Over 30 world records were broken during the London 2012 Summer Olympics. They fell in swimming, cycling, running, weightlifting and a number of other sports. But how do athletes continue to get better, jump longer, run or swim faster.
Although scientists say that athletes have reached their limits records continue to fall. In almost every sport athletes have become better since the Olympic movement began. One reason is that more and more people than ever before have access to sports and exercise.
They start at an earlier age and can compete longer in their sport. In schools more and more natural talents can be discovered.
Another reason is that athletes can train harder and, as professionals, concentrate wholly on their sport instead of rushing to a training session after their day job. As medicine improves, athletes can stay in competition for a longer time and overcome injuries faster.
Many top athletes achieve their best results later on in their careers. Technology has also helped improve scores. Through video analysis, for example, coaches can concentrate on fine-tuning an athlete’s technique. Material and equipment is constantly getting better.
One of the most important factors, however, is the human mind. It lies in our nature to be better and faster than someone else. The will to break a barrier can release immense power in your body.
So, where are the limits? One of the most difficult questions to answer is how fast a human being can run. Some decades ago, nobody thought a person could ever run under 10 seconds in the 100 meter dash.
But the record was broken at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. At the moment Usain Bolt is the fastest man on Earth at 9.58 seconds. Scientists say that 9.
48 may be the absolute limit for running such a distance, but, who knows, maybe some runner will one day run under 9 seconds.
Michael Phelps has broken many world records in swimming -Karen Blaha
- access = to be able to do something
- achieve = reach
- although = while
- barrier = wall, limit
- coach = someone who trains a person in sports
- compete = fight, try to be better, win
- dash = sprint
- decade = ten years
- discover = to find out for the first time
- equipment = the object you need for your sport
- fine-tune = to make small changes in order to get better
- however = but
- human being = person
- immense = great
- injury = when you are hurt
- limit = the greatest number possible
- mind = what goes on in your brain; feelings, the ability to think
- movement = here: the Olympic Games
- overcome = defeat, be better
- professional = someone who earns money by doing a sport
- record = the fastest time, longest distance etc.. which anyone has ever achieved anywhere in the world
- release = set free
- rush = hurry
- scientist = person who is trained in science
- score = result
- technique = way of doing something
- weightlifting = the sport of lifting objects that have an exact number of pounds or kilograms
- wholly = completely
Why do swimmers break more records than runners?
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When Olympic swimmers took to the pool in Rio, world records began to get broken thick and fast – in the first four days of swimming it happened six times. This kind of thing never happens on the running track. Why not?
The first new swimming record in Rio saw Katinka Hosszu of Hungary knock more than two seconds off the best time for the women's 400m individual medley. Then Australia broke the record for the women's 4x100m freestyle relay, and Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom set a new fastest time in the women's 100m butterfly.
And so it went on. Britain's Adam Peaty broke the 100m men's breaststroke record twice in two days and Katie Ledecky of the US set a new time in the women's 400m freestyle.
On top of that, on Friday night Ledecky knocked two seconds off her 800m freestyle world record.
At the London Olympics four years ago, it was much the same. Nine new world records were set in the pool – and this compared to just two on the running track.
“Since 1972, roughly 10% of the [Olympic] track and field events resulted in world records and if you look at swimming, we're up close to 40%,” says Canadian swimming coach and blogger Rick Madge.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia set a new world record of 29 minutes 17.45 seconds in the women's 10,000m in Rio
A new world record has just been set in the women's 10,000m in Rio but these days runners are breaking new records at a slower rate than they did 40 years ago, he says. That's not the case in swimming.
“Since 2000, roughly 6% of the track and field events got world records and yet swimming is still up around 40%… it's not tapering off.”
Also, while sprinters tend to shave a fraction of a second off the previous record, swimmers such as Hosszu and Peaty, have taken off one or two seconds.
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Since 1912 the world record in the men's 100m freestyle has improved by 23.
85% – from one minute 1.6 seconds to 46.91 seconds – whereas in athletics the record in the men's 100m has gone from 10.6 seconds to 9.58 seconds, an improvement of just 9.62%, according to Tiago Barbosa of Singapore's Sports Biomechanics Laboratory.
“If you watch the video of the 100m dash in 1912, you realise that there are things very similar to what is a 100m sprint today,” he says. “But as far as competitive swimming is concerned, the only thing really in common is that you will find humans racing in water.”
So why is there such a marked difference? Part of it is that the strokes involved in swimming are far more complex than running and are still evolving, says Madge.
“They involve virtually all parts of the body.
And they are moving through water which is so much more dense, which means that everything that you do has to be optimised – your head position, your streamline position with your body, how your arms are above and below the water, how you kick. Those are all things that are very complex. It means that there's lots of room for optimisation.”
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Adam Peaty dramatically increased the number of strokes he made per minute
For example, in 2012, when Cameron van der Burgh won the men's 100m breaststroke, he made between 50 and 52 strokes per minute, which was considered fast at the time. But this year Adam Peaty increased that to between 58 and 60 strokes per minute, which makes a “very difficult and very powerful stroke”, says Madge.
- Then there's the fact that the pool is a controlled environment, whereas the track is outside – it's much harder to control temperature and humidity, which can affect an athlete's performance.
- The recommended three-metre depth of an Olympic pool reduces turbulence, while a temperature of 25C to 28C keeps muscles neither too tight nor too relaxed, reports the Financial Times.
- Technology is another factor.
- The paper notes that “shock-absorbent lane dividers and slick drainage to reduce ripples” are also being used in Rio.
Image copyright Getty Images
One simple item drove the biggest long-lasting change to the sport – goggles. Competitors started to wear them in international competitions in the 1970s to see under water and protect their eyes from splashes and chemicals such as chlorine.
“That turned training from something which would be 10 to 12 hours per week and limited by how much abuse your eyes could take, to – very quickly, in the mid 70s – people training 25 or 30 hours a week,” says Madge. “That additional training time meant that the world records were just being crushed in virtually every event.”
Starting blocks have improved and swimsuits have made their mark too. The 2008 Beijing Games saw records broken in 19 events because new bodysuits made swimmers more buoyant and helped them slip through the water.
Although these suits were banned in 2010, other technological advantages and tweaks to the rules – allowing faster turns and dolphin kicks – have helped keep the swimmers in the lead.
There is of course another factor – doping. Drugs have affected swimming as well as athletics but athletics still has records from the 80s, and many people believe that some of those were chemically assisted. In swimming, however, records from the most extreme days of doping have been beaten because of all the other ways developed to improve results in the sport.
How Is It Possible That Olympic Athletes Keep Breaking World Records?
The Olympics are over. Athletes have been crowned. GIFs have been made. And World records have been broken. In four years, we'll do the same thing all over again. And world records will continue to be broken. How is that possible? How do Olympic athletes keep getting better and keep breaking records? Will it ever stop? Can humans ever max out?
According to a quick search on the wonderful world wide web, 43 world records were set in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 37 world records were set in the 2012 games.
You can bet that records will be broken in Rio de Janeiro for 2016.
Even if the rate of our improvement in athletic achievement has slowed down a bit (compared to say 50 years ago), we're still going to break records. How are athletes still getting better?
Discovery News says that scientists and experts cite a number of different reasons for our constant improvement, from technology improvements to professional opportunities to more people trying different sports to even having broken records beget more broken records—it's a combination of all these little factors that add up to new world records. Is there a theoretical max for the human body? According to Discovery news, there is:
Through calculations of maximum power output, oxygen use, heart function and other factors, some researchers have attempted to predict what the absolute limits of human ability will be. Much-debated estimates include 1:58 for the marathon (a five-minute improvement over the current men's record of 2:03.38), and 9.48 for the men's 100m.
The interesting thing though is that when science says humans cannot go any faster or lift any more or do anything else, they've been proven wrong.
It's amazing how much power the mind has over the body—when an old record is broken, the new world record gives another generation of Olympic athletes a standard to beat.
So even if it seems as if we'll eventually reach a ceiling for world records and max out our body, there'll always be someone else who will try to beat it. And they'll eventually succeed. Read the whole report at Discovery News. [Discovery News]
Are We Reaching the End of World Records?
In 1896 Charilaos Vasilakos won the first modern marathon, a qualifying race for Greece’s Olympic team, with a time of three hours and eighteen minutes.
Today that would not even qualify him for the Boston Marathon.
Since the beginning of the modern Olympic Games world records in every sport have advanced sharply, driven by factors as disparate as global conflicts, social change, technological improvements and changing rules.
The general upward trend in performance is largely due to advances in our understanding of fitness, conditioning, diet and nutrition, says Mark Williams, a professor of sport, health and exercise science at Brunel University in London.
But this progress has not been steady, and many things have helped or hindered it. As an example, Geoffroy Berthelot of the National Institute of Sport and Physical Education—INSEP in Paris highlights the stagnation of most records during World War I and World War II.
“When you have world wars you don’t focus on sport competition,” Berthelot says. But conversely, the cold war led to the Soviet Union and its satellites developing a rigorous scientific approach to athlete improvement—an aggressive illegal doping program notwithstanding.
Some event records set during that time have never been beaten, such as the Men’s Hammer Throw world record, which was last broken by Soviet hammer thrower Yuri Sedykhin 1986 at the European Championships in Stuttgart, three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and five years before the U.S.S.R. collapsed.
“Today we have a lot of difficulty [with breaking the records] because athletes use less doping substances,” Berthelot says.
Social change can also drive performance, as it seems to have done in women’s marathon times. Women were excluded from performing in many such events, including the Boston Marathon, because it was commonly believed their constitutions could not handle long races.
In 1966 Roberta Gibb hid in the bushes beside the starting line of the Marathon and became the first known woman to complete the course. The next year Kathrine Switzer entered the race under the name K. V. Switzer, and photos of the race organizers trying (unsuccessfully) to remove her forcefully mid-race made international headlines.
These events coincided with Second-Wave feminism in the U.S., and a dedicated campaign brought the Women’s Marathon to the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles.
Technical breakthroughs have also played a role, as illustrated by the evolution of the high jump. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, U.S.
Olympian Dick Fosbury shocked the world with an innovative technique called the Fosbury flop, in which he turned his back to the bar when he jumped, rather than cross it face down. Fosbury won the gold medal that year but did not break the world record.
It would take several years for athletes to do so using the technique, which would ultimately enable dramatically higher jumps. That kind of advancement is not uncommon, says Jordan Taylor, a psychologist at Princeton University who studies skill acquisition.
“What happens is that you basically get a little bit of a slowdown until someone comes up with a new strategy—and then when you have a new strategy, it takes a little bit of time to refine it, and then you see the progression go on,” Taylor says.
The pace of world record–breaking has slowed, as humans reach physiological limits and the International Association of Athletics Federations cracks down on doping. Berthelot is an author on two papers that suggest the rate of world record–breaking peaked in 1988.
There are some exceptions to the general slowdown that has followed.
One is swimming, but Berthelot calls this progress a “technological artifact” that came from the brief adoption of polyurethane swimsuits in 2008–09—and his paper suggests that, in swimming at least, we should get used to the records we have.
Sources: Progression of IAAF World Records, 2015 Edition, edited by Richard Hymans and Imre Matrahazi. ©copyright IAAF 2015. “Swimming World Record Progression, Women, 100-Meter Freestyle,” by Infostrada Sports. ©copyright IOC 2002, all rights reserved. January 18, 2002.
Graphic by Amanda Montañez
Why Do Some Olympic Records Get Broken?
The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio are just around the corner. The first medals will be awarded in swimming, cycling, and weight lifting events as early as Saturday. How many of those medals are likely to be new Olympic or even World Records, and how many records are expected to remain untouched?
Leading up to the Summer Games, on July 22, 2016 at the Muller Anniversary Games in London, Kendra Harrison of the US broke the world record for the 100 meter hurdles by 0.01 seconds. The previous record of 12.21 seconds, set by Yordanka Donkova of Bulgaria, endured for nearly 28 years. The record was older than the 23-year-old Harrison herself!
So why do some records stand the test of time while others get updated much more frequently? In other words, how can athletes show continuous, even if gradual, improvements in some athletic feats while showing only sporadic improvements in others?
The Longest Held Olympic Record
The longest held Olympic record belongs to long jumper Bob Beamon. In the Summer Games in 1968 in Mexico, he crushed the previous record of 8.35 meters (27 feet 4.75 inches) by jumping 8.9 meters (or 29 feet 2.5 inches).
That is by far the largest increase in the record since reliable record keeping began in 1901. The second longest jump in Olympic history is more than 7 inches shorter: Carl Lewis jumped 8.72 meters at the Games in Seoul in 1988.
Beamon still holds the Olympic record for the long jump, although the World Record was taken by Mike Powell who cleared 8.95 meters at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. Beamon’s Olympic Record for the long jump is a whopping 48 years old and even Powell’s world record is now 25 years old.
During the London Summer Games in 2012, seven Olympic records and four world records were set in 47 track and field events. Similarly, in the Beijing Summer Games in 2008 only five records were set in the same number of events. However, more Olympic records (a total of 11) and more world records (8) were set in the smaller number of 34 swimming events at the London Games.
Thus, clearly the kind of sport involved in the competition affects the cadence at which records are broken. Swimmers’ times can improve steadily as technology steadily improves. They now wear sleeker, more aerodynamic swimsuits and swim in calmer pools. Alternatively, there is very little a runner can do, for example, to improve their speed via technology.
Accessibility can also have an effect. To recreate a game time environment, swimmers must have access to an Olympic pool which is not always possible for competitors from poorer countries. There are very few limitations, however, on where a competitor can train for a running event. The more accessible a sport, the harder it can be to stand out.
The 15 Greatest Record-Breaking Performances in Summer Olympic History
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- It's an accomplishment to win a gold medal at the Summer Olympics, but it's even greater to do so in record-breaking fashion.
- When you think of overtaking records, Michael Phelps at the 2008 Beijing Games shouldn't be the only name that comes to mind.
- There are many more record-smashers who captured one or several gold medals in spectacular ways.
- As the 2012 London Games approach, here's a look back at the 15 greatest record-breaking showings in Summer Olympics history.
15. Flo-Jo Floors Her Foes
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Already seen as the 200-meter favorite, Florence Griffith-Joyner took the 1988 Seoul Games by storm in also winning 100-meter gold.
Her 100 time (10.62 seconds) is still an Olympic record, a phenomenal .27 ahead of the previous record. Her 200 time (21.34) is still a world record.
Griffith-Joyner won both by wide margins, and also won gold in the 4×100 and silver in the 4×400.
14. Record That Stands
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The only women's swimming record not broken at the 2008 Beijing Games was Inge de Bruijn's 100-meter butterfly.
She already owned both the Olympic and world records at the time, but de Bruijn dominated the second lap at the 2000 Sydney Games. At the halfway mark, she was behind her own pace by .3 seconds.
But the Netherlands swimmer accelerated after the turn and won by a full body length.
She also captured 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle gold in Sydney.
13. Distance Runner Sweeps
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Four years after nearly completing the long distance running sweep, Kenenisa Bekele did just that at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Not since 1980 has a runner won both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races, but the Ethiopian accomplished the feat in 2008.
After already winning the longer event, Bekele's 12:57.82 time in the 5,000-meter set a new Olympic record.
At the 2004 Athens Games, he got silver and gold respectively in the two runs.
For Bekele to top out at three golds and a silver in those long distance races is incredible.
12. Mom and Olympic Champ
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- Before Jackie Robinson broke barriers for baseball in America, Fanny Blankers-Koen broke barriers for women athletes across the world.
- Thirty years old and a mother of two from Netherlands, Blankers-Koen traveled to the 1948 London Games to compete in a half-dozen events.
- However, due to a rule at the time limiting women to three individual events, she captured a mere four gold medals.
- Her 100- and 200-meter sprints, 80-meter hurdles and 4×100-meter relay won gold, the most by any woman in one Games by a track and fielder.
Blankers-Koen was an example for women across the world that gender didn't matter in athletics. She was named the Woman of the Century by the International Association of Athletics Federation.
11. The Greatest Diver Ever
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Though he was a favorite going in to the 1980 Moscow Games, diver Greg Louganis had to wait until the 1984 Los Angeles Games to break records because of the USA boycott.
But when he finally had a shot, Louganis demolished his competition and became the only male diver to sweep both springboard and platform gold.
His score of 754.41 in the springboard event was more than 100 better than the silver medalist.
His 710.91, the best in history, in the platform event was more than 70 better than the silver medalist.
Four years later Louganis captured both golds again, helping him on his way to being called the greatest diver of all time.
10. 24 Years Later
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- A gold medal from five different Olympic Games wasn't enough for Birgit Fischer, so she came back in the 2004 Sydney games to earn a sixth.
- At the age of 42, the kayak legend from Germany became the only woman to win Olympic gold 24 years after her first one.
- Trailing four Hungarian kayakers at the halfway point, Fischer kept pushing her team.
- Not only was she able to lead them to the victory, she was the only teammate able to raise her oar in victory despite exhaustion.
9. Bolt Breaks out
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Why are swimming records smashed so easily at the Olympics?
Doing which, something came to me while I was swimming in a nearby pool this week: Why are swimming records smashed so easily at the Olympics?
Nearly every time the Games come around, we see new world records set in several events. Take the 100m men’s freestyle, for example: world records were broken at the 1956, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976, 2000 and 2008 Games. 100m men’s butterfly? 1972, 1984, 1996. 400m women’s freestyle? 1972, 1976, 1988, 2016. 200m women’s breaststroke? 1960, 1976, 1988, 2008, 2012.
One answer to that is, of course, that the Olympics attracts the world’s best, so the competition is that much tougher, and when elite athletes push each other, it inevitably produces faster times.
So of course, it’s not just swimming: the Olympics also see world records broken in other athletic pursuits, and for the same reason. The men’s 100m track record, for example, was broken at the 1964, 1968, 1988, 1996 and 2008 Games. Women’s 100m track? 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1976.
Not every Olympics Games produces records in every event, true. But given the level of competition, it is no surprise that so many records are broken in so many events during the Games.
Still, there is a general impression that more swimming records get broken than in other Olympic events. This may be because there are simply such a lot of swim events, taking in the different swim styles, the different race lengths, individual and team efforts.
It may also be because the swim events traditionally happen in the first several days of the Olympics; thus perhaps we get wowed by the swim records falling from Day 1, and get more blase about them later on in the Games.
And yet, hidden beneath this bland accounting, is what’s really surprising thing about swim timings—their progression. More correctly, the rate at which they have declined.
Consider this: In 1972, the world record in the 100m track event was 9.9 seconds, jointly owned by the Americans Ray Robinson and Eddie Hart. Over the next 40 years, various runners have chipped away at that number. The record is now Usain Bolt’s 9.58 seconds, which he posted in 2009.
That is, since 1972, the record has declined by 0.32 seconds, or just over 3.2% of the 1972 figure.
In the same period, what’s happened to the 100m freestyle world record? In 1972, the great Mark Spitz (remember him?) set it at 51.22 seconds. It now stands at 46.91 seconds, set by Brazil’s César Cielo, also in 2009.
That’s faster by 4.31 seconds, or about 8.4%. That’s over twice the percentage decline in the 100m track record.
You could do similar calculations with how other events have progressed since 1972 (a date I chose arbitrarily). Here are just a couple more.
The women’s 200m breaststroke record was 2m 38.5s then; it has sunk to 2m 19.11s now—a decline of 12.2%. The women’s 100m track record? From 22.4 to 21.34, 4.7%. Again, the swim percentage decline is over twice the track decline.
The men’s 1500m freestyle record went from 15m 52.58s to 14m 31.02, or a 8.6% drop. The men’s 1500m track record, from 3:33.1 to 3:26, 3.33%.
By now, the point must be clear. Swimming timings are getting quicker at least twice as fast as track timings are. What might explain this?
Let’s look at those numbers a little more closely though.
In general, athletes run somewhere between four and five times faster than athletes swim. That is, it takes four to five times longer to swim a given distance than to run that distance.
The slower speed of a swim, the greater time taken for the same distance, these things offer more of an opportunity to slice time off set records.