adds treasure trove on the Age-Graded Tables

Chuck Phillips, aka “Dr. Track,” was an early innovator on age-grading.

On Feb. 20, 1999, Rex Harvey faxed Al Sheahen a copy of a letter he wrote to Len Olson, who was then writing (with my help) a history of masters track. I didn’t read the letter until Sunday — the fourth anniversary of Al’s death. Rex’s letter described the history of age-grading and the Age-Graded Tables, which help anyone in any event and any age compare themselves with others or their younger selves. It’s an amazing summary, which names names and key milestones. It’s now part of a huge trove of documents from the Al Sheahen Collection posted on USATF-subsidized Some 65 folders contain records Al kept from 1984 to 2000. (Blame the folder names on Al. That’s how I organized the uploads.) In any case, all the documents are searchable PDFs, which means that once Google robots are done “crawling” the site, you can look up names and stuff via the site’s search function.

In sharing a copy with his California friend, Rex hand-wrote at the bottom of the letter: “Al, How much did I lie?”

Not much, I imagine.

Here’s what Rex wrote in 1999.

Here are more facts about the history of age grading especially as it pertains to the combined events. You are already aware of and have written about the early Partridge and Hills work.

Gardner Purdy did some important early work, and published some early tables, with the comparison of events to each other, but did not attempt to introduce age into the analysis.

Chuck Phillips in Washington, D.C., prepared a pioneering early age grading table about 1982 for most of the running events over a wide age range including youth. His approach was mostly mathematical and it was not sensitive enough to produce realistic results in some areas of the tables. He later expanded the tables to include most events including the field events. However, his approach still produces unrealistic results in some areas, especially in the youth age groups.

Since the use of the standard IAAF scoring tables for combined events was not realistic for older competitors using different Implements, Ian Hume, of Canada, prepared a set of age grading tables for the Outdoor Pentathlon which was then the combined event contested In the WAVA World Championships. It was based on past performances in the WAVA World Championships. It was used for several WAVA Championships.

Probably because of the extremely small and skewed database (the early WAVA Championships were sparsely contested compared to today) that it was based on, it was badly skewed in certain events and did not compare favorably at all with the existing 1962 IAAF Combined Events scoring tables.

Jim Weed, of Colorado, national multi-event coordinator at the time, made the next advance in combined events age graded scoring by producing full scoring tables for all ages for the decathlon. He used his extensive knowledge of the masters decathlon to manually produce the tables. This approach had the great advantage of not giving any unrealistic results because each event and each age had been carefully thought through to insure that the scoring made sense. His tables replaced the Hume tables and were used for several years of the US National Masters Decathlon Championships.

In 1986, Al Sheahan, founder of the National Masters News, saw that there was a need for all events to be age graded, not just the combined events. There were many reasons for this. One of the most important was so individuals could track their own history of performances by a uniform method instead of just watching the performances get ever increasingly worse, as they aged and never knowing if they were relatively better or worse than their prime years.

Another Important reason for age grading was for awards. There was no way that meets could afford to provide significant awards to all age groups, but they could provide a single significant award to the best, age graded performance if there were realistic age grading tables available. He thought that it would be a trivial exercise to prepare them.

When he checked with WAVA Records Chair Pete Mundle, he found that Mundle had also [seen] the need and had been doing work in that direction. So they, with some help from Chuck Phillips, quickly prepared some tables and sponsored and conducted the first Age Graded track meet. It was held in Los Angeles in 1986 and was a success, although a terrific amount of work for Al and his helpers. Nevertheless, he did the same thing again in 1987 after working some more on the age grading tables.

In 1988, Bob Fine, then WAVA executive vice president, spearheaded the effort to improve and standardize a world wide effort by getting the WAVA Council to appoint a WAVA subcommittee for age grading with Al Sheahan serving as its chair. The primary approach was again experience based but the experience came, this time, from a much wider range of experts.

In addition to those mentioned before, Bob Fine himself helped as well as Rodney Charnock of England, Walter Fuchert, Adolph Koch and Wilhelm Koster of Germany, Viktor Trkal of Czech Republic, Bob Stone, Phil Mulkey Irene Raschker, Mike Tymn, Norm Green, Rex Harvey, Christel and Gary Miller all of the US were involved in reviewing the tables. The primary method was to present the existing table to each expert and ask them to analyze and point out weaknesses and suggest improvements. These were published In 1988 in booklet form and reprinted In 1990.

Five years later In 1993, Al cranked up the committee again to update and improve the tables. He was encouraged to undertake the effort by Rex Harvey who was, and is, serving as the chair of the WAVA Combined Events Subcommittee. Harvey saw that the best possible age graded scoring of masters combined events would be by accurate and fair age grading of each of the events to get an age graded performance, which would then be looked up in the existing IAAF Scoring Tables. That way, masters combined event scores could be directly compared to those obtained by open athletes. Therefore, the scores would be much more meaningful to observers and athletes than if a separate and unique scoring table was used by masters athletes.

It was obvious that the scores would only be as good as the age grading tables. Use of the 1988 tables had pointed out weaknesses here and there and the masters performance database had grown tremendously through those years giving much more data to work from. So both these WAVA committees combined their resources and worked closely together to produce the 1994 updated WAVA Age Grading Tables.

Thousands of pages of earlier age grading work, along with all known masters performance data, was examined and re-examined to determine trends and patterns. Al Sheahan, after much experimentation, found a particular geometric progression that seemed to predict the aging loss of performance in the running events. It was used as the general basis of the running portion of the 1994 tables.

However, there were many hot arguments and compromises made with all those involved before the tables were consistent across all the distances and all the ages. Most of the work was done with the male data as it was, by far, the most abundant. The female tables were done as an offset of the male tables with adjustments as required. The field events were studied much more closely than ever before and are much more fair and consistent than earlier tables.

The 1994 tables still show weaknesses in certain areas. This is due primarily to “new” events like the women’s pole vault and weight throw for which there was very little data available at the time. Other problems arose because of rejection of certain masters performances that were considered “drug assisted” and or questionable because of other discrepancies.

These 1994 tables were subsequently adopted by WAVA as the official scoring method for WAVA Combined Events scoring and, likewise, most countries around the world also adopted the method and the tables. Although they are used throughout the world for many reasons, the combined events are the only official use of the tables by WAVA.

The tables are scheduled for updating around the year 2000. There is more and more data available every day, and more powerful computers to organize and analyze it. WAVA intends to build on past work and do a better job than ever on the new tables.

I hope this is helpful to you. Rex Harvey

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October 29, 2017

10 Responses

  1. Weia Reinboud - October 29, 2017

    Do I understand it correctly that 1994 were the first complete age gradings? And we had 2000, 2007, 2010 and 2014 as subsequent revisions.

  2. Ken Stone - October 29, 2017

    Hi, Weia.

    It appears the 1994 AGT were the first formal WAVA version, but they grew out of other work.

    Here’s another interesting summary:

  3. wayne Bennett - October 30, 2017

    I still have a copy of that 1994 book. It even had a special age graded chart for 100 and 200 meter races for men, women, and mixed races.

  4. Jeff Davison - October 30, 2017

    More PDF links at

  5. Weia Reinboud - October 30, 2017

    Nice Jeff. I’m collecting as many official gradings as possible. Here I could add 1987 and 1990. 1994 I have the booklet, Al himself sent it to me. 2003 I only have partly. 2007, 2010 and 2014 are complete.

  6. Peter Crombie - October 30, 2017

    Age graded tables have been widely used in Australia to compare performances for athletes of a different age. Unfortunately recent upgrades from the original in 1994 do not produce figures for single ages, only for 5 year age groups. This makes them far less relevant than the original ones, because it is the single age groups which assist the most in determining age related performances.It seems that recent updates only relate to multis events and the tables themselves seem dodgy and not done with the precision of the initial 1994 tables.The computer software now only supports 5 year tables making comparisons of performance worthless.

  7. Weia Reinboud - October 31, 2017

    Until the 2010 gradings you had them per year. The new ones only partly. And they contain several irregularities which make it not that easy to interpolate them and get single ages out of the published 5-year gradings. I have software to produce gradings, but not to interpolate the existing ones.

  8. ventsi - October 31, 2017

    I fully agree with Peter Crombie.
    For comparison purposes, using the same age factor for a 5-year age range is useless. Theoretically, the result of an athlete 60 years and 1 day old is multiplied with the same age factor as the result of an athlete 64 years and 364 days old (the first one is almost M/W 55, and the second – almost M/W 65)!!?? Having in mind that the difference between age factors for adjacent age groups can be substantial.
    This site – – takes into account the specific age, but is it reliable enough? Reliable, accurate, using the most updated age factors (properly calculated/ interpolated for each age by year), for all events (not only the multi-events) – these are some basic requirements for a new age-grading table and the relevant online calculator.

  9. ventsi - October 31, 2017

    Of course, it is “extrapolated”, not “interpolated”.

  10. Ken Stone - October 31, 2017

    I jumped the gun on earlier comment.

    Before the 1994 AGT were the 1990 AGT:

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