Dennis Matuch On The 1975 WPMSF Pro Rankings

Courtesy of World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation Secretary Dennis Matuch.

In the January 1975 issue of Swimming World Magazine, International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Swimmer Dennis Matuch wrote a commentary about the prize money offered to athletes on the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation.

Matuch wrote, “When is a world champion not a world champion?

He answers his rhetorical question, “One answer to that question is when the champion comes up against a statistician. Shortly after I sent out the latest World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation bulletin to its members, I was hounded, pounded and vilified by a few interested members. The beating I received was harsher than any I experienced in pro swimming. The reason: in the bulletin, the tabulations of the pro swimmers for the season showed that Diana Nyad had beaten out Sandra Bucha for the women’s world championship.

I was accused of partiality and dishonesty. How could a swimmer who had two sixths, one tenth, one 14th, one 21st, and one 13th place (Diana Nyad) beat out a swimmer who had one first, two seconds, and a third (Sandra Bucha) for the world’s championship?

The answer to that question is in the 1968 bulletin of the Federation. When the late Joe Grossman, the previous secretary, approached a pro football statistician and asked him to come up with a fair and equitable point system in rating pro marathon swimmers, the statistician came up with the following (adopted by unanimous vote of Federation members):

The WPMSF scores finishers in sanctioned races under a point formula devised for the Federation in 1964 and has been in use every year since then. Under this formula, men and women are considered separately but equally. (Thus, if a girl finishes a race in fourth position, she is considered first among the women in that race and the man who finishes behind her, fifth overall, he is considered fourth in the men’s division, etc.)

Points are awarded as follows:
(1) Finishing points – for 1st, 500; 2nd, 350; 3rd, 250; 4th, 150; 5th, 125; 6th, 100; and minus five points for each succeeding place to 25th.
(2) Distance points – each finisher receives five points per mile for length of the course.
(3) Time Points – each winner’s time is considered 100 points and times of all other finishers are scored by subtracting one point for each minute behind the winner (fractions over 30 seconds considered one minute).

(4) Bonus points – a swimmer who establishes a new record for a race receives an additional 100 points (races held for the first time not considered in this category). For 24-hour team races, finishing points are divided among the two members of each team (i.e., each member of winning team receives 250 points, each second-place 175 points, etc.); instead of distance points, time of race is scored at five points per hour and total divided among both members of each finishing team; and instead of time points, each individual swimmer receives one point for every lap he swims.”

In a 1970 bulletin, the following addition was made:

DNFDid Not Finish. In races which were officially ended at the conclusion of a specified time, swimmers still in competition were credited with the places in which they were swimming at the end of the race. Championship points for finishing positions were awarded those swimmers.

The 1970 World Championship Standings – (At the annual WPMSF meeting in Hamilton, Ontario, it was unanimously voted to select the world champions on the basis of the highest point totals amassed by swimmers in a specific number of sanctioned races each year, that number being one more than half of the number of sanctioned races. In 1970 there were seven sanctioned races; thus, the four highest point totals were counted for all swimmers who participated in more than four of the seven races.)”

Thus, it can be seen that when a tally is made, you pick a swimmer’s best races; that is, races that will give him or her the greatest number of points. Joe Grossman and the statistician thought that this system would be the fairest way.

If money won were a criteria there would be inequities. For example, the Nile River (23 miles) marathon pays $1,000 to the winner while the Chicago Marathon (10 miles) pays $3,000.

When I first sat down to make the tally, it appeared that Sandra was a shoo-in. When the figures came out, I was as surprised as most of the bulletin readers were to become. However, I was bound by the Federation Rules. I could not arbitrarily ignore them, for then I would be open to even harsher criticism. These rules were voted on and adopted by the members themselves. I myself have over the years attempted to get our members to take a look at these rules for determining pro swimmer’s rankings.

If there is anything I’ve learned to appreciate this past summer, it is the words of the research scientist who once said, “Never claim to make a discovery in science unless you have taken into consideration nature’s (and I may add, statistician’s) misplaced sense of humor.” And this is said with all respect to two of the finest and beautiful pro marathoners I know – Sandra Bucha and Diana Nyad.”

Bucha recollected about her professional marathon swimming career in a recent WOWSA Live interview above.

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