World champs, Olympic champs: What’s the difference?

Japan 2020

In this 2009 file photo, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt poses beside the timing board showing the new World Record after he won the Men’s 200-meter final during the World Athletics Championships in Berlin. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)

TOKYO (AP) — Is an Olympic champion by definition a world champion? Can you be a world champion without being an Olympic champion? What’s the difference, anyway?

As the Tokyo Olympics provide multiple opportunities for memorable athletic performances, it’s worth a closer look. Here, Associated Press Deputy Sports Editor Howie Rumberg sorts it all out.

OLYMPIC CHAMP, WORLD CHAMP: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

An Olympic champion is only an Olympic champion. Because the Olympics are made up of 33 sports, each run by a federation, those federations can hold their own world championships — some every two years, some every four years, opposite years from the Olympics. And they declare world champions at their events.

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN IN TERMS OF RECORDS?

So in sports like gymnastics and athletics and swimming, you have two sets of records: the Olympic record, which is only set at an Olympics; and the world record, which is the record that is set in their seasons. Any sanctioned event can have a world record held or a world record set.

There are also times where the Olympic record IS the world record, because they set the world record at the Olympics. But they’re not the exact same thing.

SO TO BE CLEAR: YOU CAN HOLD AN OLYMPIC RECORD, YOU CAN HOLD A WORLD RECORD OR YOU COULD HOLD A RECORD THAT’S BOTH, RIGHT?

You could hold a record that’s both, yes. But the record that’s both would have to be set at the Olympics. And there are standards like, say, the depth of the swimming pool or the type of surface on the track that everyone’s obligated to follow.

It’s worth noting that you have more opportunities to set a world record than you do an Olympic record. So in some ways, an Olympic record, even if it’s not as good as a world record, has its own unique glow because being an Olympian is thought of, obviously, as the pinnacle of sports.

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