Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why So Many Swimming World Records?

The Science of Sport guys summarize the amazing results from the FINA Worlds from Rome.

Being a follower of athletics, I'm accustomed to a sport where world records are special, seen by only a few lucky people, achieved by the true greats of the sport. Anyone who has ever witnessed a running world record, for example, can be assured that they were seeing a human being run faster than anyone in history, and that this performance was special.

My major sports engagement was in athletics too (on the coaching side), and noticed this pattern long ago. But I do not recall way back when that swimsuits were being redesigned and the like; I thought I recognized a much simpler reason why swim records have such short lifetimes, at least simpler than they seem to be proposing.
Runners can dog it. And it seems to me this is harder for swimmers. They cannot see so clearly what the other swimmers in the race are doing.
Change the way running races are done - everybody runs alone for time, not knowing the time of the other competitors. I wager you'd see running records falling a lot faster (after some evolution out of the big drug era.)
Running races have become almost shameful in the desperate efforts to get the participants to actually try to run fast. One treat that comes with vacationing in Europe in the summer is getting to see major track meets on Eurosport (coverage available in Canada only on a few meets and on a major tape delay and after editing to make the stupid people covering the meet seem halfway intelligent). This summer SillyWife kept asking, "Who's the rabbit in this race?" and it became a sport on its own to predict who would be stepping off the track partway through the race, cashing several thousand dollars in the process.
I still love watching footraces but would sure like to see the runners trying a lot harder, but they won't so long as they can guess at what the minimum is that they need to do to beat the other guy.


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