
200: 52.20
100: 52.81
000: 53.42

Nathan Adrian 2012 (47.52): 967
James Magnussen 2012 (47.10): 1036

Men’s 400 IM (2013 alone)

1000: 4:04.64
900: 4:09.67
800: 4:14.70
700: 4:19.73
600: 4:24.76

Ryan Lochte 2012 (4:05.04): 992
Michael Phelps 2008 (4:03.84): 1016

Men’s 1500 (2013 alone)

1,000: 14:34.05
900: 14:50.98
800: 15:07.91
700: 15:24.84
600: 15:41.77

Grant Hackett (2001): 997

Sun Yang (2012): 1017

The system is both effective for shorter races, such as the 100, mid/long-distance races like the 400 IM and true distance events, like the 1500. Granted, there are flaws, for instance the dilemma of top swimmers skipping races or otherwise being not on top form, for instance Park Tae Hwan and Paul Biedermann in the 200 free, or Phelps, Matsuda and Le Clos either retiring or being less than their best in 2013. However the long term 3-year average seeks to minimize that, meaning that one “off year” at the top of an event cannot counteract the true upper limits established by the other years. There’s also a relatively limited range of times accepted. For example, a 365 point swim for FINA in the men’s 100 long course free is a 1:05.63. That can be limiting of the ability to follow your trip up the FINA points table from 10-years old to Olympics, for example. However, for elite swimmers, I feel that the above-proposed system is a fairer comparison across events and generations.

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7 years ago

Considering the trend of datas and infor.. Would anyone be willing to help create a top 10 or top 5 Textile of all races?

Reply to  Rafael
7 years ago

Please look below at my attempts to compare just three textile records (men’s 200 free, 1,500 free and 100 breast). I can do it for all events, but then I’ll have to prepare worksheet and it would take whole day to do for all events and across decades 🙂

7 years ago

Going to be honest…I actually really like Fina points!

(The only problem is that the men’s shiny-suit points standards are (in theory at least) harder to achieve than womens due to natural buoyancy angles being altered to a greater extent in men that women. In my opinion Fina should base its points on the best time set in suits that are currently legal.)

matt salzberg
7 years ago

Interesting concept, but the problem becomes when that world leader (a Sun Yang for example) leaves swimming. Someone so far ahead of the curve, especially in a distance race, pulls the points drastically down toward his times. So a 1000 points in 2014 and 1000 points in 2017 for example, could be drastically different. I like the concept of a moving target, but it makes it very hard from year to year to determine if a swim is truly better or not based on more than time.

If there can be some way that it’s anchored, in some way, to the WR, and takes both the current WR and current trend in swimming into account, it could become a… Read more »

7 years ago

Okay, this is great on a lot of levels, but I would suggest a couple revisions. Like Matt Salzvberg said, it should be tied to the WR somehow. Other than that, I think the average should be based on a four year cycle, rather than three, since the big meets operate on a sort of four year cycle (Olympics, Worlds, Pan Pacs and others, Worlds) and the best swimmers taper for some more than others.

7 years ago

ok so, I read, and i’m still confused as to what the points are actually for… cause I thought time was the accurate measure that we used across events.

7 years ago

I disagree Robert.
Sprenger surpasses Sun FINA points.So what???
His time(58.87) is really impressive.How many surpassed that in shiny suit?Only great swimmers go under a minute, and he can go sub59.
I dont think a time should be measured ACROSS events.Some events evolve faster,some got stagnate and out of nowhere…BOOM!Some phenom demolishes all the standards.
Some years one event is with a very weak field, in another is very strong.I am with Salzberg, it always should be tied with WR.

Reply to  DDias
7 years ago

Sprenger’s 58.87 does not surpass Sun Yang’s WR point, not even his 2011 WR, and not even if his 2011 is calculated using 2014 point scoring table.

Robert made mistake.
Even using 2014 table (and it is a misapplication of FINA point system), Yang’s 14:34.14 is still worth 989 points. And using correct application of the system, that 2011 WR was worth 1,001 in 2011.

7 years ago

I apologize for my ignorance, but what is the value of ‘FINA points’? It seems more or less like a QB passer rating or similar sports ratings shenanigans.

If there is a real purpose to FINA Points, I see a value to weighting the length of time a record has stood, Count of people above a certain time, and time gap between previous record(s), and current record… I probably missed a few variables, but even the ones listed would rely on subjective quantification to even try to come up with a formula.

Again my IMHO – use your time better and go for a swim!

7 years ago

In general I agree with you that point system should be dynamic and should incorporate actual development and that there is a weakness in FINA point system.
But you misunderstood and misapplied FINA point system.

Fina point scoring is dynamic and changes yearly based on the latest WR (for LCM, it’s WR at the end of the previous year). And it’s not retroactive.

In the first paragraph of your article, you give an example of Sun Yang’s 2011 WR of which you said is worth 958 points. But this is not true. In 2011, that WR 14:34.14 was worth 1,001 (as Hackett’s WR that served as the base was 1,000). Yes, in 2014 that 14:34.14 is now… Read more »

About Robert Bernhardt

Robert, a Canadian-born native of Champaign Illinois, is a high school junior at King Henry VIII School in Coventry, England. Robert has enjoyed significant success in his swimming at the local level since the age of seven, but nothing good enough to warrant being on this site. Outside of swimming …

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