Does anybody remember when Newsweek (I think it was Newsweek) did a piece on what the limits might be in track and field marks? A few years ago, they did some work and guessed at what the absolute fastest, highest and farthest T&F marks athletes will ever be able to reach. For example, a sprinter will never run 100 m in .01 seconds. He won't do it in 5 seconds either. Or even seven seconds. So one of these days, an athlete is going to set a WR in the 100 m and it is going to stand for all time. At best it will be tied. I thought they put the 100 m limit at just under 9 seconds but I can't remember.
I was wondering if anybody remmebers this piece and what people thought about the marks. Also, by any chance, have any athletes already surpassed any of the limits they published?
I believe this is the article I was talking about. I went to the Newsweek site archives. You have to pay to read the article, but this was the preview:
October 06, 1997 Newsweek
Will Athletic Records Ever Stop Tumbling?
STEVE RHODES and KENDALL HAMILTON
IN 1919, AFTER BASEBALL DEITY Babe Ruth set a single-season record by slamming his 29th home ran, his manager, Edward Barrow, declared the mark "far and away out of reach of any other player the game is likely to develop." By the mid-1920s, top big-league batters were routinely besting that total. The record Ruth set in 1927, when he belted 60 homers, did stand up for 34 years - but then Roger Maris hit 61 in '61. This season, two players, Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. and Mark...
SHARON BEGLEY AND ADAM ROGERS With WILLIAM UNDERRILL in London
LET OTHERS SEEK THE EPITOME OF Olympic greatness in the Mercurian speed of Gwen Torrence, in the Odyssean lifts of German super heavyweight Ronny Weller, in the nymphlike freestyle strokes of China's Li Jingyi.There is no question that, from the first round of field hockey bright and early Saturday morning to the mer's handball final that closes the competition, the athletes of the world will be flesh-and-blood paeans to the heights (both kinds) that the human body can achieve.
Cal coach Brutus Hamilton made a very famous (i.e., they were known to the general public) set of "ultimate WR" predictions back in the '30s as I recall. He revised those in the '50s, of course, and those too went by the board. At point, I'd guess in the '70s, T&FN did a further updating.
[Athletics: Canada's National Track and Field / Running Magazine (April/May 1998)]
The original article by P and T can be found in:
F. Péronnet and G. Thibault, ``Mathematical analysis of running performance and world running records'', Journal of Applied Physiology, v.67, pp. 453-465 (1989)
There are also a few other citations to similar prediction works. I'm currently working on one of my own using different prediction techniques (sort of fractal in nature), but that study is still in progress.
Problem with any mathematical modeling is that it doesn't (can't) take into account technological advances like better spikes, better tracks, both of which have played a significant part in the World Record progression. It's easy for us to sit here now and figure that tracks can't get any better, but I'm sure the scientists of the '30s thought the same about their favorite cinder/clay composite.
This is Bill down at the little store we own. I can't seem to log on under my real screen name. Just wanted to comment on the interesting report in the Canadian publication.
Those times in Table 5 are amazing. It is hard to imagine that we'll ever reach those times, but I'm sure they said the same thing 50 years ago about the times today.
T&FN will often mention an athlete and next to the name will put his/her best marks, without mentioning the name of the event. Because we track experts just know which event the marks correspond to. But can you imagine if you saw 18.32 in the magazine today??? Readers would think, "What in the heck is THAT?" Or 39.60. Readers would assume that the athlete was part of a good 4x1 team -- not that he ran that time by himself!
Very interesting stuff. I can't imagine a woman going 1:42 for 800 m, but who knows. There's a lot to look forward to in track in the coming years for sure.
We thought 29'2 was 21st Century and now we think 19.32 can hold for a while, but it won't. The nature of man is to outdo his predecessor. Given the advent (sooner than you think) of bioengineering, the 'limits' of man are going to take a huge beating. How are the IAAF's policies going to hold up then?
The advent of genetic engineering will raise the question of whether or not such an individual is "natural". For example, how is an athlete whose DNA is modified to produce ultra fast-twitch fibers and accelerated recovery time different from one who takes performance enhancing substances toward the same end?
The very nature of athletic competition is on the verge of a paradigm shift.
And don't you see that as our culture gets even more litigious, and people sue for the 'right' to improve themselves (for health reasons, of course), sports bodies will be powerless to legislate against such 'improvements'. It is a brave new world out there, and it will happen in our lifetime.
Didn't natural selection go out the window in the 1800's? With modern medicine, people survive because others intervene on their behalf. Man hasn't been 'natural' for a long time now. Just look at all the chemicals that 'unnaturally' change our environment (not the just the climatological one) and us on a daily basis. Even the vitamin supplements aren't natural (but they all say they are!). We are now in an era where evolution has ended - we will determine our own future - scary as that prospect is. -tn
T&FN had a good quote from some scientist a few years ago. I'll have to paraphrase from memory, but basically he said didn't know what the ultimate marks will be, but he did know that the limits for non-drug-aided athletes were reached a long time ago. I hope he's wrong, but I'm worried that he's right.