Athletes Records – Result of Better Nutrition, Training and Equipment
In the last century the performance of the athletes increased in a spectacular way. Nowadays athletes records improved the old ones in such a manner that world records holders from 50s or 60s would finish on the last position or their result would not even guarantee them a place in the final. But how is that possible? Are those athletes inferior compared to current ones?
The answer to this questions seems a bit complicated. In essence, athletes records demonstrates a continuous evolution of the human body due to better nutrition, training schedules and technology. A more comprehensive knowledge about the human body resulted in changes in what athletes eat and drink, on how they train and what equipment they use. As a result, 43 new word records were established in 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics ( only Michael Phelps managed to establish 7 new world records and 1 olympic record). Do you find this amazing? Check out this: in 2012 London Summer Olympics 66 olympics records were broken and 30 world records were established.
Many things changed since the dawn of modern sport (early 1900s). First of all, most of the participants became professional athletes and tested different training schedules that improved their performance (a popular training method in post World War II athletics was the interval training). Moreover, the advances in understanding how human body works created an entire market for nutritive supplements and vitamins (leading to an entire doping industry). As a result, athletes records constantly improved.
Let’s take for instance 1 mile race and how world records improved over time. The legendary Finn Paavo Nurmi managed to cross the finish line of 1 mile race in 4:10.4 minutes in 1923 and Gunder Hagg of Sweden set the world record at 4:01.3 minutes in 1945. Specialists considered that it is physically impossible to go below 4 minutes in a mile race. However, Roger Bannister, 25 years old medical student, was the first to beat 4 minute barrier. Roger Bannister trained 45 minutes every day (usually skipping gynecology courses), using the new technique of interval training in order to improve his overall pace. The Brit managed to set a new world record for the mile race, 3:59.4 minutes on May 6 1954. A month later, Australia’s John Landy shattered the record by stopping the clock at 3:57.9 minutes in 1 mile race. Athletes records for mile run constantly improved ( 3 more athletes manage to beat 4 minutes in 1955) and nowadays this time can be achieved by any high-school athlete. The current record for mile run is 3:43.13 and was set by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco in 1999. These improvements of the time are due to better training methods and conditions and also due to the fact that nowadays are doing this kind of activity as professionals, compared to Roger Bannister who was a student and devoted only 45 minutes per day for training.
Tom Hicks finished the Olympic marathon in 3:28:53 in 1904 St, Louis Summer Olympics. In order to win the marathon, Hicks tried to obtain an energy boost by mixing strychnine (mice and birds poison) with brandy, because people thought that this combination acts as an energy drink. As a result, short after crossing the finish line Hicks collapsed, being saved by medics intervention. A higher dose of strychnine could have been fatal for Hicks and after that event it was banned. This shows how little doctors knew about human body, As time passed, marathon olympic and world records were improved reaching to the current 2:03:23, as a result of better knowledge regarding what vitamins and substances the body needs to sustain such an effort. Scientists consider that the human body can sustain the effort to improve the marathon record to 1:58:00. Who is gonna be the insane guy who will manage to go below 2 hours in a marathon? Is 1:58:00 the ultimate limit for human body, or it is just a barrier that will be crossed like 4 minutes in a mile run?
However, vitamins and other types of energizers created an entire doping industry, tainting different competitions like 100 m races (see the recent allegations and suspensions of Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell) or Tour de France (like Lance Armstrong or Jan Ullrich). Many illegal substances were used to improve athletes records and performances tainting the idea of sport as a clean competition between the best performers and healthy way of living.
Another very important factor that contributed to the improvement of athletes records and performance is definitely: the technology. The equipment producers have well developed R&D divisions in order to provide even the slightest edge against the opponents. Top tennis players have personalized racket, specially created to be suitable to their style of play, force, weight, height and arm reach. The technology can even increase the performance to inhuman performances.
For instance, most of athletes olympic records in swimming and most of the current swimming world records were established in the 2008-2009 period when high-technology swimwear fabric was allowed. Due to this costumes more than 130 world records were broken between February 2008 and December 2009.
The technology can significantly improve the athletes results. In many sports technology in different periods conducted to real record breakthroughs. William Hoyt won the gold medal in pole vault in 1896 Athens Olympics managing to jump 3.30 meters, a performance that would not even be enough to qualify in 2012 London Olympics. Compared to Hoyt’s performance, Renaud Lavillenie managed to establish a new Olympic record – 5,97 meters – in 2012 London Summer Olympics. What is the difference between Hoyt’s jump and Lavillenie’s record? William Hoyt jumped using a wood pole while Lavillenie used carbon fibre pole. The change from wood poles to glass and carbon fiber poles meant a dramatic increase in performances.
Another example of how technology influenced performance was in bike racing. Eddy Merckx managed to establish the hour record covering 49.431 km in 1972 at high altitude (in Mexico City). This record remained untouchable for 12 years, when Francesco Moser succeeded in improving the record on a specially designed bike and following medical advices from a reputed doctor. The bike enhancements improved the record to 56 km in an hour in 1996. But when technology is eliminated, Eddie Merckx’s performance remains outstanding because only 2 other cyclists managed to improve that record on traditional bikes. Chris Boardman managed to improve Merckx’s record with only 10 meters in 2000, after intense preparation and training for beating the record with a traditional bike. Ondřej Sosenka managed to improve Merckx’s record with only 26 meters (49.7 km). So without technology, athletes records are more balanced.
Athlete records are hugely influenced by technology, nutrition and training methods. Nowadays performance is the result of thousands of hours of research. Comparing athletes from different ages is wrong from the very beginning because they obviously did use the same technology, did not have the same training facilities or did not have an army of nutritionists and doctors behind them. Therefore it is impossible to compare Jesse Owens with Usain Bolt or Eddie Merckx with Marco Pantani.