What if runners or swimmers consistently failed to break
records? Would fans care that a "virtual stasis" had overtaken their
favorite individual sports? At least one researcher, Geoffroy Berthelot,
believes this has already happened--twenty years ago. "Athletes' best
sprints, best jumps, best throws--many of them happened years ago,
sometimes a generation ago," observes Paul Kix
at The Boston Globe, who profiles Berthelot's and others' academic inquiries on the subject. According to Berthelot, "the pinnacle of
athletic achievement was achieved around 1988." It's all been downhill
since then--or, more correctly, a plateau.
In a study published in the academic journal PLoS
One, Berthelot plotted out every world record from 1896 onward. "When
placed on a L-shaped graph, the record times fell consistently, as if
down a gently sloped hill. They fell because of improving nutritional
standards, strength and conditioning programs, and the perfection of
technique," details Kix. "But once Berthelot's L-shaped graphs reached
the 1980s, something strange happened: Those gently sloping hills
leveled into plains. In event after event, record times began to hold."
Today, 64 percent of track and field records have stood since '93.
But what about all those track and field records broken by the likes of
Usain Bolt? "Bolt is a very particular case," Berthelot told the Globe.
"All the media focus on Usain Bolt because he's the only one who's
progressing today." By his calculations, Berthelot "predicts that the
end of almost all athletic improvement will occur around 2027" a year
that he says the "human species' physiological frontiers will be
Kix ponders this potential outcome and then poses this question in response: "What happens to the athlete who knows there are no records left to break?"
Want to add to this story? Let us know in comments
or send an email to the author at
ehayden at nationaljournal dot com.
You can share ideas for stories on the Open Wire.