On Authoritative Results

by Evan Morrison. 27 February 2018.


Summary: Suggested best practices for displaying and formatting marathon swim results, to better preserve and maintain the sport’s history.


There’s a word my SBCSA colleague Dave Van Mouwerik uses in describing one of the primary functions of marathon swim governing bodies: the production of swim documentation, and its eventual distillation into official, published results.

The word Dave uses, which I like so much I’ve begun using it myself, is authoritative.

OED definition #1 is relevant:

Authoritative: Able to be trusted as being accurate or true; reliable.

Authoritative documentation. Authoritative results. Authoritative history.

Dave himself recently completed an impressive and under-appreciated project, compiling an authoritative list of Lake Tahoe swims.

Dave’s Tahoe lists, along with nearly 200 other marathon swim events (comprising nearly 38,000 individual swims) are now included in my latest project, the LongSwims database. One significant technical challenge has been converting the various original results into a standard format, to be displayed in a clean, consistent fashion, and queried as a formal database.

The original data vary substantially in their format and presentation. Some formats work better than others (in my opinion). What follows is a suggested few best practices in producing authoritative marathon swimming results listings.

Someday, the writer of Wind, Waves, and Sunburn II will thank you.

The “Seven Habits” of Authoritative Marathon Swim Results

1. Authoritative results are publicly accessible and displayed in an easily parseable, tabular format.

In 2018, “accessible” means a webpage on the Internet.

(All three have happened, frequently — priceless swaths of marathon swimming history, lost to carelessness and apathy.)

“Parseable” means easily extracted and converted to other formats. HTML tables are great for parseability, page styling and responsiveness, SEO, and archive.org bots. HTML tables can be easily exported from Google Sheets or Excel files, and inserted into webpages.

2. Authoritative results are correctable, but not widely editable.

Errors sometimes happen in results listings. A trusted data maintainer or two (the race director, or a sanctioning org board member) needs to be able to edit the data and make corrections as necessary.

If the results are produced by a timing company, the race director should make a copy of the data, which can then be published (and edited, and backed up) on the event’s official website.

However, it is counter-productive if too many people or untrusted maintainers can edit results. Data that can be edited by anyone, are quite the opposite of authoritative - they are unreliable and untrustworthy.

This is one major reason why Openwaterpedia (or any wiki) is not an appropriate platform for authoritative swim results.

3. Authoritative results use appropriate precision for critical details such as dates and elapsed times.

A date includes a year, month, and day. Astonishingly, two of the Oceans Seven swims fail to include complete dates in their results. One of them shows only years. “2014” is not a specific date!

For solo swims where several swimmers may finish on the same day (e.g., English Channel), the finish time of day should probably also be included. Otherwise it’s impossible to determine order in certain cases. This has happened a few times with the Triple Crown list - an achievement where people do care about the order.

Standard elapsed times for marathon swims include hours, minutes, and seconds. Yes, even for solo swims that aren’t “races.” It’s a sign of using good observing/documenting practices. It’s a sign that you care about details.

A list of elapsed times with only hours and minutes (but no seconds) is 60 times more likely to produce a spurious “tie”!

4. Authoritative results include basic biographical details for each swimmer.

Country, gender, and age are useful details for answering common questions like:

Hometown is another good one, but somewhat less important than the above three.

Most sanctioning orgs and event directors already have these details via registration, so it takes very little extra effort to include them.

5. Authoritative results include sufficient meta-data that results can be meaningfully interpreted in a larger context.

The big ones are:

For organized races (many swimmers doing the same swim on the same day), be sure to include the date of the event somewhere on the results page.

6. Authoritative results display important category distinctions via separate lists — not columns.

I’ve seen results that mix together solos and relays, wetsuits and skins, all in one big list ordered from first to last. The columns indicating “solo vs relay” or “wetsuit vs. skin” are helpful (better than nothing), but these categories really should not be columns. They should be separate lists.

Different races —> different lists.

(Unless you’re Chris Derks in Lake Travis 10 years ago, and you want to race against relays.)

7. Authoritative results indicate missing data (as blank or ‘NA’) when information is unknown - and avoid making assumptions.

If a race takes place in Mexico, that does not mean that all the competitors are Mexican.

If a person has a common female name, that does not mean the person is female - unless she tells you she is female.

Adapting Hippocrates: First, avoid saying false things!


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Posted in: rules/standards/principles , resources Tags: documentation